Pac-12 Quarterfinals Begin; UCLA and Arizona Win

If March Madness is the mainstream attraction for casual college basketball fans, than conference tournaments are where the real hardcore hoops fans get their fill. There’s always  a crazy share of buzzer-beating shots and wild victories in conference play, and the Pac-12 tourney is no different. Two huge quarterfinals match-ups occurred yesterday afternoon, with UCLA taking on Arizona State and Colorado facing Arizona.

UCLA played lethargically for virtually the entire game against the Sun Devils, but came alive in the second half to pull from a 15-point deficit and win 80-75. The Bruins pushed against the spread, as they were favored by five points in most sports books.

“Anytime they had an open look down the home stretch, they made it,” Arizona State coach Herb Sendek said. “They didn’t let us off the hook. Whether it was Drew, the Wear brothers, anytime we had a breakdown, there was no forgiveness on their part. They were making shots.”

As promising as UCLA have looked at times, they’re going to need to add some serious pop to their offense if they want to go far in the tourney. It took 11 points from Larry Drew in the final 16 minutes of play and 12 points from Shabazz Muhammed in the second half to overcome the Sun Devils, and the Bruins will face much tougher opponents in the days ahead. Critics of UCLA’s up and down play this season will come away from the game with plenty of ammunition, though they did what they had to do down the stretch to earn a victory.

Arizona also found themselves locked in a thrilling game yesterday that was much closer than the No. 18-ranked Wildcats would’ve liked. They beat the frisky Colorado Buffalos 79-69, but the Buffs refused to go away for the duration of the game. Arizona were five point favorites in the game, though they had to sweat until the very end to earn the cover.

Now, tonight, the two teams will face each other. Who will come away with a victory?

Arizona has been sloppy with the ball all season, turning it over at a high volume and in critical spots. UCLA’s struggles have been well documented as well. However, perhaps the Bruins have the Wildcats figured out this season; they’ve beaten them both times they’ve met. On January 24, the Bruins staged a shocking upset of Arizona, defeating them 84-73 on their home court. “I just think this team has a lot of fire,” said UCLA point guard Larry Drew after that game. “A lot of energy, a lot of young energy and a lot of guys who want to come out and prove something to everybody.”

Then, in a closer match on March 2, UCLA defeated Arizona 74-69 when the Bruins held the home court advantage. In that game, as in so many others this season, the Bruins were propelled to victory by Shabazz Muhammed, who scored 18 points.

“I knew going into this deal that this was a one-year deal and it should be,” Howland said. “He’s a top-five pick. When you have that going for you, it’s absolutely the right thing for him. That was absolutely his last game in Pauley Pavilion. I know that, he knows that, we all know that. We want the season to go as long as possible for him.”

Ultimately, I think the Bruins will beat the Wildcats, despite their lackadaisical and unimpressive performance against Arizona State. UCLA has played to their competition this season, and they’ve shown in two great bouts with Arizona that they can trade blow for blow –  and then some – with the Wildcats.

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