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On Saturday, Arizona Wildcats claimed victory over UCLA with a score of 84-76 to claim both the Pac 12 title and an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. With their win, Arizona secured both a share of first place in the conference standings as well as a place in the semifinals of the NCAA Tournament.
The Wildcats started out poorly in this game, making too many errors and not getting enough stops on defense. But they found their rhythm in the second half.
Arizona breezed through the Pac-12 tournament to claim its first championship in six seasons, led by Oumar Ballo's dominance. The sophomore center from Mali has been an incredible force this season off the bench and recorded a career-high 14 rebounds on Saturday in an 89-61 win against California.
Ballo, born in Mali, was an accomplished soccer player before turning his attention towards basketball and drawing international attention from coaches around the globe. After spending time at an academy in the Canary Islands, he eventually earned a scholarship to play at Gonzaga University.
Ballo's development as a reliable big man began when he arrived at Arizona University. Part of that growth came from his hard work to become stronger and better balanced;
He credits the extra repetitions he got during offseason workouts and individual sessions after practices for helping him refine his footwork and body control. It gave him extra balance, so he could maneuver more gracefully through traffic, accurately survey double teams and confidently back his man down when necessary.
He learned to maintain a straight-ahead posture without tipping his head back or rocking on his heels, an invaluable skill when facing larger and stronger opponents since arriving at Arizona.
The Wildcats' performances this season, especially their 5-0 start, have been truly remarkable. Azuolas Tubelis and Ballo are among the nation's best frontcourt duos, combining for nearly 40 points each game through eight contests.
With Ballo's impressive play this season, it's no shock that he is becoming increasingly more in the spotlight. And his performance at the Maui Invitational only reinforced this, earning him Pac-12 Player of the Week honors for the first time in his college career.
Christian Koloko was an unstoppable force in the Arizona Wildcats' win of the Pac 12 championship, scoring 24 points, dishing out nine rebounds and dishing out four assists to lead them to an 84-80 victory against Stanford in the quarterfinals of the tournament. With that impressive performance, Koloko earned himself a place of honor at this prestigious event.
Koloko earned the title of conference Defensive Player of the Year this season and proved why with his tournament play. In a win against TCU, Koloko recorded back-to-back blocks on one defensive possession to cement himself as one of the most dominant players so far in this tournament.
He notched another double-double in a win against Colorado, tallying 10 points, 10 rebounds and one block over 25 minutes of action. Though his performance fell short of his previous double-doubles in G League action, it did provide him with an indication of what he can do when on the court with the Raptors.
The Pac-12 tournament was an exciting week-long event, featuring several teams playing high-level basketball throughout. Teams like Colorado or Oregon or UCLA could potentially determine who advances to the NCAA Tournament; this type of competition could make a dramatic difference on who advances.
After a slow start that saw Arizona trail by as many as 12 points, Koloko helped lead the Wildcats back in the game and earn his first Pac 12 championship. His defensive impact was essential in their comeback effort as he tied Arizona's single-season record for blocked shots with 102 while holding UCLA to just 6-for-20 shooting from the field in the first half. Furthermore, Koloko made an important block on Juzang Johnson's 3-pointer early in the second half to give Arizona the lead for good.
On Saturday afternoon at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Arizona claimed its seventh Pac 12 championship with a hard-fought 75-56 victory over Oregon. This was Arizona's first tournament title since 2017-18 and third in four seasons.
Bennedict Mathurin led all scorers with 27 points, while Azuolas Tubelis added a double-double of 17 points and 10 rebounds to help the No. 2 seed secure its second consecutive conference finals victory.
After the game, Arizona coach Sean Miller credited their defense for holding UCLA to just 56.5 points. Additionally, he stated that Arizona's guard play and physicality were instrumental in their victory.
As UCLA's star player Adem Bona was injured in the opening half, it appeared as if they would fall behind to Oregon - the top seeded team in the Pac 12 tournament. But then senior guard Tyger Campbell hit a jumper to give UCLA an impetus and they quickly rallied.
Campbell didn't score for long, but his 28 points in the Bruins' win against Oregon were a career high. He made 8-of-9 shots from the line and had a game-high 6 assists as well.
The UCLA bench came through as well, with Dylan Andrews and Mac Etienne each scoring five points, pulling down four rebounds, and recording two blocks in 34 minutes of action.
These kinds of contributions can make all the difference for an offense, as UCLA has demonstrated this year by winning 10 games - one more than they previously held! With these types of performances, they hope to secure another Pac 12 championship this summer.
While Campbell had a brief burst of success this season, he's been an incredibly reliable scorer this year and provides fantasy managers with high-quality talent in the lane. With at least 13.8 points per game this year and likely to keep improving, Campbell could be an excellent option for your lineups.
Jaquez's play has thrust him into the conversation for Pac-12 player of the year honors. He's averaging 20.8 points, 10.7 rebounds, and has been an instrumental factor in UCLA's recent string of thrilling victories in the closing minutes.
Jaquez, a senior forward, is the best player on a team aiming for a national championship. He's been an integral part of the rebuilding process that has restored the Bruins to their blue-blood heights. A leader who won't hesitate to put himself in danger for his teammates; Jaquez also possess smarts and aggression which have allowed him to develop clutch gene by closing out games.
He's considered a potential first round pick and is widely regarded as one of the top players in his conference. On the verge of becoming an All-American, he could also be an excellent contender for the prestigious John R. Wooden Award.
After starting in 32 games this season, he's averaging 17.4 points, 8.4 rebounds, 2.4 assists and 1.5 steals in 32.9 minutes per game. Furthermore, he is shooting a career high 48.9% from the floor and 47.7% from three-point range.
His accomplishments have been recognized with him being named the Pac-12 Player of the Year - making him the first player since Kevin Love in 2008 to receive such recognition.
He is one of 15 candidates for the John R. Wooden Award, which is considered the highest individual honor for Division I basketball players. Additionally, he's been selected to the AP All-America team and was a first-team all-conference selection each of the last two seasons.
On Friday night, after his off-night in the win against Oregon, he rebounded with an impressive performance at the Pac-12 tournament. In 38 minutes against Colorado on Thursday, he scored 16 points, grabbed nine rebounds and had two assists; then on Saturday afternoon, he added eight more points in an 11-2 run that sealed the victory.
Kerr Kriisa is one of Arizona basketball's more daring and colorful players. The Estonian sophomore can drive opponents crazy, taunt their fans and question game officials with ease. On Saturday evening in the Pac 12 championship game, Kriisa exemplified all these traits as he helped the Wildcats claim their 17th outright or shared regular-season title and first in four seasons.
Kriisa scored 14 points and added 11 rebounds and 12 assists to complete a triple-double for the second time in his career - only the fifth time in program history that someone has achieved such feats.
He also had the most assists by an Arizona guard since Mustafa Shakur's 12 against Stanford in 2006.
Kriisa not only scored a triple-double but set an individual school record with 71.7 percent shooting - surpassing Mike Bibby's 10-three pointer mark by making six in the win over UCLA on Thursday night.
The Wildcats' 57-point margin of victory was their largest in back-to-back games since scoring 237 against Washington and ASU in 1998. Additionally, they were the only team in conference play to score at least 212 points in consecutive contests this season.
Kriisa shot 3 of 6 from 3-point range for the game, hitting two long-range treys in the first half as Arizona built a 53-33 advantage. He finished with 22 points while playing 35 minutes, setting a team-high mark.
After a slow start, the Wildcats found their groove in the second half. They went on an 15-1 run to take a 31-point lead. Southern's aggressive press defense and attack-dribble-drive offense couldn't slow them down; even when Southern cut it to eight points at one point, the Wildcats kept going and eventually led by as many as 30 going into halftime.