Hits, and some key misses, from the 2022 Pac-12 men's basketball tournament
Arizona won the Pac-12 Tournament, so at least I got that right.
I won’t take a victory lap for that pick, though. The Wildcats were viewed as the overwhelming favorite to win the conference tournament prior to its tip-off, and they proved those predictions correct by taking everyone’s best punches and staying upright throughout the competition. Even after losing their floor general, point guard Kerr Kriisa, to injury, the Wildcats played semifinal and final games against teams playing high-level basketball and came out on top.
What about the rest of the Tournament? I picked all 11 games (which you can see here), so let’s go back through what went right and what I wrong.
First Round: No. 8 Arizona State vs. No. 9 Stanford
Pick: Arizona State
Started off strong. Spencer Jones scored 26 points and seemingly couldn’t miss unless he was left wide open (it was remarkable). James Keefe had 16 and 10 boards, including the game-winning bucket after the ball just sort of fell into his lap. Stanford somehow someway shocked the Sun Devils to win 71-70. The Cardinal trailed for more than 37 minutes in the game and Arizona State tied what was a tournament record for 3s made in a game with 15. But the Sun Devils completely collapsed in the closing minutes with some questionable decision-making. Stanford closed the game on a 16-1 run. I thought Arizona State’s guard trio of DJ Horne, Marreon Jackson, and Jay Heath could shoot it to a victory, and that looked to be accurate for about 37 minutes. Still ended up being wrong. On we go.
First Round: No. 5 Oregon vs. No. 12 Oregon State
Jacob Young dished a career-high 11 assists and scored 23 points of his own to help beat the Beavers 86-72. With the win, Oregon made it nine straight tournament appearances with at least one victory. Most expected this to be the result. I saw a handful of Oregon State fans after the game expressing some variation of the same sentiment: “thank goodness it’s over.” The Beavers went from winning the Pac-12 Tournament last season to losing 28 games this season. Oof.
First Round: No. 7 Washington State vs. No. 10 California
Winner: Washington State
I picked the upset, but I hedged pretty hard. Here was the justification: “A poor-shooting team with a 44% 3-point rate feels like a team susceptible to a first-round upset. Things would have to break right for Cal. Washington State probably wins—KenPom sees this as a seven-point game in favor of the Cougs—but what the heck, it’s March. Let’s be weird with it.” And Washington State did indeed win it, 66-59. Things did not break right for the Golden Bears. The Cougars did shoot poorly from the field (36%) but Cal missed a gazillion shots. Until a little 5-for-6 stretch over the final, inconsequential 2:39 of the game, Cal was shooting 26% from the field. I disrespected the Washington State defense, and for that, I apologize. That group defends well.
First Round: No. 6 Washington vs. No. 11 Utah
The Huskies did exactly what everyone expected. Terrell Brown Jr. scored 22 points to lead all scorers and Washington forced 16 Utah turnovers to beat the Utes 82-70.
Second Round: No. 1 Arizona vs.
No. 8 Arizona State No. 9 Stanford
Stanford really gave the Wildcats a game. After putting up 26 points, Jones came back and put up 28 points against the top seed in the tournament. But Stanford had a crucial miss late and Arizona put the game to bed with execution. Christian Koloko scored a career-high 24 points with some really high-level plays down the stretch, Benn Mathurin did his thing, and Arizona outlasted the Cardinal, 84-80. Got the second team wrong, but got the pick right.
Second Round: No. 4 Colorado vs. No. 5 Oregon
This one requires the biggest mea culpa. I wrote that Colorado closed its season strong, winning seven of its final eight games and dropping Arizona by 16 points, but questioned the validity of that hot streak given four of the seven wins came against Oregon State and Utah. I thought Oregon would be able to massage the absence of Will Richardson by letting Jacob Young and De’Vion Harmon dominate more of the ball. Both assertions were plain wrong. Colorado proved to be a legitimate No. 4 in the league with strong guard play from the youngsters and better frontcourt play from Evan Battey and Jabari Walker. Oregon immediately missed Richardson’s ability to create in the halfcourt. Apologies to the Buffs, who have a real gripe with the NCAA Tournament selection process and bracketologists who spent essentially an entire season without talking about a 21-win team from a major conference.
Second Round: No. 2 UCLA vs.
No. 10 California No. 7 Washington State
I wrote then that the Bruins were in the top tier of the league. Yup. Moving on.
Second Round: No. 3 USC vs. No. 6 Washington
Thought this one could go either way. Washington had the lead for most of the latter stages of the first half and then had an early eight-point advantage in the second half. It featured 15 lead changes and seven ties. Back-and-forth we went all second half after the Trojans used an 11-2 run to close the gap. USC had 23 turnovers and somehow won. Washington looked tired down the stretch. Boogie Ellis—in this game and in USC’s semifinal game with UCLA—was phenomenal.
Semis: No. 1 Arizona vs.
No. 5 Oregon No. 4 Colorado
The Buffs punched first, but Arizona had too many counters to throw back. Azuolas Tubelis was excellent for Arizona. Colorado threw a few different coverages at some of Arizona’s pet plays and the Wildcats figured things out. Arizona’s size in the frontcourt and the willingness to play through it put CU’s bigs in foul trouble and changed the game. Arizona showcased on the big stage how lethal it is—it can play through guards off the dribble, through bigs in the paint, or with a two-man game of Tubelis and Christian Koloko that’s a nightmare to defend.
Semis: No. 2 UCLA vs. No. 3 USC
The justification: Jaime Jaquez Jr. is playing exceptional basketball and UCLA will have too many options to attack the Trojans. Jaquez had 19 points on nine shots. Tyger Campbell had 14 points. Jules Bernard had 15 points and eight boards. Johnny Juzang started to look like his old self. UCLA effectively took away USC’s bigs and left Boogie Ellis to try and win it on his own. Ellis scored 27, but USC lost by 10. UCLA proved it was the class of LA.
Final: No. 1 Arizona vs. No. 2 UCLA
I thought the Bruins would be able to give the Wildcats a fight and put on a showcase event for the conference in the title match. That came to pass. Arizona won 84-76 in a class, though UCLA held a double-digit second-half lead. After missing it for a few games, the patented Arizona second-half avalanche returned. Bennedict Mathurin scored 27 points and looked unguardable. Dalen Terry (who fits perfectly into the “talent vs. recognition” joke) was also remarkable. Arizona won a semifinal with its frontcourt, then turned around and won a championship on the strength of its backcourt.
One final prediction for the road: the Pac-12 gets two Final Four teams.