UA rides second-half surge to Pac-12 title game
LOS ANGELES (AP) — Tournament-tested Arizona proved too much for an Oregon State program that is on the rise, but has yet to hit the heights that the Wildcats have enjoyed.
Kyle Fogg scored 22 points and Arizona rallied with a big run after halftime to win 72-61 on Friday night, sending the Wildcats into the championship game of the Pac-12 Conference tournament.
The Wildcats are looking to improve upon last year’s NCAA tournament run that carried them to the regional final, where they lost to Connecticut.
“Sometimes as a coach you have a feeling that your guys have been there before, and it’s somewhat understated how many postseason games we played a year ago,” Arizona coach Sean Miller said. “When you’re playing these elimination games, it certainly helps to have a team or individual players that have done that and been there before.”
Jesse Perry added 16 points and 11 rebounds, and Solomon Hill had 12 before fouling out with 5:30 to play for the fourth-seeded Wildcats (23-10), who will seek their fifth tournament title in Saturday’s final at Staples Center. Arizona’s four titles and 21 victories are the most of any school in the event’s 15-year history.
“I called the three of those guys (Fogg, Perry and Hill) the heart and soul of our team yesterday, and they really are,” Miller said. “Right now, we’re really reliant on them. At a time like our halftime today, you’re relying on those three guys to come out and set the tone. To not think that we’re not going to win, but get right back into what we need to do to win.”
Roberto Nelson scored 19 points, Devon Collier added 15 and Jared Cunningham had 14 for the ninth-seeded Beavers (19-14), who were cheered courtside for the third straight game by alumni Gary Payton and A.C. Green. This year’s team was the lowest seed to reach the semifinals in tourney history.
But even with Payton chewing out a referee, the former NBA stars couldn’t help the Beavers withstand Arizona’s 20-3 run that opened the second half.
“The first four minutes of the second half changed the game,” Miller said. “That 4:08 in the second half is some of the best basketball we’ve played this year that got us that lead.”
The Wildcats began the game on a similar run that threatened to turn the game into a rout. Oregon State answered that one well enough to lead by seven at halftime.
The Wildcats fired up their 3-point arsenal, hitting three during the second-half outburst that produced a 47-37 lead. They were 9 of 18 from long range in the game.
“We played really hard and put our all into every game and every play that we had out there. We wanted to play tomorrow. We kind of let it get ahead of ourselves,” Nelson said. “They hustled and they got all the extra stuff that we didn’t get. They just played better than we did in the clutch.”
Oregon State scored five in a row to get to 47-42 but never got any closer in its first semifinal appearance since 2005.
“I thought we ran out of gas,” Beavers coach Craig Robinson said. “It just was hard to finish, and that’s a sign of fatigue. If we hadn’t run out of gas, we’d have given them a little bit better of a game.”
Robinson was irate about the officiating, yelling in the final minutes toward one referee about another, “He hasn’t gotten anything right.”
“It was a very physical game. But that’s how semifinals of big-time tournaments are,” he said. “I was happy with our guys because they were attacking. It seemed like they might have gotten some hits that didn’t get called, but that’s part of the game.”
The Beavers upset top-seeded Washington, the league’s regular season champion, in the quarterfinals.
“My team, being as young as it is, it was the first time I’ve been around guys who didn’t think they were as good as I thought they were,” Robinson said. “This is the day and age where everybody thinks they’re better than they are. And these guys never really started to believe how good they were until we went on this last run here. It was really important for us to have the success so they could start believing.”
Fogg, Perry and Hill dominated for the second straight game. The trio of upperclassmen combined for 55 of Arizona’s points in its 66-58 quarterfinal win over UCLA. Hill’s last foul was a technical as a result of what he said to a referee.
“With guys like me and Jess, just being older, this is our last go-around,” said Fogg, who like Perry is a senior. “We just want to win as many games as we can and kind of take this journey as far as we can go. We’re at a great spot as a team and really coming together. Behind coach, I think we can keep this run going.”
Arizona hit four 3-pointers in opening a 23-14 lead while the Beavers were slow to get untracked, starting out 3 of 10 from the floor. But Oregon State ignited with a 20-4 run over the final 6:58 to lead 34-27 at halftime. Cunningham had six points, Collier five and Joe Burton four in the spurt, which had Payton and Green on their feet clapping.
The Wildcats were held to only Fogg’s 3-pointer and a free throw by Nick Johnson during a stretch of 6 minutes. Fogg played in his school-record 137th game, breaking Jason Gardner’s record.
Arizona played without freshman guard Josiah Turner, who was suspended indefinitely before the tournament for the second time this season after he violated unspecified team rules.
The Beavers’ 19 wins under Robinson are their most since having 22 in the 1989-90 season. They lost to the Wildcats in overtime in the regular season, and fell to 0-6 against them in the tournament.