LAS VEGAS (AP)(STL.News) — A spot in the PAC 12 championship game secure, Arizona coach Sean Miller called a timeout with 0.9 seconds left against UCLA, threw the ball onto the floor and began shouting in the face of Kadeem Allen.
Miller said it was to give the senior guard his due and make sure his team was poised at the end the game. His actions showed there might have been a little more to it following a celebration by the Bruins two weeks ago in Tucson.
Lauri Markkanen scored 29 points, Allonzo Trier added 20 and No. 7 Arizona shot its way to an emotional 86-75 win over No. 3 UCLA on Friday night in the Pac-12 Tournament semifinals.
“We learned from UCLA in that game, making sure your team is poised when they called that timeout,” Miller said. “We wanted to do the same thing, make sure our team was poised moving forward.”
UCLA lost to Arizona at home early in the season and returned the favor at McKale Center with a 77-72 victory on Feb. 25. Coach Steve Alford called a timeout with a second left in that game and it apparently riled up the Wildcats, who were hoping for a rematch after advancing to the tournament semifinals.
Arizona (29-4) made the most of it, advancing to Saturday’s title game against No. 5 Oregon. The co-Pac-12 champion Wildcats shot 50 percent and made 10 of 20 from 3-point range in front of a rowdy crowd that made T-Mobile Arena feel like McKale Center west.
“I guess they were upset when I called timeout at their place,” Alford said. “We made two free throws and I didn’t mean disrespect at all. It put us up five and I wanted to set my defense. We hadn’t won there, so I didn’t want anything goofy to happen. Apparently he thought we were being disrespectful and that was his way of getting back at us.”
UCLA (29-4) won the game in Tucson by outscoring the Wildcats 20-4 on second-chance points. Arizona shored up its rebounding issues and hounded the Bruins into one miss after another.
UCLA shot 4 of 25 from 3-point range, with Lonzo Ball and Bryce Alford combining for 13 points on 2-for-16 shooting from beyond the arc.
Isaac Hamilton led UCLA with 20 points and TJ Leaf had 15 before fouling out.
“We didn’t shoot the ball well,” Alford said. “We missed a lot of open looks that we normally make.”
The Bruins and Wildcats played two entertaining games during the regular season, each winning on the road.
The first half of the rubber match between Pac-12 powers was an entertaining mix of athletic plays, superb defensive stretches, followed by runs of fantastic offense.
Arizona had the last burst, taking a 41-35 lead into halftime after making 7 of 13 from 3-point range while the Bruins went 2 for 12.
Ball struggled with foul trouble in the quarterfinals against USC and wasn’t much of a factor in the first half, with as many turnovers (four) as points and assists combined.
Arizona continued to hit shots as UCLA continued to clank, stretching the lead to 63-48 as the decibel level in T-Mobile Arena continued to rise.
The Bruins tried to make runs , but couldn’t get shots to consistently fall to make up enough ground, allowing the Wildcats to get a little payback.
“Never been prouder of a group of kids,” Miller said. “We lost a tough game at home in our last game and I think it really stuck with these guys and motivated them to be better. We had the opportunity and we took advantage of it.”
Arizona can look unstoppable when it’s making perimeter shots and playing defense, which it did against UCLA.
The Bruins had been playing solid defense recently, but struggled to stop the Wildcats and couldn’t outscore them.
MARKKANEN ON THE MARK
Markkanen went through a shooting slump in February, but has found his stroke in Las Vegas.
The Finnish 7-footer went 4 for 10 from 3-point range against UCLA and is 8 of 17 in two games of the tournament.
Arizona faces top-seeded Oregon in Saturday night’s title game.
UCLA should still get a high NCAA Tournament seed.
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