From the start of the 2023 Pac-12 men’s basketball tournament in Las Vegas on March 8-11, the top-ranked UCLA and Arizona teams seemed destined to battle it out for the championship on the final night.
In the tournament’s opening game on March 8, Colorado knocked out Washington in a tightly contested game. Later that day, Washington State handed Cal a 17-point loss. The lowest-ranked Stanford also beat out Utah with four Cardinal players scoring over 12 points, and Arizona State edged out Oregon State in a defensive battle.
On March 9, Colorado fell to UCLA in the second round, after a close first half where four Bruins scored in double figures. Oregon pulled out a close win against Washington State in an offensive battle with high scoring from both teams, while Arizona won against Stanford in a closer game than many expected. Arizona State also found a way to win in a back-and-forth game against USC, during which the Sun Devils hit 14 three-pointers.
In the semifinals on March 10, UCLA blew out Oregon with the help of their senior stars Tyger Campbell and Jamie Jaquez Jr., who scored 46 points and 13 rebounds total. Then, Arizona won in a blowout match against their in-state rival, Arizona State. The Wildcats shot 56% from the field, compared to only 32% for the Sun Devils, and Arizona ended ahead in just about every statistical category. With the two top-ranked teams in the conference knocking out their semifinal opponents by 19 points each, it became clear UCLA and Arizona would soon be facing off for the championship game.
In the tournament finals on March 11, UCLA and Arizona fought a true defensive battle for the entire 40 minutes. Both teams shot 37% from the field; however, a late free throw from AU’s Azuolas Tubelis with five seconds left sealed the two-point win for the Wildcats, 61-59.
Capped off by the extraordinary championship finals, the 2023 Pac-12 tournament featured 11 high-energy games, showing off some of the country’s best basketball talent and teams this season.
(9) Colorado 74, (8) Washington 68
The Buffs edged out the Huskies, thanks to a career-high 21 points from Julian Hammond III. Along with 18 points from Tristan da Silva and 13 points and 10 rebounds from Luke O’Brien, CU’s defense held Washington to only 20 points in the first half. Despite the 16 points scored by Keion Brooks Jr. and Cole Bajema, the Huskies struggled during the first-half, falling too far behind to retake the lead later in the game. Though the game got close in the final minutes, the Buffs’ 58% in the second half helped the team secure their first-round win.
(5) Washington State 69, (12) California 52
This game featured an all-round team effort by the Cougars, who had five players with double-digit scoring. Led by TJ Bamba with 17 points, Washington State scored 35 points in the first half, compared to only 21 from the Cal Golden Bears. The Cougars also dominated the rebound battle, 41-27, and had five more assists than their opponents. Led by Monty Bowser with 17 points, Cal put up a stronger fight in the second half, but the team’s poor shooting overall kept them from ever making a comeback.
(10) Stanford 73, (7) Utah 62
The Cardinals beat out the Utes, with four players scoring at least 12 points each. Headed by 16 points and 12 rebounds from Brandon Angel and 15 points from Harrison Ingram, Stanford limited themselves to four turnovers and grabbed five steals and three blocks of their own. Branden Carlson, who recorded 27 points and 10 rebounds in only 28 minutes, led the Utah team; however, the Utes’ 22/58 shooting, along with 12 turnovers and 22 fouls, led to their downfall.
(6) Arizona State 63, (11) Oregon State 57
In the final game of the opening round, the Beavers out-lasted the Sun Devils in a tight match, where both teams shot below 40% from the field. The teams were neck and neck for the most part; however, ASU finally came out on top by the final whistle, thanks to 15 points and nine rebounds from Warren Washington, along with 13 points each from DJ Horne and Desmond Cambridge Jr. Though OSU had several high-scoring players, including Glenn Taylor Jr. with 17 points, Jordan Pope with 12 points and Tyler Bilodeau with 11 points, the team couldn’t come out with the win.
(1) UCLA 80, (9) Colorado 69
In a head-to-head battle, the No. 1 seed Bruins defeated the Buffs in their quarter-final match. The lead switched back and forth between the two teams during the first half, resulting in heightened aggression and numerous points from the foul line. Hammond continued his impressive playing from Colorado’s game against Washington the day before. The game was a nail-biter — with the Buffs up by only one point in the last five minutes of the match. However, the Bruins went on a 20-8 score streak in the final minutes, leading to a crushing defeat for the Buffs.
(4) Oregon 75, (5) Washington State 70
The No. 4 and 5 seed Pacific Northwest teams put on a show at the tournament for an action-packed quarter-final match. Despite going 3 for 14 from the 3-point line in the first half and being down by 19 at one point, Oregon came out in the lead by halftime and locked in their victory. Jermaine Couisnard sank eight free throws, leading the Ducks with 17 points. The Cougars responded with eight free throws of their own; however, they could not break through the Ducks’ impeccable defense, especially N’Fanty Dante. In the end, Oregon defeated Washington State, ending the suspenseful match with a five-point win, 75-70.
(2) Arizona 95, (10) Stanford 84
Turnovers defined the quarter-final match between No. 2 seed Arizona and No. 10 seed Stanford. With five turnovers called in the first 10 minutes of the match, it became evident that each team needed to capitalize on these fast-break scoring opportunities to pull ahead. By the end of the match, the Cardinals and the Wildcats had scored 20 points from turnovers. The Wildcats had an impressive spread of high scorers across the bench: Tubelis with 20, Cedric Henderson Jr. with 23 and Omar Ballo with 24. These high scorers helped lead Arizona to an impressive victory, ending the game with an 11-point lead.
(6) Arizona State 77, (3) USC 72
Cambridge was the star of the show in ASU’s face-off against No. 3 seed USC for the quarter-finals. With a season-high of 27 points, Cambridge led a surge of momentum that carried the Sun Devils through the grueling match. Despite the strong offensive playing by their opponents, the Trojans stayed disciplined on defense, deterring penetration into the paint. Though the Trojans had a higher field goal percentage than the Sun Devils, they could not grab the lead. A 3-pointer from USC in the game’s final seconds put them within four points of ASU; however, the Sun Devils soon grew their lead again, resulting in a loss for the Trojans.
(1) UCLA 75, (4) Oregon 56
After a close first half, UCLA outscored Oregon, 43-26, in the second half to take the 19-point win. Campbell shined as a star player for the Bruins, as the senior finished with 28 points and six assists. Next came Pac-12 player of the year Jamie Jaquez Jr., who scored 18 points and 10 rebounds. UCLA shot 45% from the field, compared to only 33% from the Ducks, and they made six more 3-pointers than their opponents and only gave up five turnovers during the game. Though the Ducks grabbed 10 more rebounds than the Bruins, Will Richardson and Quincy Guerrier were the only Oregon players to score double-digit points with 10 each.
(2) Arizona 78, (6) Arizona State 59
The Wildcats put together one of their most efficient offensive games against their in-state rival. Arizona shot 24% better than ASU, had 14 more rebounds and recorded 10 more assists. Tubelis finished with 17 points and nine rebounds, along with 14 points each from Henderson and Ballo for the Wildcats. The Sun Devils seemed to struggle in all aspects of the game, with their top scorers, Frankie Collins and Jamiya Neal, only getting 11 points each.
(2) Arizona 61, (1) UCLA 59
The Pac-12 championship game ended the tournament with a bang, as the match came down to the wire between the top-ranked teams of the division. The Wildcats and the Bruins averaged a shooting percentage of 37% from the field and had almost identical free throw rates. This made for an even battle, full of fast breaks and numerous switches in leads.
Despite missing two starters, the Bruins team filled in the gaps as needed and kept the playing level at an all-time high. Amari Bailey led the Bruins with 19 points, while Tubelis led the Wildcats with 19. Down by two points in the game’s final seconds, the Bruins recovered a rebound and passed the ball upcourt for Dylan Andrews to hit a 3-pointer. However, Andrews’ shot hit the rim and missed the bucket, giving ASU their second straight Pac-12 championship win.
Colorado’s Pac-12 tournament
Following the pattern of their regular season, the Buffs had both highs and lows at the Pac-12 tournament in Las Vegas. Coming in with an 8-12 conference record, Colorado had a chance to take the underdog route against some of the top teams, including UCLA and ASU.
In their first match against No. 8 seed Washington on March 8, the Buffs came out guns ablaze. From the get-go, Colorado seemed ready to play at their highest level of the season. Not only did the Buffs play impressive offense, but they also had a well-rounded defense, which proved critical to keeping the Huskies off of the scoreboard.
Considering how CU has struggled with consistent defense during the regular season, the Buffs’ performance in the first round showed their growth as a team. However, an all-too-familiar pattern showed up in the game’s final minutes, when the Buffs allowed the Huskies to attempt a comeback and close the score gap. However, CU still triumphed in the game, defending their hard-earned lead and advancing to the quarter-finals.
The Buffs faced a similar predicament against No. 1 seed UCLA on March 9, especially during the final minutes of the game. However, this time the Buffs did not manage to grab the upset win. Though competing against the top-ranked team was a formidable challenge, Colorado put up a strong fight against the Bruins. Colorado’s lead saw this in the last five minutes. However, unlike the match against Washington, CU displayed fatigue and struggled defensively, allowing UCLA to finish the match with a big scoring run and advance to the semifinals.
Next stop: Buffs at the 2023 NIT
Colorado’s win against Washington in the Pac-12 tournament granted them the National Invitational Tournament (NIT) at-large bid. This will be the Buffaloes’ second consecutive appearance in the NIT, after falling to St. Bonaventure last year. For this year’s tournament, No. 3 seed CU will face No. 7 seed Seton Hall at 9 p.m. MST on Tuesday, March 14, on ESPN2.
Contact CU Independent Staff Writer Eli Gregorski at email@example.com.
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