Covering University of Colorado sports, mostly basketball, since 2010

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Pac-12 Tournament Teaser: Day 4

VEGAS, The Pac-12 Tournament, March 15th --

Sometimes, you just have to tip your cap.

With a trip to the Pac-12 final on the line, CU ran up against their old nemesis, the Arizona Wildcats. A frightening site on any occasion, when invested they're capable of massacring teams with their elite-level defense. With tournament progression on the line, you better believe they were invested yesterday afternoon, leaving the Buffs little opportunity to steal a win. Despite an impressive first-half effort that saw Colorado tie the game up with 36 seconds to go, it was only ever a matter of time. Given halftime to adjust their defense, it was the Giant Death Robot that emerged from the locker room, essentially putting a lid on the rim, and forestalling any hopes of a CU miracle.  It quickly got out of hand, with Arizona waltzing down the stretch to a 63-43 win.
CU had nowhere to go against the dominating 'Cats D.  From: the BDC
The peripherals are a white-wash.  CU only shot 29% from the field for the game (under 23% for the second half), and were killed on the boards 41-25.  Over a stretch of almost 11 minutes from a Josh Scott layup early in the second half to a made jumper from Askia Booker with seven and a half minutes to go, Colorado would make only one other field goal. Yes, 'third quarter' offense from CU has been inconsistent at times, and non-existent at others, but I don't know what else they could've done yesterday. There was just nothing open, nothing easy, and CU succumbed to reality.

Individually, the Buffs were lead by the duo of Booker and Xavier Johnson.  Ski closed his strong performance in the tournament by providing 12/6 to lead the team in both scoring and rebounding.  All told, he put up 50/16/9 this week on 44% shooting and against only four turnovers, which I think merits inclusion on the all-tournament team.  XJ had a strong first half, which, coincidentally, allowed CU to have a strong first half, but let his emotions get the better of him after the break. A few quick fouls and a devastating block from Aaron Gordon all but erased the fiery Californian from the rest of the action.  Josh Scott was, again, largely absent, as quick double teams from the Wildcats left him no room to operate.  He's going to be getting those for the rest of his collegiate career, so his coaches and teammates are going to have to get creative in helping him make opponents pay when they send help.
Booker did the best he could to attack the stifling defense.  From: the BDC
There's no shame in saying this, but Arizona is just better.  Frighteningly better.  Even with Spencer Dinwiddie in the fold, there'd have been little chance of CU advancing yesterday afternoon.  Arizona has a once-in-a-generation type of defensive juggernaut at their disposal, and Colorado isn't nearly at the level to contend with it when real money is on the line.  The task of defeating the 'Cats will have to be left to better, more offensively potent competition...

... which brings me to the second semi-final of the day, when UCLA took on Stanford.  Just as the Wildcats have an elite-level defense, the Bruins are sickeningly good at getting buckets.  Last night they laid waste to the Cardinal, shooting a jaw-dropping 65% from the field en route to a 84-59 romp.  It sets up the matchup most had wanted to see all week, with the top-two teams in the league, who had clearly separated themselves throughout the regular season, set to battle each other for the league crown.  Hopefully, in a tournament that has featured a seemingly endless string of blowouts, the final has something interesting in store.


Today's Action

- #1 Arizona vs #2 UCLA - 4pm MT - Fox Sports 1 - 

It's the age-old question of what happens when an unstoppable force meets and unmovable object. Arizona's defense is the best I've seen live, and UCLA scores like an NBA team.  What happens when the two meet? I guess it's fitting that the final features a matchup of such diametrically opposed styles.

These two last met all the way back on January 9th.  If previous performance is any indication, we're in for a hell of a show, as the Wildcats only pulled away late in Pauley Pavilion to secure their 79-75 win.  As a credit to their scoring prowess, the Bruins were able to chip in over one point per possession back then, a feat which only Oregon and, surprisingly, Oregon St have been able to accomplish since.  If we're going to see an upset this afternoon, UCLA will have to put forth a similar effort.

I generally expect that the best defense will always win-out against the best offense.  The trope 'defense wins championships' is known throughout the sports world, and with good reason. Accordingly, I'm picking the Wildcats to win today.  They're giving six, which seems a little high to the point that I may have to get a little creative with my bets, but I'm too damn impressed by that Arizona defense to predict this one any other way.


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