Covering University of Colorado sports, mostly basketball, since 2010

Friday, March 13, 2015

2015 Pac-12 Tournament Teaser: Day 3

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

A top-heavy league showed its true stripes in the quarterfinals. The Pac-12 Tournament, that had started out bonkers, slumped under a wave of double-digit blowouts. Heavy favorites Arizona, Oregon, Utah, and UCLA all rolled - after some early nervous moments - setting up a chalk pair of semifinals this afternoon.

For Colorado, they had their shot against the Ducks.  They lead by as many as 11 in the first half, and were up by three at halftime.  For much of the game, they were not only playing with favored Oregon, but beating them. Through the opening 20 minutes, the Buffs had held UO to only 33% shooting from the field, and largely kept one of the nation's best offenses silent.  But, as would be expected, you can't keep a good team down for long, and, eventually, Oregon began to find traction against the porous CU defense.  A wave of UO points in the second half proved to be too much, and the Buffs saw their season end to the tune of a 93-85 final.

The big problem was defensive switches - some of them unintended.  In the second half, Oregon was able to get whomever they wanted on their elite set of guards - particularly the great Joe Young - by running a screen off a Colorado forward. For his end, Young dropped 30 points, including a back-breaking layup off of a bad switch from Askia Booker, to knife the Buffs.  In total, the Ducks would shoot 76% from the floor in the second half, en route to a painful 59 points over only 20 minutes of action.

This was never the type of game that CU could win.  Played to 75 possessions, this was to Oregon's tempo and style.  Colorado kept running into mistakes, keyed by coughing up turnovers against the Ducks' trapping press.  The Buffs would commit 13 TOs for the game, leading to 27 points for the league's two-seed.  Not only were the turnovers ugly, but they were fueling the Oregon attack.

There was some late hope, as Colorado managed to cut the deficit to only four in the waning minutes of action. But any dreams of the great Booker single-handedly leading a noble comeback to stave off the end of his career were short lived.  Booker did get a little warm down the stretch, finishing with 12/5/5, but it wasn't enough.

At their best on Thursday, CU was going through Josh Scott.  The Colorado Springs native was nigh unguardable against Oregon, dropping 16 mostly-early points.  He helped get elite rim protector Jordan Bell in foul trouble quickly, and was a terror in the paint.  The Buffs struggled to get him the ball in the second half, however, and his post touches diminished.

Overall, this was Colorado's season in a nutshell.  Good enough to compete, but not focused or composed enough to get the needed results on high leverage possessions.  It's a frustrating end to a frustrating year.  CU now heads into the offseason needing a lot of reformative work.  Unless I've completely overestimated Coach Boyle, the version of the Buffs we will see in November will be a completely different animal.


Today's action

- #1 Arizona vs #4 UCLA - 7pm MT, Pac-12 Network - 

Now we get serious.  Arizona has looked unstoppable in recent weeks, crushing all comers by buckets of points.  These next two games, however, will decide how we perceive the league champs.  The Bruins have been the ones to take out the Wildcats each of the last two years, and they may be the only hope to do so this season.  They're young and inconsistent, however, and I'm not expecting any dramatics in the first semi. Give me the 'Cats and the under.

- #2 Oregon vs #3 Utah - 9:30pm MT, ESPN - 

Utah looked refreshed and reinvigorated against Stanford last night; a complete reversal from their slumping effort in Seattle last Saturday.  With their length and activity on defense, they should prove to be a much tougher challenge to the Ducks offense than Colorado.  I like the Utes, behind another Delon Wright explosion, to slip into the final.  

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