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March 2, 2014
No. 3 Arizona clinches Pac-12 title outright
On a night third-ranked Arizona clinched the Pac-12 Conference championship outright, it was fitting that its defense kickstarted the celebration.
The program captured its 26th regular-season title - and 13th since joining the league in 1978-79 - in a 79-66 rout over Stanford Sunday at McKale Center. The win in the home finale completed a perfect 18-0 feat.
The Wildcats (27-2, 14-2 Pac-12), who led by 13 at halftime, were paced by Aaron Gordon's eighth double-double of the season. The freshman finished with 19 points and 15 rebounds, and he was serenaded with chants of "one more year" in what could be his final home game as the NBA lottery temptation looms.
"It feels good, but it's not the final stop on the destination," said Gordon, who made 8 of 13 shots.
About the NBA, he added: "That's looking too far into the future."
But the contest did bring a closure for Jordin Mayes, who started the 17th game of his career but first this season. He checked in for the last time at the 1:42 mark on Senior Night. The Wildcats were already up 13 and UA head coach Sean Miller called him back to the bench with 41.2 seconds remaining for one of the last of several ovations throughout the evening.
All that was left to do was cut down the nets, and the 6-3 guard was the final player to climb the ladder and retrieve a strand of nylon. Mayes is the lone remaining member of UA's last Pac-12 championship in 2010-11, the first in Miller's career.
"It feels just as good (as the first)," Miller said.
Mayes, a Los Angeles native, missed both of his shot attempts in 15 minutes, but that was a mere blip on the big picture. For Miller, the game and decision to start his lone senior served as a night-long tribute.
"Jordin is a fantastic kid. It's the right thing to do," Miller said. "It was good for him to be able to get so much recognition from our crowd.
"He's a winner."
The second half was essentially the pre-party to the net cutting ceremony.
Gabe York connected on a string of three 3-pointers, including one from NBA range, and Gordon put the crowd into a frenzy with a behind-the-back fake and layup to bump the lead to 25 with 9:40 to play.
"I've been doing that since I was in ninth grade," Gordon said.
Arizona also finished 21 of 29 at the free-throw line.
The Cardinal (18-10, 9-7 Pac-12) never posed a threat, losing the fast break battle 16-0, second-chance points 15-4 and bench production 25-4. Josh Huestis scored a game-high 22 points and pulled down 12 boards.
After the final horn sounded, the Wildcats celebrated with the students in a mob at the Zona Zoo.
"They're playing with a lot of confidence and they're playing well together," Stanford head coach Johnny Dawkins said.
It was the UA defense that made the difference early, turning four Stanford turnovers into eight points as part of a 13-4 run to open the contest. The highlight of the spurt came at the 16:02 mark, when Gordon played the passing lane, pushed ahead to McConnell and finished the fast break with an alley-oop slam.
Stanford briefly cut the deficit to 3, but the Wildcats' stifling defense continued to be the difference.
This time, it was the block party that had the Cardinal doing anything but dancing. First, Johnson's swat in transition led to a Gordon layup. Then, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson turned into a one-man show on a block, taking it coast to coast to extend the lead to 35-21 with 3:49 remaining.
UA took a 41-28 lead into the break, limiting Stanford to 9-of-25 shooting and zero second-chance points.
"They've been an outstanding defensive team all year," Dawkins said.
Mayes, who received the loudest ovation in pre-game warm-ups and in player introductions, logged six first-half minutes without taking a shot.