On this day in history: Arizona tops USC on March 9, 2002, to win first Pac-10 Tournament after hiatus

Arizona Basketball won the Pac-10 tournament 22 years ago today on March 9, 2002. This was the first Pac-10 tournament after a 12-season hiatus, and the Wildcats took it home on what was an extremely fateful Saturday.
Lute Olson of Arizona Wildcats talks.
Lute Olson of Arizona Wildcats talks. / Jeff Gross/GettyImages

On this day in history: Arizona won its fourth consecutive Pac-10 Tournament Championship on Saturday, March 9, 2002, picking up right where it left off after the three-peat from 1988-90. The Wildcats, led by legendary head coach Lute Olson, finished the season at 24-10 (12-6 in Pac-10) en route to a Sweet Sixteen appearance.

The Pacific-10 Conference shocked the college basketball world in 1990 when a vote among the university presidents axed its conference basketball tournament. Missed class time and scheduling issues were noted in the announcement, and it was no secret that it wasn't doing well financially either. After 12 years of letting the standings decide who the Pac-10 champion was, an 8-2 vote among university presidents finally brought back the now-beloved Pac-10 Tournament.

The 2001-02 Pac-10 Tournament

Arizona v USC  X
Arizona v USC X / Harry How/GettyImages

Arizona finished the season as the No. 2 seed with a 12-6 record in regular-season Pac-10 play and the No. 15 ranked team in the AP Poll. Arizona drew rival Arizona State first and served up a 17-point beatdown that ended 73-56 in Arizona's favor. In the Semifinals, the 'Cats drew No. 3 seed and No. 25 ranked Cal but handed them a double-digit loss as well in the 90-78 victory to secure a championship berth. Oregon, the No. 1 seed and ranked No. 9 in the Poll, fell 10 points short against No. 4 seed and No. 22 ranked USC in the Semifinals, setting up a showdown between the Wildcats and the Trojans.

Luke Walton — son of UCLA and NBA legend Bill Walton — played all 40 minutes and led Arizona to an 81-71 win over USC. Walton posted 23 points and eight assists to earn the Pac-10 Championship and the Tournament MVP while blossoming freshman Salim Stoudamire logged a then-career-high 29 points. Stoudamire went on to best this career-high each year he played. With the win, Arizona secured its 18th consecutive March Madness appearance.

USC v Arizona X
USC v Arizona X / Stephen Dunn/GettyImages

Arizona extended its Pac-10 Tournament win streak to 12 games in thrilling fashion. In the first half, USC was swarming on defense and held Arizona to just 31 points in the first half. The Trojans held an 8-point lead heading into halftime. However, Arizona came back swinging and scored a whopping 50 points in the second half while holding USC to just 32, powering the 'Cats to a fourth straight Pac-10 Tournament Championship.

With Arizona heading into the final Pac-12 Tournament, they're better poised for greatness than ever as they look to bring home a third straight championship for the second time in program history.

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