The 2014 Pac-12 men's basketball tournament didn't offer much suspense when the top seeds opened action in the second round, but Friday's semifinals promise more drama at the dawn of March Madness.
Although Colorado pulled a slight 59-56 upset over California to advance, the Buffaloes have to face top-seeded Arizona, who dismantled Utah 71-39 in a suffocating defensive display. The UCLA Bruins disposed of Oregon easily 82-63 on Thursday and will face Stanford, a surprisingly dominant winner over Arizona State.
If all goes according to plan, the top two teams in the conference should meet in the final. Let's take a look at when and where to catch the action as well as predictions about how both contests will play out.
|Day 3 Schedule - Friday, March 14|
|Time (ET)||Team 1||Team 2||TV||Live Stream*|
|9 p.m.||No. 1 Arizona||No. 5 Colorado||Pac-12 Network||Pac-12.com|
|11:30 p.m.||No. 2 UCLA||No. 6 Stanford||Fox Sports 1||Fox Sports Go|
|Source: Pac-12.com. Subscription required for live stream.|
Arizona Dominates Colorado
Nothing against the Buffaloes—credit them for continuing to fight hard and play like there's no tomorrow—but there won't be a "tomorrow" in the Pac-12 tournament when they're finished playing the Wildcats on Friday.
This Arizona team has looked possessed on the defensive end all season, and it continued that trend by holding the Utes to a mere 13 points in the first half. Stats guru Ken Pomeroy—who has the Wildcats as the No. 1 defensive team in the country—was impressed with the devastating display:
Ball movement and spacing on offense are other big advantages for Arizona, and they were on full display when the Wildcats traveled to Boulder and crushed the Buffaloes 88-61 on Feb. 22. The Wildcats shot 60.3 percent in that contest and had assists on 24 of 35 field goals, while Colorado had just six dimes on 17-of-52 (32.7 percent) shooting.
Part of that can be attributed to the absence of Spencer Dinwiddie, who led the team in scoring and assists before tearing his ACL in a Jan. 12 loss to Washington. CBSSports.com's Jon Rothstein praised the job coach Tad Boyle has done in spite of that major setback:
But the outcome of the game sans Dinwiddie should dismiss any notion that the Buffaloes can pull off the unthinkable upset. Then again, they are considered a borderline NCAA tournament bubble team and would see their stock soar with a win in this one.
It's just hard to see Colorado creating enough offense without its best player against a Wildcats team that seems intent on confirming its status as king of the conference.
Prediction: Arizona 70, Colorado 55
UCLA Edges Stanford
The Bruins just have a bit more firepower and consistency on their side. Sophomore point guard Kyle Anderson is a matchup nightmare at 6'9", and Jordan Adams is a dangerous 2-guard who will give Stanford problems.
As reported by the Orange County Register's Ryan Kartje, Anderson implied that UCLA put together its best game of the season in topping the Ducks on Thursday:
This is going to be an interesting semifinal, as these two teams split the regular-season series. ESPN's Dave Flemming believes Stanford showed a lot in winning 79-58 over Arizona State:
Cardinal head coach Johnny Dawkins has his side playing inspired basketball over the past two games, and star guard Chasson Randle and Co. may have saved Dawkins' job with the win over Arizona State.
Dawkins is aware that his employment status won't be secure unless the Cardinal make it to the NCAA tournament. Athletic director Bernard Muir expressed as much earlier in the season, but it's something Dawkins has embraced, per Yahoo! Sports' Jeff Eisenberg:
I've been in this sport a long time. I don't feel pressured by things like that. I look at that as an opportunity and a challenge. I believe in what he said and I felt the same way. I'd be very disappointed if we didn't accomplish those things because I believe in my guys. I think he said those things because he believes in them as well. I think we're on the same page with that.
Both squads are hot and have leadership exuding supreme confidence. However, when the Cardinal topped UCLA 83-74 in the last meeting between these rivals, it took a ridiculous 62.5 percent shooting effort for them to come out on top.
That type of offensive execution happens once in a blue moon, and it helped that Stanford played that contest at home. The first clash saw the Bruins run away with a 17-point triumph, and a neutral court should reveal them as the superior team.
All of this should culminate in a dream scenario in which the Wildcats battle the Bruins in the conference tournament final. Arizona will likely be an NCAA tournament No. 1 seed regardless of the outcome, as Villanova was bounced from the Big East tournament, but the Wildcats could use a quality win to boost their spirits before the Big Dance.
Consistency has been more of an issue for UCLA, and playing a hard-nosed defensive team such as Arizona will be a tremendous test and a final measuring stick ahead of the NCAA tourney. But the Bruins will have to claw their way past an upstart Stanford first, and they can't look ahead to Arizona and become mired in a trap-game scenario.
Prediction: UCLA 74, Stanford 68