Colorado had struggled twice this season with Washington State, succumbing to personal demons in two difficult, taught affairs with the league's worst team. Yes, CU won both regular season meetings, but neither was convincing, and you could make an argument at the Cougs deserved to win at least one, if not both, games outright. Facing them in the first round of the 2016 Pac-12 Tournament was a kind of a litmus test for the Buffs: is Colorado really ready for March?
Well, after a resounding 80-56 clubbing of the Cougars here in Las Vegas, I think the answer is 'yes.' The Buffs controlled the action throughout, hitting all their numbers against the lower seed. For the game, they held Washington State to just 35% shooting, grabbed an extra 11 rebounds, and limited turnovers to a reasonable 10. Anytime Colorado does that, they've going to win. In this case they won big by also knocking down 40% of their three point attempts and sharing the basketball on offense (17 assists on 30 made baskets). Really, there's nothing to complain about after this one. It was a springy, bright little display from CU, one that even allowed them to play the 'Larry Bird All-Stars' late (Brett Brady even knocked down a three!). Essentially, they looked like a 21-win team should.
Delving into the numbers, the big key, as admitted by WSU coach Ernie Kent, was that the Cougars focused a little too much on stopping Josh Scott. While they managed to hold the All-Pac-12 forward to just six points, the Young Fundamental welcomed the double teams, and wrecked the Cougs with five assists on kickouts. Throw in a dose of George King going off (21 points, most of those in the first half) and the Buffs were able to play about as clean a game as you could expect this time of year. Elsewhere, big Tory Miller put up a huge 8/7, looking like a bull-in-a-china-shop should. Some defensive lapses, sure, but that's the version of Tory we in BuffNation hope will translate into the future.
Of course, everything that happened yesterday against the Cougars can be thrown out the window. As was always the case this season against those from Pullman, Colorado was expected to win, and win big. CU simply lived up to expectations... finally. The trick will be translating that good mojo into what will be a very difficult test this afternoon against Arizona in "McKale North.' The defending champs may not have had the most resounding season, indeed requiring a late push against Cal last week to avoid the indignity of a first round game, but they're still a very tough out (in fact, all mighty KenPom has installed them as the statistical favorite to win the whole tournament). Falling back on an old crutch, my only advise for those in attendance today: gird your loins.
In the day's other action:
- Washington rolled over Stanford 91-68.
- USC thrashed cross-town rival UCLA 95-71.
- Oregon State pushed past Arizona State 75-66.
A lot of chalk, a lot of blowouts. Even the closest game of the day, OSU/ASU, was ugly and essentially unwatchable. Not a good start, overall, if I'm honest. But, as is often the case with any tournament, early chalk usually begets later-round craziness. The big dogs hit town today, and will all play lower-seeded entrants advancing in emphatic fashion. I would imagine one or two will be able to put a big scare into a top-four seed this afternoon.
Best pep band of the day: Oregon State
Why?: They played the loudest. They played the fastest. The tubas were the phatest. Were one of the few groups who seemed to understand that they were playing at a basketball game, and not sitting a concert. (Looking at you, USC and UCLA).
Of special note, Stanford wasn't here for their one game, and didn't bring the Tree, either. Apparently, this is a result of that Iowa silliness; just lost a lost of respect for the decision makers who came to that conclusion. Accordingly, the Cardinal got whupped on the court. While there were basketball reasons for this, I'm putting it down for coming to Las Vegas without their band.
Up today, the Oregon/Washington game projects to be the best band matchup of the day. Can't wait for that one.
- #8 Washington vs #1 Oregon - 1pm MT - Pac-12 Network -
Oregon come in the league champions, but probably the least talked about top-four team, in terms of hype. I bet they will even be underdogs if they advance to play Arizona tomorrow evening. That could be all the edge Dana Altman needs to get them going. UW is getting a lot of points, and it wouldn't surprise me if they back-door covered, but UO should win this one handily.
- #5 Colorado vs #4 Arizona - 3:30 MT - Pac-12 Network -
Does it have to be Arizona? Yes, Colorado looked comfortable against the red-clad horde in Boulder, which was something considering the previous two visits from our Four Corners neighbors, but here, in Las Vegas, CU might as well be playing them in a road game. Any of the top-four would be an elite-level challenge, but throwing in the extra difficulty of facing a good UofA team in a pseudo-road environment is a little too intense of a test for me. I think the Buffs will be able to cover the 10 points being offered right now, but I highly doubt they will be able to win. Even with a loss, however, NCAA Tournament status has already been assured, so this one's on the house.
- #7 USC vs #2 Utah - 7pm MT - Pac-12 Network -
If Arizona has the largest fanbase here, Utah is a strong #2. Utes from everywhere will be here in force for the second session, making this a tough environment for the Trojans. This ain't playing the slap-dick Bruins anymore, USC, welcome to a whole new level of basketball. Give me UU.
- #6 Oregon State vs #3 Cal - 9:30pm MT - FS1 -
I followed through on my pre-tournament promise, and bet the Bears to win it all (6-1 odds). Accordingly, I like them to win this evening against OSU. The fighting GP2s just don't have enough firepower to keep up with the Berkeley boys.
GO BUFFS! PROVE ME WRONG, AND BEAT THE WILDCATS!