The Pac-12 tournament entered silly season during the quarterfinals. The two teams that most needed wins went down in pretty painful fashion on Thursday, leaving two underdogs and two flawed favorites in position to win the conference tournament.
It's unclear how this thing will end tournament-wise (more on that in a sec). All we know is it's plain wackiness, and there could very well be a Cinderella earning the AQ bid.
Oregon State 86, Washington 84
How on Earth did this happen?
Washington spent nearly 25 minutes trying to figure out how to break a 2-3 zone that apparently no one else ever uses anymore, because they went the entire first half clanking away or just handing the ball back to Oregon State. No dribble penetration, no elbow jumpers, no ball movement, just one and done. Result: 13 points down at halftime.
Eventually the Huskies figured it out (keep in mind Oregon State suffers from its own coaching deficiencies, as they stuck with the 2-3 zone long after Washington knew how to deal with it) and then they started storming right back thanks to their deadly perimeter shooting and dribble penetration. The Wilcox/Ross/Gaddy shooting monsters looked like they were simply going to overpower the way to victory as they piled up 40 second half points in 15 minutes or so. It was hardly a dominant run, but they did what they needed to retake the lead and hopefully the game.
Oregon State stayed in the game though, as the balance of the Beavers from their six man unit was absolutely paramount.
Collier led a very balanced Oregon St. effort, with 19 points. Cunningham, who never came out of the game, playing all 40 minutes, a move made necessary by a wrist injury to Roberto Nelson, almost posted a triple double, with 18 points, 10 rebounds, and a game high 8 assists. Burton, below driving through some pretty Husky defensive pressure, also had a double double, with 14 points and a game high 11 rebounds, as well 6 more assists and a steal.
The Beavers scorched their way to an early lead, but they scrapped their way back. Ahmad Starks got a backcourt steal and bucket off of Abdul Gaddy that cut into a solid Husky lead late. Washington collapsed into their own zone when Aziz N'Diaye fouled out, along Starks to hit some big threes. Burton and Moreland were disruptors on the inside and kept Washington from getting to the basket easily. And Cunnigham finished it off with his incredible baseline and-1 drive to put Oregon State up for good with 30 seconds left.
And of course, those tragic free throws by Wroten. Poor kid will be scapegoated after a strong performance (even though it took him a lot of shots to get to 27 points), but he doesn't deserve all that much blame for this loss.
Wroten was put in the worst situation a freshman could be in. Late game, tight scenario, and free throws (not his specialty). He made 6 straight and fell apart. Missing the first two shut down his confidence. The third crushed it. The fourth stood no chance. That kid worked so hard getting inside for shots. He tried so hard, yet his efforts fell short. This game does not fall on him. It is a team game and our team lost. I counted at least 4 possessions where the Beavers missed a shot and proceeded to get at least 2 offensive boards before scoring on a put back. The Huskies failed to box out their opponents all too often and it hurt.
Both teams hit 32 of 64 from the field, or 50% overall. Both teams combined to shoot 50% from the line, with Washington going a hideous 12 of 27, including Wroten's faithful misses. No team deserves to win a game shooting near 40% on freebies.
Washington is done in this tournament. Remains to be seen if they're done for good.
Arizona 66, UCLA 58
Not a surprise that the Pac-12 officials would find one game to horrendously muck up this tournament.
UCLA got a quality seven point, nine minute performance from Josh Smith before fouling out with eleven minutes left, at which point Arizona relentlessly attacked the basket and paraded to the free throw line during the crucial moments of the contest when the Bruins were fighting back. There was nothing remotely different between either of these teams except for the whistles that kept on sending Jesse Perry and Solomon Hill to the free throw line to nail free throw after free throw.
UCLA fans seemed to think their head coach did not make the right adjustments.
The second half was marginally better basketball, but U.C.L.A. was ultimately killed by the lack of basketball smarts. While Sean Miller made real time adjustments, Howland showed his inability to do the same by not designing a defense to keep Josh in the game, or extend his bench when the refs went foul-happy, or focus the offense on the hot hand. Travis Wear was hot early on offense, but the team did not feed him. Josh picked up his 3rd foul 5 minutes in, and was left in the game. Arizona was smart and went right at him on the next possession and got him to commit his 4th.
The 31 made free throws helped save an Arizona team that managed an appalling seven assist, 19 turnover game by the Wildcats offense (an assist-turnover ratio somewhere under .4 if you're keeping track). The 36 free throw attempts bailed out an Arizona team that shot 35% from the field and only hit 15 shots on the game (yes, FIFTEEN SHOTS, which I believe took Oregon State and Washington only a five minute span to accomplish together).
Still, the Bruins had plenty of their own issues. Why did UCLA have so much trouble moving the ball themselves, given that they had the superior guards on the floor? 10 assists to 13 turnovers is Wildcat-lite. Why did UCLA rely so heavily on their starters and instead give their second unit some crucial run to save their legs down the stretch? The Wildcats exploited a not so strong Bruins interior with the Wear twins guarding the paint, and that ended up being the big difference.
Hill had a monstrous game and made shots all over the floor, while also hauling in boards with his buddy Jesse Perry. Kyle Fogg made his jumpers and Nick Johnson had some of the biggest plays with his blocks. Yes, his blocks. Arizona went back to their regular style to win this one.
Arizona went back to their identity of attacking defense and an ugly brand of attacking offense. The former was proved by freshman guard Nick Johnson and his four high-flying blocks. The latter put Arizona at the foul stripe 36 times for 31 makes and fouled out UCLA center Joshua Smith and forward Travis Wear.
As had been the case in their wins over the course of this season, those two things are what the recipe called for.
And considering it wasn't there against the Arizona State Sun Devils four days prior, that motivation was easy to find and fresh in the Wildcats' memories. Even when the Bruins erased a 10-point, 21-11 lead to one and later went ahead after finding themselves down by nine, Miller said he just told his players to go back to their roots.
The Wildcats are still alive for an at-large bid although they probably do need to win two more to earn that spot. UCLA, meanwhile, is going NIT hunting.
Cal 77, Stanford 71
For one half, it looked as if the Golden Bears were going to see their season spiral into the dumpster. Despite shooting better and defending better than their Cardinal counterparts, there California was trailing by seven at halftime because they couldn't hold onto the basketball. Cal managed 23 points because they piled on 14 turnovers and gifted Stanford 14 easy points. If they just held onto the basketball, they could do something with it.
Jorge Gutierrez made sure to do something with it.
After being scoffed at as a weak Pac-12 Player of the Year choice and struggling through one half of basketball, Gutierrez came out roaring in the second half, making huge plays, hitting threes, driving to the basket and finishing, dishing the ball inside to his bigs and grabbing rebounds. Gutierrez didn't make the biggest impact defensively (no huge hustle plays on that end), but his offense was what Cal needed tonight, and what made him the Pac-12 Player of the Year to begin with.
Once Gutierrez got going, so did the rest of the Bears. Harper Kamp had another ultra efficient night. Allen Crabbe was Gutierrez's partner in crime in the second half with four big buckets to put Cal ahead and keep them ahead, and Justin Cobbs and David Kravish nailed big free throws down the stretch in support. Cal got to the line 28 times in the second half, aiding their great comeback bid.
After being in an offensive fog for the last three and a half games, Cal poured on 54 points in 20 minutes of play.
As halting and ugly as the first half was, the 2nd half hearkened back to Pac-10 shootouts of old. Each team made difficult shots and seemed to dare the other to blink first and miss. Crabbe alternated between dropping long bombs and hitting soft runners off the curl. Cobbs slashed and wove through traffic. Kravish stepped up big for some clutch free throws. Harper owned the glass and showed off his whole array of post moves. And Jorge was back to his normal frenetic self. The only black mark against the resurgent Bears was a baffling inability to pull away by converting opportunities at the free throw line.
Andrew Zimmerman had a career night making some of the most ridiculous shots he'll probably ever make, but it was probably by design. Cal did not want Chasson Randle or Josh Owens going off on them and provided the proper attention to them defensively, and they didn't have huge offensive games. If not for the early Cal turnovers that handed Stanford the early advantage, it's unlikely this game would've been as close as it was.
Colorado 63, Oregon 62
The problem with being the hottest team in college basketball entering a single elimination tournament? It's not that hard to have one bad night to sink you.
Colorado's defense can be flummoxing when you don't know how to deal with it. The Buffs aren't going to give you all the regular looks other teams provide. They have decent size, but what really bothers people is how long the guards/forwards are that allow them to close easier and defend inside better. Oregon had their issues penetrating inside and couldn't hit their outside shots (4-22 from three point land), further exacerbating the problem.
Things the Buffaloes did well: The defense was spectacular all night and that last possession for Oregon summed up Colorado's defense the entire game. The Buffaloes had active hands, were in perfect help position, and never let up. The offense was patient for a majority of the game and the Buffaloes didn't let Oregon's defense dictate their offense. Additionally, Andre Roberson was a force again on the boards as he had 10 rebounds and added 12 points with that.
The defense stifled Oregon's three main offensive options in Devoe Joseph, E.J. Singler and Garrett Sim.
Oregon put up 13 more shots than Colorado did. Outrebounded the Buffs by 13. Only had nine turnovers. But Oregon lost because they shot 39% from the field--a number that was generous due to a late run--and 18% from three. The Big Three combined 13-43 from the field and 3-19 from the three point line, and the Ducks only shot eight free throws. It was as ugly an offensive performance as we've seen from Oregon all season. And while the Colorado defense was very good, a lot of this was simply Oregon missing open shots.
What was odd was the start--Singler and Sim hit threes on Oregon's first two possessions to give UO a 6-0 lead. The Ducks would only hit two more three pointers the rest of the game.
Colorado relied on Carlon Brown mostly for offense, and Andre Roberson got his usual double double on the final offensive rebound putback, but this game was won with Colorado's defense as a unit totally wrecking Oregon's offense. If not for Tony Woods getting his buckets inside, this one might have been a Colorado shocker.
So in the end, you have four teams that provide interesting style matchups. Arizona's attacking defense will match up with Oregon State's up-tempo offense, but the Beavers zone could really fluster a Wildcats team lacking a true point guard. Cal's man offense is probably the most efficient in conference, but the team that gave them the most trouble offensively was the length of Colorado, whose defense has already scored them one upset.
If you don't think about the NCAA Tournament (at all), this will be pretty fun.