Pac-12 Tournament: Jaime Jaquez Jr. dominates, Kerr Kriisa’s ankle, USC’s defensive turnaround
Though the top seeds all won their quarterfinal matchups on Thursday night in Las Vegas, the Pac-12 Tournament provided plenty of drama. There might not have been the “madness” other conference tournaments experienced, but it was still a busy day filled with great basketball.
And, frankly, when you have top teams playing each other in the semifinals, it sets up for a great day of college basketball and sets the table for an outstanding title game on Saturday night.
So, let’s take a look at how we got to this point, breaking down the main stories from each of Thursday’s quarterfinal games.
Kerr Kriisa’s ankle
The biggest story of the day in Las Vegas came in the first game on Thursday’s schedule. Yes, that’s Arizona point guard Kerr Kriisa’s ankle in a boot after the Wildcats’ narrow 84-80 victory over Stanford:
Watch us win it all. Bear Down, Go Cats 🤪 pic.twitter.com/JEg0ElSC7F
— Kerr (@KerrKriisa) March 10, 2022
That, as we say in the business, is not good. Kriisa is the Wildcats’ fourth-leading scorer at 10.1 points per game and leads the team by dishing out 4.9 assists per contest.
Yes, Arizona is deep. Christian Koloko had 24 points and 9 rebounds, Bennedict Mathurin added 20 points and 7 rebounds and the rest of the Wildcats’ contributors did their job. But, without Kriisa running the point, we’ll see if the offense struggles against Colorado on Friday night.
If he can’t come back before the NCAA Tournament starts, that’s definitely something to consider when you’re filling out your brackets.
Speaking of Colorado…
Evan Battey, Jabari Walker own the glass
Senior forward Evan Battey picked a great time to record his first double-double of the season, putting up 19 points and 12 rebounds to lead the Buffaloes to an 80-69 win over Oregon.
Jabari Walker, on the other hand, is quite familiar with double-doubles. He picked up his 17th of the season with an 18-point, 16-rebound effort. He ran the court and was rewarded on this transition give-and-go:
Bari coming through 💥
— Colorado Men's Basketball (@CUBuffsMBB) March 10, 2022
And he stepped into this 3 with confidence:
.@jabari521's got an answer. 💪
— Pac-12 Network (@Pac12Network) March 11, 2022
If you’ve seen Colorado play this year, you know Walker is the driving force. He leads the team in both points and rebounds per game. Walker put up 15 points and 14 boards when Colorado took down Arizona in Boulder a couple of weeks ago.
If the Buffaloes prioritize getting him the ball, he’s the sort of strong, physical player who won’t get worn down by playing games on back-to-back days. That could spell trouble for the Wildcats.
UCLA looks like a Final Four team
If I told you Johnny Juzang scored 6 points and Tyger Campbell scored 2 points, you probably wouldn’t think UCLA won. You definitely wouldn’t think they held a 20-point lead in the second half and ended up with a 10-point victory (75-65) over Washington State after the backups came in late.
But, Thursday night was the Jaime Jaquez Jr. and Jules Bernard show. Jaquez led the Bruins with 23 points and 11 rebounds. Bernard added 19 points. It was the third time in as many games Jaquez scored more than 20 points.
After the game, Jaquez’s big night prompted coach Mick Cronin to compare the 6-7 wing player to another former UCLA star at the position – Kiki VanDeWeghe. VanDeWeghe started his career slowly for the Bruins, but became a star by the end of his time in Westwood before going on to great success in the NBA.
Cronin credited Jaquez’s work ethic and attitude for allowing him to follow a similar path thus far:
“That’s why you develop players,” he said. “I know that in Westwood, we’re used to guys coming in ready-made at times, whether it’s Lonzo (Ball) or Kevin (Love) or Baron Davis – all the greats. … Jaime was Peyton (Watson) as a freshman. Jaime played a lot more because he wasn’t on a great team (as a freshman). He’s developed. Coaching matters. Attitude matters. That’s why we do things the way we do things. You’ve got to be coachable. … Jaime’s come a long way. That’s hard work, that’s toughness, that’s talent. He has a great attitude, unbelievable attitude.”
Jaquez went 2-for-3 from 3-point range, but he did a lot of his work with some tough buckets in the paint:
Beautiful pass here from Jaylen Clark to find Jaime Jaquez Jr. down low for the layup 🔦
— UCLA Men’s Basketball (@UCLAMBB) March 11, 2022
Cronin said the Bruins don’t care where their scoring comes from, so the fact that Juzang and Campbell were held in check on Thursday night doesn’t bother him. He credited Washington State’s defense for targeting Juzang and making sure he didn’t get the clean looks he’s used to.
With Jaquez and Bernard heating up and the potential for Juzang and Campbell to get in the mix, though, the Bruins looked like they’ll be a tough out for anyone in Las Vegas or in March Madness.
A tale of 2 halves
Terrell Brown Jr. of Washington led the Pac-12 in scoring this season, averaging 21.7 points per game. He had 21 points in the first half on Thursday against USC.
But, the second half was a completely different story. Brown made a layup with 18:14 remaining then didn’t score again the rest of the way, finishing on an 0-for-10 shooting streak and ending the contest with 23 points.
Yes, there were some physical drives to the bucket by Brown that ended with a lot of contact that didn’t draw foul calls (which infuriated Washington fans in attendance), but the USC defense also deserves a ton of credit for tightening up against Brown in the final 20 minutes.
Boogie Ellis, who led USC with 17 points and provided some tight perimeter defense against Brown after the intermission, said it became a personal quest for the Trojans to keep Brown from having a career night against them after a big first half:
“Just taking it personal as a team,” he said. “Nobody wants to let guys come out and score a lot on us. I talked to the guys at halftime. We told each other if we could shut him down in the second half, we’d win the game. We did that.”
Ellis also stepped up his game offensively in the second half. Here’s a nice finish he had for an and-one to get the Trojans back in the game:
HOOP + HARM@BoogieEllis leads us with 15 points!
— USC Men's Basketball (@USC_Hoops) March 11, 2022
Ellis was the only USC player to score in double figures, finishing with 17. It wasn’t a pretty win, but it doesn’t have to be in March. The Trojans are moving on, despite committing 23 turnovers to Washington’s 8.
If usual suspects Isaiah Mobley and Drew Peterson (who each had 9 points on Thursday night) get hot against UCLA, watch out!
Who plays who on Friday? And at what times? Don’t ask Jaime Jaquez Jr. until he’s had some food:
A: “I don’t really care, I’m just trying to go get some food really.” 😂 pic.twitter.com/zfhHIBKwbQ
— Pac-12 Network (@Pac12Network) March 11, 2022
You can ask me, though, and I’ll tell you. Here’s the schedule for Friday’s semifinal round:
- No. 1 Arizona vs. No. 4 Colorado – 6 p.m. PT on Pac-12 Network
- No. 2 UCLA vs. No. 3 USC – 8 p.m. PT on FS1
Those should be some great games. We’ll see who advances to Saturday night’s championship matchup!