Pac-12 Tournament: Oregon in the Driver’s Seat to Defend Title

The semifinals begin this evening at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas for the Pac-12 Men’s Basketball Tournament presented by New York Life. Oregon looks to defend the crown against Cal in the first matchup while Arizona will face UCLA in the second matchup. While Oregon has the clear path to the championship game, expects fireworks when Arizona and UCLA square for the third time this season.

Oregon struggled in the first half as the team was finding their legs against an Arizona State team riding the momentum from an overtime victory over Stanford. After the break, the Ducks barely had to break a sweat, cruising to an 80-57 win over the Sun Devils. Pac-12 Player of the Year, Dillon Brooks, and Tyler Dorsey combined for 43 points. For a team looking to secure a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, head coach Dana Altman has the Ducks off to a good start in defending the Pac-12 crown.

Fatigue will certainly play a factor for Cal in efforts to knock Oregon off their perch. A win for Cal will guarantee a seed in the NCAA Tournament as the team is currently on the bubble. Cal opened the tournament with close wins against Oregon State and Utah. But with a rested Oregon team on hand, Cal is facing an uphill battle. While the Bears may keep the game close, in the beginning, the Ducks will ultimately pull away in the second half.

However, the Bears have plenty of motivation to beat the Ducks after the previous meeting in Berkley. Cal was in control until a second half surge by Oregon made the final minutes a nail-biter. With the game tied under ten seconds to play, Dillon Brooks delivered the game-winning shot to silence Haas Pavilion. The game winner was Brooks’ third this season as he has indeed become the definition of a clutch performer.

Jabari Bird and Charlie Moore will need to lead Cal offensively to remain in the game against Oregon. The two combined for 47 points against Utah and will need to match the numbers Brooks and Dorsey will contribute. Ivan Rabb will be the possible x-factor for Cal as he averages a double-double per game. Expect Jordan Bell to defend Rabb in a matchup to watch for during the contest.

After Oregon and Cal finish, the main event features a top-10 matchup between Arizona and UCLA. Both teams split the regular season meetings with the visitor coming away victorious. A matchup against Oregon is at stake for the tournament title as the two will battle in a neutral site affair. In both regular season meetings, physical play was apparent as the two rivals fought hard until the final seconds.

(Photo: Jae C. Hong, AP)

UCLA is led by Pac-12 Freshman Player of the Year Lonzo Ball, who will indeed depart for the upcoming NBA Draft. Along with Ball, five of his teammates are averaging double-digit points with TJ Leaf leading the team in points per game. The contributions from all six have UCLA ranked the highest scoring team in the country.

Despite scoring the most points per game in the nation, UCLA received a scare from in-state rival USC in their first game. Ball did not have a good performance, but teammate Isaac Hamilton put up 22 points as UCLA fended off USC 76-74. Head coach Steve Alford knows the Bruins must be better against the Wildcats as the win against the Trojans was nowhere near the level of play seen this season.

Arizona coach Sean Miller is rarely out-coached when the Wildcats play at home. Against UCLA, the rare home loss handed Oregon the Pac-12 regular season title. Both finished with identical conference records, but Oregon had the tiebreaker after beating Arizona in conference play.

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Motivation is not an issue for the Wildcats knowing a chance to avenge their loss against the Ducks could happen. But the focus will be on UCLA as looking ahead could hinder the team’s play. Arizona boasts a duo who will certainly factor into the game against UCLA. Lauri Markkanen has been Arizona’s consistent player leading the team in rebounds per game. Since coming off suspension, Allonzo Trier has provided a spark for the offense leading the team in points per game.

Like Oregon, both Arizona and UCLA know the implications at stake. All three are vying for a spot in the West Regional for the upcoming NCAA Tournament. Gonzaga may have won the WCC Tournament, but their resume is not as strong compared to the three. Chances are one of the Pac-12 teams will earn the No. 1 seed while Gonzaga will get the No. 2 seed in the West region.

Temperatures are rising in Las Vegas as the four remaining teams jockey for a spot in the championship game. Adrenaline will be flowing between Arizona and UCLA in what is undoubtedly the most highly anticipated matchup seen in recent Pac-12 Tournaments. When the dust settles, Oregon will come out on top.

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