Covering University of Colorado sports, mostly basketball, since 2010

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Pac-12 Tournament Teaser: Day 2

VEGAS, The Pac-12 Tournament, March 13th --

Well, a win is, as always, a win.  But it certainly wasn't a pretty one for the Buffs yesterday afternoon in their first round tilt with the USC Trojans.  They were pushed around by the bigger Trojans, allowing what should've been a fast-paced up-and-down affair devolve into a possession by possession struggle.  CU came dangerously close to inviting uncomfortable questions about their Tournament competency, but correctly responded when pressed mid-way through the second half.  A few heroics from Askia Booker was just what the doctor ordered, and Colorado snuck into the quarterfinals via a 59-56 scab of a victory.
Oraby muted Scott for much of the afternoon.  From: the BDC
Much of the difficulty surrounded the individual battle between CU's superlative forward Josh Scott, and Trojan big man Omar Oraby.  While Scott had decidedly gotten the better of the matchup in the regular season games, Oraby bullied and frustrated the Colorado sophomore in Vegas.  Jelly just couldn't get a shot off in the first half, and only scored a single point in the opening frame.  He was so off his game that at times he would resort to basically jumping into the towering Egyptian, all but begging the refs to bail him out with a gift whistle. With none coming, the ugly vibes only deepened.

It all came to a head mid-way through the second half when USC, behind a 23-point day from Byron Wesley, opened up a five-point lead on the Buffs.  Luckily, that's when Askia Booker took over.  On the following possessions, Ski scored three straight baskets, grabbed a huge defensive rebound, and assisted on a game-tying bucket from Xavier Johnson.  For a brief moment, it was Booker's world, we were all just living in it -- and USC was helpless to stop it.  The sparkplug guard would finish with 21/7/4 for Colorado against only one turnover on 53% shooting.  Just a masterful performance.
Ski came alive in the nick of time.  From: the BDC
Behind Askia's example, the Buffs would close well down the stretch.  Finally, after much consternation and grinding of teeth, they got some production from Scott, who scored the team's final nine points, which was enough to secure the victory.  Survived, advanced, bring on the Bears.

I know that March is a unique environment, and uncomfortable performances are often the norm, but CU had better come correct today.  Cal is no less desperate than USC was, and they have the added bonus of being more talented and better coached.  A similar effort from the Buffs will get them bounced by double-digits.


Today's action

- #1 Arizona vs #8 Utah - 1pm MT - Pac-12 Networks -

The prohibitive favorites have arrived, just in time for their stir-crazy horde of fans to greet them.  Arizona dominates the crowds here, with thousands of Wildcats hanging around everywhere.  It's expected, but still a little intimidating.  With that in mind, treat their games the rest of the way as semi-neutral affairs, as the stands will be red-hued and partisan.

The thing is, Utah has traveled well, too, and easily had the second-best showing yesterday in the MGM Grand Garden Arena.  What's more, the Utes played them well in both regular season contests, including the one in Tucson, where they had a lead with 11 minutes to play.  As a result, I think Utah has a better shot than most at beating the 'Cats in Vegas.  Behind a nice front line, and lanky, athletic wings who can stretch the dominating Arizona defense, they've certainly got the tools, and I don't sense an ounce of fear in this team.  I still favor Arizona, but a loss to Utah wouldn't exactly shock me.

Give me Utah +8.

- #4 Cal vs # 5 Colorado - 3:30pm MT - Pac-12 Networks -

CU survived their Trojan scare, and now get their shot at revenge for the near-miss in Berkeley.  If there's any team in the top-eight that I would want CU to see in the second round, it would be the Bears, but that doesn't mean I necessarily like the Buffs to win today.  In fact, it's exactly the opposite.  Cal is playing for their tournament lives, and I just do not like the way the team played down to their competition yesterday. Behind dominating performances from seniors Justin Cobbs and Richard Solomon, I expect the Golden Bears to shoot past Colorado this afternoon.

Fear not, BuffNation, the Buffs are still in the dance.  Don't let anyone tell you differently, even though I'm taking Cal -1 today.

- #2 UCLA vs #7 Oregon - 7pm MT - Pac-12 Networks -

Oregon remains the sexy dark horse pick to win this thing.  They're hot, they have the Vegas swagger, and they wouldn't have to play Arizona until the final.  After watching them find Top Gear yesterday, I'm buying in.  The Ducks are so money, baby, they don't even know it.  As is the local custom, they ride the heater, and roll past the Bruins.  (Cue the habitual BN meltdown in 3... 2... 1...)

A pick 'em from Vegas, give me the Ducks.

- #3 Arizona St vs #6 Stanford - 9:30pm MT - Fox Sports 1 -

I don't want to alarm anyone, or give out the impression that I like one of these teams to go all the way, but the winner of this game has won the tournament the last two years (CU was a 6 in '12, Oregon a 3 in '13)...

I'm stumped with how to view this one, as they split their set this season, and both teams were inconsistent down the stretch.  If I had to make a choice, I'd lean on the fact that ASU was garbage away from Wells Fargo Arena in Tempe, with their only road conference wins coming against lowly USC and an overtime road stunner against Cal.  While Stanford wasn't impressive last night against WSU, they still have proven to be a more capable team away from home with four wins, including solid efforts against Cal and Oregon. That's enough of an angle for me.

The Cardinal is favored by a point and a half, I guess I'll give that if forced to make a decision, but I'm not really in a betting mindset on the nightcap.


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