A slam dunk: After impressive victory over UCLA, Arizona poised to land No. 1 seed in NCAA Tournament

Among the highlights of Arizona’s victory over UCLA was dunks like this by Bennedict Mathurian. (Photo by Wesley Johnson/Cronkite News)

The victory over the Bruins in Las Vegas marks the eighth time Arizona has won the Pac-12 Men’s Basketball Tournament. It sets the Wildcats up nicely for the NCAA Tournament. (Photo by Wesley Johnson/Cronkite News)

LAS VEGAS – Dalen Terry, a malleable player, can fill any position and is the heart and soul that keeps the energy up for the Arizona Wildcats no matter the circumstance.

On Saturday night in the Pac-12 Men’s Basketball Tournament title game, he had to step up and play point guard for Kerr Kriisa, who was out with an ankle injury he suffered earlier in the tournament, and Justin Kier, who got into foul trouble early in the game.

He delivered in a big way.

“Dalen today. That’s my point guard, and he hasn’t really practiced at point guard all year,” Arizona coach Tommy Lloyd said after the Wildcats’ 84-76 victory. “And there was even a practice this summer I didn’t let Dalen practice because he traveled 13 times the day before. I told him, if you travel I can’t play you, so you need to go over to a side basket. … To just see how far they’ve come, it’s been special.”

Terry, a 6-foot-7 sophomore who attended Tempe Corona del Sol and later Hillcrest Prep, put up 15 points and six rebounds, and while those numbers don’t jump off the page, he did a lot more than what shows on the stat sheet. Whether it was energizing the crowd or delivering a big play at the right time, Terry was the engine that kept Arizona running.

The victory marks the eighth time Arizona has won the Pac-12 Tournament. It was also the regular season champion this year.

Arizona guard Benedict Mathurin was overjoyed with the team title and winning the Most Outstanding Player award for the Pac-12 Tournament.

Mathurin walked into the press conference with the Most Outstanding Player trophy in one hand, a cupcake in the other and the net the Wildcats cut down around his neck. But that doesn’t mean he’s satisfied with winning the Pac-12 Tournament. He has his sights set on the NCAA Tournament.

The Wildcats’ victory over a talented Bruins team will mean Arizona will secure a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. (Photo by Wesley Johnson/Cronkite News)

“We’re going to go back to Tucson, practice on things we could have done better at the games,” Mathurin said. “And it’s all about winning it all. We won the Pac-12 regular season, Pac-12 championship. Now we’re going for the big thing.”

The game was tight the entire way, and UCLA even sported a 12-point lead early in the second half. It was Terry who provided the spark that ultimately led to the Wildcats getting back on track and winning the game.

He provides the confidence necessary for players like Mathurin to get going when they are having a rough game.

“I feel it motivates all of us. When we’re down, one time we were down 11 or 14 and I was like, I just needed motivation,” Mathurin said. “And I feel like DT is always at the right time at every moment. When we’re up 20 or down 20, he’s always the same guy.”

Lloyd was able to navigate the Wildcats to the Pac-12 championship in his debut season, guiding them to a 31-3 record as they now have their eyes set on the big dance. He’s also the first head coach in Pac-12 history to win both the regular season and tournament title in their first season.

This came after a season where Arizona finished 17-9 and had a self-imposed postseason ban. It’s a special turnaround for a team that was not even ranked in the beginning of the season.

“Last year we didn’t get a chance to go to any tournaments. Coming up this season we wanted to win everything. And we worked hard,” Arizona center Christian Koloko said. “We worked real hard and we sacrificed a lot of things. And I think right now we’re on a good path. We’re going to continue to work hard and try to accomplish that goal.”

The Wildcats owe a big thanks to their fans once again in this tournament. UCLA blue and gold was a rare sight in the T-Mobile Arena and the Arizona fans drowned out any attempt that the small UCLA crowd made to get into the game.

“They deserve for that arena to be full, every night, no matter who we’re playing. It’s a sign of respect for Arizona basketball,” Lloyd said. “And that’s all I want. I want our fans to give our players the best experience imaginable those years they play for us.”

Grant Greabell Grant Gray-Bell
Sports Reporter, Phoenix

Grant Greabell expects to graduate in May 2022 with a bachelor’s degree in sports journalism and a minor in business. Greabell, who has interned with Times Media Group, is working for the Phoenix sports bureau.

Sports Visual Journalist, Phoenix

Wesley Johnson expects to graduate in May 2022 with a bachelor’s degree in sports journalism. Johnson, who has interned as a digital editor and social media manager at Arizona PBS, is working for the Phoenix sports bureau.