Gold: Colorado scores clutch win over Huskies while Cougars cruise in grand fashion
Round 1 of the Pac-12 Tournament had all you could want: Shocking performances from unsung heroes, big wins over bad teams and close wins over good ones and some scintillating hoops in Sin City.
Here’s a look at Wednesday’s Round 1 action from the Pac-12 Tournament…
Cal: What’s next for Fox?
After a 59-42 loss to the 5th-seeded Washington State Cougars dropped his bottom-dwelling Cal Bears to 3-29 on the year, Cal head coach Mark Fox was confronted with the only question on the mind of any Bears fan. What does he think about his job status, which reportedly is in jeopardy?
“I don’t pay any attention to any of it because we try and deal within our program and within our administration in truth, he said. “We try to be very up front and honest and transparent in the challenges that we have and the things that we have to overcome and endure. We understand that there’s an expectation to be successful. We didn’t do that this year. But most people that sit where you’re sitting now never are on the inside. They don’t know the things that you have to deal with that administrators or coaches or players do. So it’s not your fault or people that have that chatter, it’s not their fault that they don’t know. But it comes with the territory. It does. I’m not a young coach anymore. I’ve been through it. So it doesn’t bother me. I know — I’m not saying it’s unfair. Criticism comes with the territory. But I also know what we were going to have to endure here to get this thing back to where it needs to be.”
Colorado: Buffaloes rely on backups to blow past Huskies
The Huskies defeated the Buffaloes twice this year and Colorado was without its No. 2 leading scorer, K.J. Simpson, so of course, in classic Las Vegas fashion, the script was flipped in the very first game of the tournament as the Buffaloes prevailed thanks to one key shot and one key performance.
First, the shot: Luke O’Brien, who started the year averaging fewer than 20 minutes per game before nearly doubling that late in the year, matched a season-high with 13 points, no three more important than a tie-breaking triple with just more than a minute to play. O’Brien’s three broke a 66-66 stalemate and gave the Buffaloes a lead they would not surrender as Washington made just one more field goal the rest of the way.
Now, the performance: Julian Hammond III, filling in for Simpson — who is stricken with mono — had a career-high 21 points after sliding into the starting lineup.
“Luke’s become a really integral part of this team and this rotation, especially with the injuries that we’ve had, J’Vonne Hadley’s to be specific,” Colorado coach Tad Boyle said. “His energy, his rebounding, his offensive rebounding, I think it’s a little bit contagious too because Luke brings it and I think his teammates appreciate him for that. I know I certainly do. He’s made a great strides.
Sometimes injuries, you can always look at it as a negative, but you can also look at it as a positive. So the injury to J’Vonne Hadley was a negative, but it was a positive for Luke. The injury or the illness that K.J. had was a negative for K.J., but it was a positive for Julian. So you always, I would say, again, next man up, you got to use it and look at the silver lining. The silver lining is opportunities are there for other people. Luke has made a tremendous stride in his game and he’s become a really, really important part of this team and our success down the stretch.”
Stanford: Cardinal get rubber match-up against Wildcats
Usually a Pac-12 quarterfinal matchup against a team like the top-10 Arizona Wildcats would strike fear into an opponent. But not Stanford, which scored an 88-79 upset over the Cats on Feb. 11 and advanced to play them for a third time this season in Thursday’s quarterfinals with a 11-point win over the fading Utah Utes.
“We know we’re playing a very good great team tomorrow,” said Stanford forward Brandon Angel, who had an impressive double-doubl with 16 points and a season-high 12 rebounds. “I think the thing we saw and everyone else saw last game is how hard we competed in that first Arizona game. We were flying around on defense and we really took the game plan personal to protect the paint. We’re definitely going to have to do that again. Obviously the stakes are even higher this time. So anything less than a hundred percent is unacceptable tomorrow.”
Utah: Utes slide continues with loss to Stanford
In my predictions for how the Pac-12 Tournament would play out, I pegged the Cardinal for the upset win over the Utes because Utah ended the regular season with a 5-game skid, which is never a good sign entering the tournament.
Turns out, the late-season swoon took its toll on the Utes, as well.
“Going on losing a couple games in a row kind of it gets to you, but in the end, there was games that we just should have had,” said Utah leading scorer Branden Carlson, who led both teams with 27 points. “We should have had ’em. We were right there the whole time. Just made a couple different plays, better decisions, and it changes the whole outcome of those games and the momentum coming into this week.
Washington: Mike Hopkins unleashes on … himself? … in opening post-game comments after sad loss ends sorry season
At this point, Washington feels so far away from the standard Mike Hopkins set in his first two seasons, when he led the Huskies to 21 and 27 wins, with an NCAA Tournament 2nd-round appearance in Year 2. After rebounding from a 5-win 2020-21 campaign to go 17-15 last year, UDub took a slight step back this year, finishing 16-16 after a 6-point loss to Colorado in their Round 1 matchup.
After the game, Hopkins tore into himself for the team’s performance this year, and, it sounded like, throughout his tenure.
“First and foremost, I take full responsibility for this season,” Hopkins said. “I felt like we had a chance to really make some steps. We had a lot of new guys. I just couldn’t get ’em to where we need ’em to be. It was a new team, had a lot of young talent. Putting them together I had a difficult deal.
Really disappointed for our fans, our alumni, our ex-players, the community of Seattle. It’s not our standard. There’s no one more disappointed than me because I know the group that we have. We underperformed. I’m excited about these kids. Love these kids. To lose like this, I’m just disappointed for them.”
Washington State: D.J. Rodman rocks the boards in big win
Leave it to the son of Dennis Rodman to become the best glass-cleaner on the Pac-12 Tournament’s opening day. Cougars senior forward D.J. Rodman, who blossomed this year as he moved into the starting lineup for the first time, had his second double-double of the year, scoring 10 points with a game-high 11 rebounds in a 17-point win over the Bears.
“DJ’s been very lively, I would say, in Vegas,” Washington State coach Kyle Smith said. “I think him just getting to this part of his career it’s neat to watch him blossom as a guy and then have an opportunity to do two things, play and be a part of this and be a part of the Washington State legacy, part of the PAC-12 legacy, and it’s just kind of a neat environment, so soak it up.