Covering University of Colorado sports, mostly basketball, since 2010

Friday, March 10, 2017

2017 Pac-12 Tournament Teaser: Day 3

VEGAS, The Pac-12 Tournament, March 10th --

There will be no dream run to the Dance, there will be no cinderella story for our Black and Gold heroes.  Despite the best efforts of Derrick White and Xavier Johnson, the Buffaloes just didn't have enough talent at their disposal in their quarterfinal matchup against Arizona, coming up 14 points short, 92-78.

That's not to say that CU was well out of this one from the tip.  After trading some early blows, then starting to slip behind, the Buffs fought back right before halftime, fueled by the devil-may-care attacking tenacity of White.  They would even, briefly, take a lead before Arizona stole back the one-point advantage at the break.  The problem here was two-fold: reserve forward Tory Miller was in deep foul trouble, already saddled with three personals in seven minutes of play, and Arizona was creating havoc off the dribble-drive.  Colorado was in the game, but another half of play was a daunting proposition.

Indeed, into the final frame, the UofA's execution on the offensive side began to show.  With precious few resources in the paint to slow them, forwards Lauri Markkanen and Dusan Ristic started to go off, while their guards were busy knifing into the heart of Colorado's defense to create open looks. CU would allow 64% shooting from the field and 54 total points in the second half -- the relative equivalent of a bloodbath.

Still, staring back into the face of this hellish math, White and Johnson would not go quietly into the night.  Derrick, especially, was on fire, slipping past would-be defenders and letting it fly.  He would tally an awe-inspiring total of 31 points against a good defensive team determined to stop him, humbling just as many combined recruiting stars in the process.  If there were any lingering doubts that he belonged at this level, they were erased here in Las Vegas.  Xavier Johnson was similarly into the action, flying around on both ends.  He would chip in 20/7 against a series of tall trees in the paint.

The problem was, those two seniors got relatively little support from the rest of the roster.  Past them, only one other Buff finished with multiple made baskets, George King, and it was a constant struggle to find the right defensive combination with players like Miller and Wes Gordon fighting foul trouble. Frontcourt depth was always going to be an issue for Colorado this season, and it reared its ugly head with semifinal dreams on the line.

So, with that, CU exits stage left into the post-season.  There is still some solid hope that a NIT bid might be forthcoming, but I doubt at this point that it will involve a home game.  Regardless, I feel that the Buffs, after their rocky start to the season, did themselves proud both down the stretch of conference play and here in the conference tournament.  They deserve another chance to run out of a tunnel, wherever it may be.  Hopefully, come Sunday evening, they will be afforded just such a chance.

In the day;s other action:

  • Oregon blew past Arizona State with little difficulty, 80-57.
  • Cal clipped the Utes to become the first lower seed in 24 tries to win in this tournament, 78-75.
  • UCLA survived a late push from the Trojans to advance, 76-74.

Best pep band of the day: Utah

The Utes brought five tubas and no woodwinds with them to Las Vegas.  That is serious business, folks.  Overall, they're not a spectacular band, but they play clean and loud with a very basic style. They won't wow you, but, when compared to some of the other bands in town, Utah gets a lot of things right.


Today's action:

- #5 Cal vs #1 Oregon - 7pm MT - Pac-12 Network - 

Of this final grouping, Cal sticks out like a sore thumb.  They've done good work here, solidifying their Tournament status with yesterday's win over Utah, but they simply do not belong with teams like Oregon, Arizona, and UCLA.  As such, I would expect the Ducks to carve them up in prep for a grueling final battle with the survivor of the nightcap.  Might be a low-scoring affair, though.

- #3 UCLA vs #2 Arizona - 9:30pm MT - ESPN - 

Before the tournament started, I put my money on UCLA to win it all, figuring they had the best guards in town, and that such things matter this time of year.  This is where that bet comes to a head. They were able to stun the UofA in Tucson, ripping away their shot at a league title, but revenge is often a bitch.  With the crowd at their back, the Wildcats could very well overcome the best backcourt in the West. We'll just have to wait and see -- should be a good one with a boatload of points scored.


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