Dream matchup in Pac-12 final - Tucson News Now

Dream matchup in Pac-12 final

Courtesy: Eugene Register Guard Courtesy: Eugene Register Guard

By Anthony Gimino / Special for Tucson News Now

 

LAS VEGAS -- Rondae Hollis-Jefferson vs. Joseph Young?

 

Yes, please. And thank you, thank you, thank you.

 

Three days of the Pac-12 tournament have led us to a final matchup that is especially juicy -- No. 1 seed Arizona vs. No. 2 seed Oregon … and all those debates about the conference awards are coming right down to a final answer on the court.

 

Hollis-Jefferson doesn't mind telling you he's motivated by not being selected the Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year, and he'll get a chance to roar against Young, the conference's top scorer and a mostly surprising winner as the Player of the Year.

 

He won over Arizona point guard T.J. McConnell, who has been serenaded with chants of "M-V-P" by the cardinal red contingent that has taken residence in the MGM Grand Garden Arena -- also known as "McKale: Vegas."

 

And Oregon's Dana Altman, deemed to be the coach who has done the most with the least, won coach of the year honors over Arizona's Sean Miller, who did the most with the most -- a high-wire balancing act that often goes underappreciated in the postseason award selections.

 

In any case, I think the stars are aligning just perfectly for the Cats.

 

Arizona has throttled the Ducks twice this season -- 80-62 and 90-56 -- with huge matchup edges in size and physicality.

 

What does Oregon have to do differently Saturday night?

 

"We've got to rebound," Young said.

 

And rebound. And rebound. And rebound.

 

Oh, and good luck with that.

 

Arizona has a collective plus-27 rebounding edge against the Ducks in two games, and while Oregon is a hotter and better squad than when the teams met twice in January, it's not like every OU player has grown four inches and put on 20 pounds.

 

This calculus hasn't changed for Arizona: You unleash Hollis-Jefferson on the smaller Young, you rebound, you win.

 

"We're just going to have to compete," Altman said of another matchup against Arizona.

 

"They have beaten us badly twice, and so our guys will be loose and we'll tell them, 'Go swing away and have fun with the game.' We've got great respect for what Arizona's done this year -- to go through the conference with the pressure they've had on them to win the league by three games."

 

Young is just 8 of 24 from the field against Arizona this season, scoring just 12 points in each meeting. He averages more than 20 points per game for the season and has poured in 55 in two Pac-12 tournament games, including a dagger of a long 3-pointer to beat Utah 67-64 in the final seconds on Friday night.

 

That thriller was the nightcap to the earlier heart-pounder between Arizona and UCLA. It was a game befitting the tournament history between the teams, with the Wildcats winning 70-64, needing a late block by Hollis-Jefferson -- who else? -- on a 3-point attempt by Kevon Looney to help preserve the win.

 

Oh, it's all coming together nicely for Arizona.

 

First, let's acknowledge that the Wildcats have to play better against a zone defense (don't lose offensive pace, McConnell says) and center Kaleb Tarczewski can't disappear (five points, one rebound, five fouls in 23 minutes vs. UCLA), but the "team" concept of Arizona was evident vs. the Bruins.

 

Was Brandon Ashley the player of the game? He scored a career-high 24 points and made 9 of 11 shots. Or was it Stanley Johnson, who filled the box score with 15 points and nine rebounds, with three of the points coming on a clutch long ball in the final minute?

 

Don't forget Hollis-Jefferson, who had 12 rebounds in a continuation of his "Energizer bunny" impersonation. And McConnell had 10 points, 11 assists, six rebounds and one key pep talk when the team was down 47-40 with 12:03 to go.

 

"I just kind of said, 'Whatever heart we have, we have to give more,'" said senior point guard T.J. McConnell.

 

So, yes, Arizona is very "teamy" -- and that's a good thing.

 

"Keep fighting, keep fighting. We worked too hard to give up," Johnson said.

 

"You have to play hard, and the ball is going to fall your way if you keep going at it. Coach Miller is always like, 'Keep going, keep going, keep swinging at strikes, you're eventually going to hit a home run.'"

 

Hey, that baseball message -- the one also used by Altman -- works just fine for Arizona in the Pac-12 tournament. This is the Wildcats' fourth appearance in the tourney title game under Miller, with Arizona losing all three in painful fashion in the final seconds.

 

That's in the past.

 

Keep swinging, fellas. We're pretty sure 2015 is your time to hit one out of the arena in the Pac-12 tournament.

 

Anthony Gimino has covered University of Arizona athletics for more than two decades, including as the football beat writer for the Arizona Daily Star and the columnist for the Tucson Citizen.

 Pic Courtesy: The Eugene Register Guard

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