The second round of the Pac-12 Tournament produced no huge surprises. There were a couple of important bubble battles, a dominant performance by an almost guaranteed NCAA Tournament No. 1 seed and a poster dunk by a player nicknamed ‘Slow-Mo.’
Colorado 59, Cal 56
When evaluating NCAA Tournament resumés this time of year, avoiding recency bias can be difficult. The committee no longer considers the final 12 games of the season any differently than the 18 or so that came before. That means every game amounts to one of many data points accumulated from November to March.
That said, Cal really could have used a win against Colorado on Thursday. The Bears have a win against Arizona, four wins against teams ranked in the top 50 of the RPI and only two bad losses (UC Santa Barbara and USC) on their ledger, but they probably needed to beat the Buffs to keep themselves in position to earn an at-large bid. At this point, barring unexpected chaos among other bubble denizens, it’s looking like Cal is headed to the NIT. SI bubble watcher Michael Beller removed Cal from his projected field of 68.
The Bears trailed by two with less than 20 seconds left when guard Justin Cobbs missed a fallaway jumper from the left wing. Colorado gained possession and converted enough free throws in the waning seconds to preserve the win and likely secure itself an at-large bid. Booker led the Buffs with 17 points on 7-of-15 shooting.
Arizona 71, Utah 39
Remember when Arizona’s status as a No. 1 seed was in question? The Wildcats lost two games in a two-week span in February to Cal and Arizona State. More notable, they lost sophomore forward Brandon Ashley for the season to injury. Would Arizona steady itself down the back half of conference play? You already know the answer (yes), but in case you needed another reminder that Arizona is No. 1 seed-quality, the Wildcats provided it Thursday.
Arizona bludgeoned a Utah team that played the Wildcats close twice in the regular season. Sean Miller’s team led 17-6 midway through the first half, 34-13 at halftime and 51-17 at the under 12-minute timeout in the second half. Forward Aaron Gordon scored 11 points and grabbed seven rebounds, and point guard T.J. McConnell had 13 points, four rebounds and four assists. Arizona scored 1.22 points per possession and limited Utah to 0.67. The 32-point margin of victory tied the largest in Pac-12 Tournament history.
UCLA 82, Oregon 63
It’s a good thing Oregon has likely already locked up an at-large bid, because the Ducks didn’t put forth a good effort in their final game before the selection committee selects and seeds the bracket. Leading by two at halftime, UCLA rolled off a 24-8 run and cruised to a comfortable win. Forward Kyle Anderson, one of five Bruins who scored in double figures, had 11 points, snared eight rebounds, blocked two shots, swiped three steals and dished out six assists. The Ducks got a tremendous scoring effort from guard Joseph Young (10-of-18, 6-of-11 from three, 29 points), but Oregon’s four other starters combined for only 16 points.
Anderson skied for a huge dunk over Oregon forward Richard Armadi late in the first half:
The Bruins boast one of the most efficient offenses in the country, but they haven’t been so consistent on the defensive end. On Thursday, UCLA held Oregon, an explosive offensive team that ranks 11th in the country in points scored per possession, to 0.91 PPP. This is a promising outcome for Steve Alford’s team: not only did UCLA blow out one of the Pac-12’s hottest outfits in the second half, the Bruins showed they’ve officially put that befuddling 18-point loss they suffered at Washington State last week in the rearview mirror.
Stanford 79, Arizona State 58
Whether Stanford played itself into the field by beating Arizona State Thursday night is debatable. What’s clear is the Cardinal helped solidify a profile that now includes five wins against teams ranked in the top 50 of the RPI, zero losses to teams ranked outside the top 100 and solid computer numbers. Compared to other teams scrambling to nudge their way onto the right side of the cutline, Stanford stacks up pretty well.
The Sun Devils kept it close throughout the first half, but Stanford pulled away after the break, opening up a nine-point lead by the 10-minute mark and unleashing a 12-point flurry after the under 8-minute timeout. Guard Chasson Randle scored a game-high 21 points on 7-of-16 shooting and forward Josh Powell had 15 points and five rebounds.
Arizona State point guard Jahii Carson was limited to 10 points on 4-of-13 shooting. Despite the loss, the Sun Devils will likely hear their name called on selection Sunday.
What’s on tap for Friday?
Colorado and Arizona will square off in the first semifinal (6:00 pm PT). The Wildcats and Buffs are both safely in the field, but Colorado could probably bump itself up a seed line by pulling off the upset. The Wildcats blew out Colorado (88-61) at the Coors Center in late February. The second semifinal (8:30 pm PT) will pit Stanford against UCLA. The Bruins have long been considered an at-large lock, while Stanford might have punched its ticket Thursday night. These teams split their two meetings in the regular season.