Pressure. It’s the thing that crushes dreams, but it’s also the thing that good teams learn how to deal with and use to their advantage. Which team will handle the pressure the best in the Pac-12 Conference Tournament?
On Thursday in Las Vegas we learned who handled pressure better between Arizona, California, Oregon, and UCLA.
California vs Oregon
Oregon came into this contest a heavy favorite, but being the favorite brings the pressure that is sometimes difficult to deal with.
For most of the first half, the California Golden Bears had control of the game. The Bears had the Ducks a bit flustered and not knowing how to attack California’s defense.
Early on the Golden Bears suffered what most people thought at the time was a death sentence. Jabari Bird went down with an apparent head injury and did not return.
When that happened, players do what players are supposed to do when called upon. Players take up the slack created when other players can’t.
With Jabari Bird in concussion protocol, Grant Mullins and Charlie Moore tried to keep the Golden Bears in it. The two players combined for 21 out of the 33 total first half points for California.
Would it be enough to pull off one of the biggest upsets in tournament history?
Early in the second half, Oregon suffered its own loss. Dillon Brooks, the leader of the Ducks, was called for his fourth personal foul. It was going to be a long time before Brooks would be back out on the floor.
Like I stated earlier, when a team suffers a loss during play, it’s up to the other players to step up. The Duck players did.
In particular, Tyler Dorsey did. Dorsey had 13 points in the first half, but ended up with 23 points for the game. He hit some crucial jumpers to help keep the California from that huge upset.
Dorsey wasn’t alone in his effort. Dylan Ennis kicked in 16 points and was perfect from the free throw line going nine for nine.
The defense for Oregon was intense all game as well. Jordan Bell blocked five shots and Chris Boucher added two more blocks for the Ducks.
Oregon won this game because of its better overall talent and depth. Period.
The Ducks will enjoy this 73-65 victory, but there is still work to be done. The business trip isn’t over yet.
Arizona vs UCLA
This was the game most people in the Pac-12 were looking forward to. Both schools were loaded with talent, highly ranked, and I would say were starting to have a genuine distaste for each other. The season series was split at one game apiece.
This Pac-12 Tournament game was the rubber match and would propel the winner in the championship against Oregon.
The T-Mobile Arena has been a spot where the Arizona Wildcat fans have come in droves. It has been a decidedly home court advantage for Arizona. It’s not even close. The chants of “U-of-A” started early and often and the Wildcat players have responded to the crowd advantage.
As the first half progressed at break neck speed I started to wonder if people could keep up with the pace of the game. I’m not talking about the players, but the fans. Nobody left their seats in the arena. I doubt to many people watching on television were getting up either. If you looked away for just a quick second, you were taking the chance of missing some huge play.
This game was hyped up so much over the course of a day that it made me wonder if it could live up to the hype. It did for the most part.
Arizona was getting better play out of their whole team than was UCLA.
Isaac Hamilton was the only player in double figures for the Bruins through the first half of play. He put 12 points. T.J. Leaf added 9 points, but also had 7 rebounds.
The production was lacking from two of mainstays of this UCLA team.
Lonzo Ball and Bryce Alford combined for a measly four points in the first half. The two players were shooting 2-8 collectively and that was not going to get it done for the Bruins.
At the halftime break, it was Arizona leading 41-35.
Players make plays as any coach will tell you and that wasn’t more true than with the play of Lauri Markkanen.
The freshman from Finland decided that he was going to take the bull by the horns and be that second half leader the Wildcats needed.
As the pace of game stayed the same, the Wildcats began to flex some of their muscle on the Bruins.
The Wildcats got their hands in passing lanes or stripping the ball from UCLA and it was leading to extra possessions which led to extra points. In a huge game like this that could mean the difference between playing for a conference tournament title or getting on the plane to go home.
Arizona chose to play for the conference tournament title.
With Markkanen and Allonzo Trier leading the way with a combined 49 points the Wildcats opened a double-digit lead that they never relinquished.
The poor shooting for the Bruins from Lonzo Ball and Bryce Alford continued. The two players combined for 13 points in the game. If you’re a Bruin fan, that’s not going to get it done. When UCLA needed them the most, those two players couldn’t deliver.
Some people may say Lonzo Ball was bothered by a jammed thumb, but if you’re the type of player that many people believe that Ball is, you fight through that kind of stuff.
The Wildcats seemed like they were the hungrier team on Friday night. The proof for me that Arizona wanted it more was when Lauri Markkanen, all seven feet of him, went diving on the floor after a loose ball. A big man diving on the floor? Yes. He proved to his teammates once again that he is here to win this tournament and make a deep run in the NCAA Tournament.
Arizona walked out of the arena with a 86-75 victory. Next up for the Cats are the Ducks for all the marbles in the Pac-12.
Buckle up, it’s going to be a fun game on Saturday night.