Covering University of Colorado sports, mostly basketball, since 2010

Friday, March 11, 2016

2016 Pac-12 Tournament Teaser: Day 3

VEGAS, The Pac-12 Tournament, March 11th --

This season has been full of a number of 'what-ifs' for the Colorado Buffaloes.  Games against SMU, Utah (twice), Oregon State, and USC in the regular season were the difference between a good team and a standard-setting exclamation point for the program.  After yesterday's 82-78 loss to Arizona, our Colorado heroes have another rueful log for the 'coulda-woulda-shoulda' pile, as CU wasted a commanding second half effort on the coattails of a disastrous opening 20 minutes.

From the moment the ball tipped, you could tell the Buffs were tight.  They were missing bunnies, passing up open looks, and failing to stand up to the Wildcats in an admittedly tough environment.  Stumbling out of the gate, they committed the worst sin imaginable: they allowed the heavily pro-Arizona crowd in the MGM Grand Garden Arena to become a factor.  Possession after possession of stagnant, empty offensive basketball only made the situation worse (26% shooting, 0-6 from three in the first half), and they quickly fell behind an ever growing eight ball.  Coach Boyle threw the kitchen sink at the problem, taking an (I assume) personal record of three first half timeouts and swapping out the lineups constantly, looking for some traction. None was to be found, however. In all, the team would play -17 basketball in the opening frame, and, honestly, should've been down by more at the break.

Then, CU came out of the locker room, and looked like a completely different team.  Shots started falling, they gained some rhythm, and they leaned on typically tenacious defense and rebounding (finished +16 on the glass for the game).  Slowly, but surely, the gap between them and Arizona began to shorten.  By the time the final TV timeout hit, they were within striking range, and continued to push into the final seconds. That 17-point gap, however, proved to be too much of a hill to climb, and the team eventually fell into a four-point loss.

There's nothing to be ashamed of here.  Yes, the opening half was ugly, and I had hoped the team would've shown better in a big spot.  But that comeback was impressive, coming in the face of a hostile crowd and a tough whistle ('Zona shot 19 extra free throws, albeit while CU was in scramble mode).  They can head into Selection Sunday with their heads held high, knowing that not only will they be in the Dance, but in a position to make a lot of East Coast also-rans sweat when they draw the Black and Gold.

In the day's other action:

  • Oregon survived an early scare from UW to make the semi finals, 83-77.
  • Utah traded blows with USC, but eventually secured an 80-72 win.
  • GP2 and Derrick Bruce went off for OSU, but too much Ivan Rabb was enough for Cal; 76-68.

Much more entertaining day, overall, than Day 1.  Each game had some drama, even though chalk still reigned.  The nightcap was probably my favorite.  I was a little bleary-eyed, and on the verge of a walking hangover, but the sights of Gary Payton II (20/17, dismantled Jaylen Brown with his defense) mounting a desperate run at Cal was awesome.  Ivan Rabb, though, stepped up when he needed to (21/15/4).

What it all means is that we get the final four we all secretly wanted.  Oregon, Utah, Cal, and Arizona will make for a titanic semifinal Friday, one that projects to be the best of any Power 5 conference in the country. The atmosphere in the arena, with AZ and UT fans fighting over precious tickets, will be next level.  The talent on display will be enviable.  If these two games tonight aren't great, I'll eat my hat.


Best pep band of the day:  Arizona

Why?:  I didn't want to pick the same band twice in a row, so OSU is out (though they played quite well last night, particularly on "Radar Love.")  The UofA band's sound was nice and meaty, they worked well with crowd interaction, and seemed to be much improved over last year's version. Overall, very entertaining and at ease with the fact that a basketball game is not a concert setting.

Looking forward, their matchup with Oregon today is, by far, the most interesting of the band pairings today. Utah/Cal is, well, the equivalent of an 8/9 game (though that Cal bass drummer has my respect).


Today's action:

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

The reigning league champions vs the crowd.  This is going to be like a heavyweight fight where everyone in the audience wants to see the champ knocked on his ass.  I want to say Oregon is up for the challenge, having capped the 'Cats in McKale earlier this year, but Arizona hasn't lost a game in this gym since two years ago, and that was to a UCLA squad with oodles of NBA-ready talent.  I'm putting my money on the Ducks, mostly because the red-clad fans will move the line in my favor, but any result here is possible.

- #3 Cal vs #2 Utah - 9:30 MT - Pac-12 Network - 

Both teams played with their food a bit last night, and both teams are a bit lucky to still be playing today. Cal, especially, looked shaky, putting my tournament-winning bet on them into some doubt.  I'm still on their side, though, and expect that Jaylen Brown will have a much better game with GP2 in his rear-view.  Add in their ridiculous strength on two-point shot percentage defense, and I think Cal will get the best of this one.


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