Posted on March 10, 2023
The Semifinals of the Pac-12 Tournament are make-or-break games for Oregon and Arizona State’s NCAA Tournament hopes.
Wins could seal at-large invitations for both, while losses would make the Selection Show uncomfortable.
I preview the games here and my picks, along with those of Stephen Vilardo, appear at the bottom.
4-seed Oregon v. 1-seed UCLA
Friday March 10
6:00 pm PT, Pac-12 Network
N’Faly Dante went down with an ankle injury late in the game against Washington State and his status is questionable. If he can’t go, Dana Altman will be forced to change his starting lineup, potentially by bringing Kel’el Ware into the starting five.
Yet, with a potential birth in the NCAA Tournament on the line, Dante will likely do whatever it takes to play.
UCLA struggled a bit against Colorado and was the beneficiary of a questionable free throw discrepancy. Mick Cronin needed a career-high game from Amari Bailey to topple the Buffs, underlining the thin margins the Bruins have without Jaylen Clark.
But UCLA’s struggles were fairly typical for a one-seed in the Pac-12 Tournament. The top team in the league historically comes out slow in its opener and gets it together by the second half.
Matched up with Oregon, the keys are forcing turnovers and rebounding.
The Ducks are No. 59 in rebounds per game while the Bruins are No. 99. With length and depth in its frontcourt, Oregon’s ability to create second-chance opportunities could be a difference maker.
Altman’s team is an elite shot-blocking group, too, coming into the matchup No. 26 in blocked shots per game. That could change if Dante doesn’t play or isn’t 100 percent, yet Ware and Nate Bittle are capable defenders who average 2.3 blocks per game combined.
Adem Bona might be able to reach his average, but the rest of the UCLA roster could struggle to score within the paint.
That arguably leaves the game in the hands of the Bruins’ guards and wings. Jaime Jaquez Jr., Tyger Campbell, David Singleton, and Bailey must have efficient games from the field.
UO is 209th in three-point percentage defense and could give up too many open looks from deep when the Bruins play small.
Unless Altman’s team is able to force turnovers and convert those mistakes into points, UCLA’s defense should keep the Ducks contained while its offense hits enough threes to win the game.
6-seed Arizona State v. 2-seed Arizona
Friday, March 10
8:30 pm PT, ESPN
The last time the teams matched up outside of Tucson or Tempe was in the 2009 Pac-12 Tournament when James Harden scored 27 points to send the Wildcats home with a 12-point loss.
This year, the teams split the regular season series with each school winning on the other’s home floor.
For the Wildcats, defending the perimeter will be pivotal. Desmond Cambridge Jr. went 6-for-12 from three against USC on Thursday while the Sun Devils sank 43.8 percent of their shots from deep.
At 6-foot-4 and 180 pounds, Cambridge Jr. is a matchup problem for Tommy Lloyd. Pelle Larsson and Cedric Henderson Jr. aren’t natural fits to defend the shooting guard, leaving UA’s three guards to get the job done.
True freshman Kylan Boswell is arguably the top defender out of the trio and could be called on early to slow down ASU’s leading scorer.
But that would potentially require Lloyd to play a small, three guard, line up which could negate the Wildcats’ personnel advantage in the frontcourt.
Arizona State is substantially undersized with its starting lineup. Bobby Hurley starts 6-foot-6 and 215-pound Devan Cambridge at the four, creating an obvious mismatch for Azuolas Tubelis to take advantage of.
Look for Arizona to pound the ball inside to take advantage of ASU’s lack of interior size.
Lloyd tends to move Tubelis to the five spot while Oumar Ballo rests, though, and Hurley can insert Alonzo Gaffney at power forward to more adequately defend Arizona’s leading scorer.
It’s the ultimate personnel chess game between the two coaching staffs. Whichever coach gets the right lineups on the floor at the correct time should reap the benefits.
That’s a bit concerning for Arizona due to Lloyd’s unwillingness to call timeouts to stem runs. If the Sun Devils begin to put one together, Lloyd’s distaste for calling timeouts will be put to the test.
Similar to the matchup with Stanford, Ballo’s production is an X-Factor for Arizona that can tip the scales either way. If the UA center is finishing his shots around the rim, the Cats will be tough to beat.
For ASU, the production of its role players is its Wildcard. Jamiya Neal and Gaffney stepped up against the Trojans and will likely need to do the same against Arizona.
Still, the game figures to come down to UA’s defense on Hurley’s three primary guards and the efficiency of UA’s own guards. In particular, if Courtney Ramey is hot from three, the Cats should leave with the win.
Our Senior Writers’ Game Picks
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