The #2 UCLA Bruins (26-8, 12-6) had just defeated the #1 Arizona Wildcats (30-4, 15-3) to capture their fourth Pac-12 Tournament Championship, their first since 2009. What occurred at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada, was not just a great game, but the greatest in Pac-12 Tournament history. This is how it happened.
Viva, Las Vegas!
When Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott moved the Men’s Basketball Tournament from Staples Center in Los Angeles to a casino arena in Las Vegas, the collective Pac-12 fan bases said, “hell yeah!” Compared to downtown LA, Las Vegas is, well, Las Vegas.
Los Angeles could not generate the buzz to create the proper post-season atmosphere. Another reason was that Staples is so big, it was always impossible to fill. The Garden Arena is more of a fitting venue because it is smaller and intimate. Plus, it is adjacent to a large hotel casino with several choice eating options. Brilliant.
A Great Build-Up
This tournament was a path of destruction for the Bruins and Wildcats.
Arizona had a first round bye and then punished Utah (71-39) following a huge second-half run against Colorado (63-43). It was the same for UCLA. They started with a bye and then beat Oregon (82-63) and were in control the entire game against Stanford (84-59).
The final was set. The Bruins would be taking on the Wildcats for the Pac-12 Tournament Championship. This is the game both fan bases had hoped they would see.
UCLA vs Arizona, The Biggest Rivalry In The West
These are the two most storied programs in the Pac-12 and they were meeting in the Championship game, finally.
They met only once this season, January 9 at Pauley Pavilion. It was standing room only for a nationally televised game. The Wildcats ended up winning, 79-75. We would not see them play again due to the new Pac-12 scheduling. Until the final game of the tournament.
UCLA, Arizona playing their best basketball of the season. Should be a good, if not redeeming, #pac12 final.
— Scott J. Adams (@SJAdams) March 15, 2014
The atmosphere, the fans and the stakes all gave this game a buzz of excitement. You can read about it in UCLA Wins The Pac-12 Tournament Championship, Kyle Anderson Wins MVP.
It details one of the best games in Pac-12 Tournament history.
Arizona did what they always do… take it to their opponent. Pac-12 Player of the Year, Nick Johnson, was silent to start the game, but a half court alley-oop from Aaron Gordon, sparked his game and that of his team. Once he got his game going, he was on fire on both ends of the court with game-highs 22 points and 3 blocks.
Arizona’s Kaleb Tarczewski was cutting through UCLA’s interior every chance he could. If he had the ball and was anywhere near he basket, he would go hard to the rim with a two-handed dunk. The Wildcat freshman phenom Gordon was not great in this game, but he had his moments that surely played havoc for the Bruins.
For UCLA, Jordan Adams, Kyle Anderson and Norman Powell lead the Bruin charge. In the first half, these three combined to make 65% of their shots. They totaled 55 points between them in the end. And why was that? Well, they did not care that Arizona touts the best defense in the Pac-12, they ran at them every chance they could. Arizona could not contain the penatrating barrage that UCLA dished out.
Both teams gave everything they had in this contest. They would go for stretches trading basket after basket, trying to prove that each was the better team. This was a great game and if you saw it, you know exactly what we are talking about. It culminated when Adams hit a key three-pointer to put UCLA out of reach of the regular-season champs. The Bruins would go on to win, 75-71.
The atmosphere, the rivalry and the essence of March Madness shined through in this game. Despite UCLA winning, both teams are going to the Big Dance for much deserved invitations. The post-season has just started, but for now, the Pac-12 has played one of its greatest games between two of its greatest teams. If this game did not give you March Madness, there is a chance you do not have a pulse.