Arizona Basketball's historical dominance in the Pac-12 Tournaments

In the 26 seasons that the Pac-12 Tournament has been played, Arizona Basketball has had a historic run of dominance. Arizona has parlayed (now) nine regular-season Pac-12 championships into a league-high nine tournament wins (seven official).
Arizona v UCLA
Arizona v UCLA / Ethan Miller/GettyImages

With Arizona being crowned the regular-season Pac-12 champion for a league-high nine times since the tournament resumed in 2002, they've parlayed it into a corresponding league-high nine tournament wins (seven official).

In the 26 seasons that the Pac-10/12 Tournament has been played in the format known and loved today, Arizona has had a historic run of dominance. Even with the 2017 and 2018 Tournament championships vacated, Arizona still leads the conference in Pac-12 titles with seven. There's no question that when Pac-12 Tournament time comes, Arizona has been the best basketball team in the conference.

Which years has Arizona won?

Bennedict Mathurin, Oumar Ballo
UCLA v Arizona / Ethan Miller/GettyImages

After UCLA won the inaugural Pac-12 Tournament (those pesky Bruins) in 1987, Arizona won the next three in 1988, 1989, and 1990 before the 12-season hiatus. Immediately upon the tournament's return in 2002, Arizona won the conference tournament championships to ring in the new era. Though the 'Cats didn't win another Pac-12 Tournament until 2015, they racked up four Pac-12 Regular Season Champion nods (2003, '05, '11, '14).

The 2015 win began an impressive run where Arizona won five out of eight tournaments ('15, '17*, '18*, '22, '23) unofficially, with the 2017 and '18 wins being retroactively vacated due to NCAA conduct violations under Sean Miller. Currently, Arizona is coming off back-to-back tournament championships for the second time in the new era of the tournament — the 'Cats also went back-to-back in '17 and '18.

Deandre Ayton
USC v Arizona / Ethan Miller/GettyImages

Currently, the 'Cats are looking to snag their second three-peat in tournament history after already being the only team to do so in '88, '89, and '90.

How has it translated to March Madness?

Unfortunately, Arizona hasn't made it further than the Elite Eight since the tournament's revitalization in 2002. The 'Cats have been bounced in the first round of the NCAA Tournament six times, and twice ('18 and '23) after winning the conference tournament. This is how last season ended for No. 2-seeded Arizona when they were stunned 59-55 by No. 15 Princeton and became the first school to fall as a No. 2 seed more than once.

However, Arizona hasn't always disappointed. The Wildcats have made the Sweet Sixteen five times ('02, '09, '13, '17, '22) and the Elite Eight an additional five times ('03, '05, '11, '14, '15). Arizona has only missed the postseason three times, and compensated for the missed March Madness in 2012 with an NIT berth. This season, the Wildcats are an NCAA Tournament lock under Tommy Lloyd for the third straight year, and the only point of discussion is whether Arizona will hold a No. 1 or No. 2 seed.

How have the rivals done?

Arizona's two main rivals in Basketball, Arizona State and UCLA, have had polar opposite levels of success in the regular season and the conference tournament. The Bruins have always been a formidable adversary (despite being long removed from the John Wooden days) and in the March Madness mix. Arizona State, however, is easily the least decorated basketball program in the Pac-12.

Norman Powell
UCLA v Arizona / Ethan Miller/GettyImages

UCLA has won the conference tournament four times, but the last was back in 2014. The Bruins, surprisingly, aren't even second to Arizona in Pac-12 Tournament titles — that would be Oregon with five. The Bruins have faced Arizona in four championship games (1990, 2014, 2021, 2022) and have been the runner-up to Arizona in all but one (2014).

Even sweeter is the fact that Arizona State has never won the Pac-12 tournament. The furthest the Sun Devils have gone was a finals loss against USC — which was the Trojans' only win in five appearances — in 2009. Only Washington State (13) has been jettisoned in the first round more: Arizona State has been one-and-done in 10 tournaments. The Sun Devils are the only team in the Pac-12 that hasn't won a National Championship, a Pac-12 Tournament championship, or even a Pac-12 Regular Season Champion nod.

What can we expect from Arizona this year?

Sean Miller
Oregon v Arizona / Ethan Miller/GettyImages

Arizona is rightfully the favorite to win the Pac-12 Tournament this year. The only conference team they failed to record a win against is Washington State, and the Cougs have secured the No. 2 seed in the tournament after losing to Washington at home in Pullman. Either way, Arizona has secured a first-round bye in the conference tournament and will face the No. 8/9 seed.

It poses an interesting path to the championship though: the only potential Wazzu matchup spot is in the championship game, and Arizona hasn't found an offensive rhythm against Washington State yet this season. Washington State will have to face the No. 8/10 seed, and it poses the only legitimate threat to Arizona's conference title hopes. If the Cougs slip early to No. 8, 10, or No. 3 in the quarterfinals, Arizona will be in the driver's seat to three-peat in its pursuits of a National Championship.

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