Once-strong Pac-12 stumbles in NCAA Tournament
PHOENIX (AP) Pac-12 coaches spent the season touting the conference's depth and balance, despite Oregon winning the regular-season and tournament titles.
The NCAA Tournament selection committee certainly noticed, putting a conference-record seven Pac-12 schools in the bracket.
Once the tournament started, the Conference of Champions tripped over its own feet.
Through the first round of the NCAA Tournament, the Pac-12 was 2-5. Only Oregon and Utah got through to the second round.
Yep, it was ugly.
''We did have a great conference year. Nobody's going to take anything away from that,'' Oregon coach Dana Altman said. ''But if you don't perform in the tournament, then it gives you opportunity for people to attack your league. Unfortunately, that's happened.''
A quick rundown of how the Pac-12's seven NCAA Tournament teams fared in the bracket:
Utah. The Utes (27-8) saved what would have been a disastrous first day for the Pac-12 by winning as a No. 3 seed in the Midwest Region. Utah was runner-up to Oregon in the Pac-12 regular season and conference tournament, yet was a sleeper pick as a first-round upset against Fresno State. It wasn't always pretty - Utah had numerous self-inflicted mistakes - but the Utes used a 19-2 run to beat the Bulldogs 80-69. Next up: Gonzaga on Saturday.
Oregon. The Ducks earned the West's top seed after winning the Pac-12 regular-season title and blowing out Utah in the tournament championship game. Oregon played like a No. 1 seed in its opener, blowing out 16th-seeded Holy Cross 91-52 in Spokane, Washington. The Ducks (29-6) overwhelmed the Crusaders with their athleticism, quickly building a 10-point lead to start the expected rout. Next up: No. 8 seed Saint Joseph's on Sunday.
Arizona. The biggest disappointment from the Pac-12's start in the NCAA Tournament goes to the Wildcats (25-9). And not just because they lost 65-55 to Wichita State as a No. 5 seed. Arizona came out flat and was outworked by the senior-led Shockers. The Wildcats struggled with injuries and inconsistencies during the regular season, but it was hard to predict a team led by three seniors and coached by Sean Miller stumbling this badly.
California. Put the Bears (23-11) right behind Arizona in the big-upset category with a 77-66 loss to No. 12 seed Hawaii. At least they had an excuse or two. Cal's players were distracted in the days leading up to the game when assistant coach Yann Hufnagel was fired after being accused of sexual harassment. The day before the game, leading scorer Tyrone Wallace broke his hand in practice, knocking him out of the tournament. In case that wasn't enough, Jabari Bird suffered back spasms during warmups and didn't play, leaving the Bears without two of their best players. That's a lot to overcome.
USC. The Trojans took the hardest fall out of the tournament among Pac-12 teams. USC (21-13), a No. 8 seed in the East Region, missed the front end of two one-and-ones in the final minute against Providence and inexplicably left Rodney Bullock open for a layup with 1.5 seconds left. The Friars won 70-69 and move on to face top-seeded North Carolina. The Trojans are headed home, wondering what happened. ''We had the game in our hands, and we just let it fall right through,'' USC's Julian Jacobs said.
Oregon State. The Beavers ended a 26-year NCAA Tournament drought behind Gary Payton II, son of Gary, one of the program's greatest players. Oregon State received an at-large bid after finishing seventh in the Pac-12, but faced a difficult opener against VCU and its Havoc defense. Even as a higher seed, Oregon State (19-13) was an underdog and played like it early against the 10th-seeded Rams, falling into a 10-point second-half hole. The Beavers managed to rally, but VCU stretched the lead from there to win 75-67, sending another higher-seeded Pac-12 team home.
Colorado. The Buffaloes had the higher seed - just barely - in their opening South Region game but were facing a team on a roll. UConn won its final five games heading into the NCAAs, including a quadruple-overtime win over Cincinnati in the AAC tournament that included a tying 3-pointer from beyond midcourt. Colorado, the No. 8 seed, played well early, building an 11-point lead. The Buffaloes couldn't hold it or match the nation's best free-throw shooting team, hitting 19 of 30 while the Huskies made 22 of 23 in the 74-63 victory to send them home with four other Pac-12 teams.