Thursday, March 13, 2008

Men's Basketball Pac 10 Quarterfinals 3/13/2008

Stanford 75 Arizona 64 The Pac-10 Tournament - a great pre-cursor to the Big Dance. Last year was the first time I made it down to Staples and even though we lost in a heartbreaker to USC, I was sold. What's there not to like? You have all the fans from the Pac-10, even OSU who were helped out by the orange clad concession sellers, and 9 basketball games (maybe 8.5 since any game involving an OSU team that was calculated at 2.5 million to 1 to win the Pac-10 Tournament, counts as half a game). To make things even better, it only cost Stanford students $35 this year. What a steal!

I drove down with some buddies on Wednesday morning and we got to Staples with plenty of time before the first play-in game between Washington and Cal. Neither team looked impressive but at least Washington had the excuse of not having Brockman (their best player). Still it was a high scoring affair between two teams that don't play much defense and Cal managed to cover the spread (which I was thankful for). The turn out was decent for play-in night but I was surprised that there weren't that many Cal/Washington fans in attendance. The second game of the night between Oregon State and Arizona was a laugher with Arizona unable to miss a shot and Oregon St unable to do anything on offense. We left at half time to grab supper and get some work done, since this is, after all, the week before finals and we had some papers/group projects that are due. I apologise to anyone who is in a group project with me this quarter. I'm trying my best, but I have certain priorities that cannot be compromised.

With 4 great games of basketball, the quater finals day of the Pac-10 Tournament is the day that I look forward to the most. ASU-USC was a great match up to get things started with freshmen Harden and Mayo going at it. Too bad the refs had to ruin it with an extremely questionable call down the stretch that had the whole of Staples, besides Trojan fans of course, booing. I've unfortunately come to expect this with Pac-10 refs.

The next game on deck was the rematch between UCLA and Cal, which also meant hearing each school's fight song (they are the same) over and over again. UCLA fans showed up in full force and were annoying as usual. They would randomly yell "Go Bruins" even when UCLA wasn't playing, and also started a UCLA fight-fight-fight chant during the Oregon-Wazzu game. Right before our game, one old Bruin fan came to our area and started talking trash to the band and our tree. I actually felt embarrassed for him as he was escorted away by an attendant. UCLA came out to play after all the flack they've been getting in the media for their two tainted victories against us and Cal, and tore Cal apart - not that there were many Cal fans in attennance to witness it. I'm definitely looking forward to the UCLA-USC match up on Friday - possibly the first one in Pac-10 Tournament history at the semi-finals or later stage.

After a quick dinner, we got back for the Oregon-Wash State game. Wazzu fans really came out in full force. It's impressive that they have such a big following - maybe they'll take any excuse to get out of Pullman? I didn't really care who won the game. Oregon fans are notoriously classless (they travelled much better last year) and after being in Pullman, Cougars fans whine too much. Actually after visiting most Pac-10 schools, I have to say that the only fans I don't have an issue with are those that are pretty dispassionate (OSU, ASU and USC come to mind). I guess it's natural. I do like what Bennett has done with Wazzu and really like Weaver so I thought I'd root for Wazzu. On the other hand, I was reminded repeatedly that Oregon has without a doubt, some of the hottest cheerleaders. I guess it would be nice for them to stay around for a bit and after they dug themselves into such a huge hole thanks to Wazzu's offensive execution and lights-out shooting, I had to root for a close game. Oregon did provide one in the second half but just couldn't quite get over the hump.
It was finally time for our showdown against Arizona. Coming into the game, I was pretty concerned, especially after seeing their first half performance against OSU. With Wise back, they would be a handful and I wasn't sure how we'd handle Bayless who was simply unstoppable in Tuscon. The 6th Man who had made the trip down (we had about 50 people) congregated in our seats that were behind the basket on court level, right next to the band. We got pretty loud and were by far the most coordinated student group out there, much to the chagrin of the few Arizona fans sitting behind us and the people's whose view we were occasionally obstructing. I would have felt bad if there weren't so many empty seats in the arena that they could have moved to (and most did).

As for the game, it was a tightly contested first half with Budinger playing as well as I've seen him play against us. Jordan also had a good first half while Bayless was solid, but not spectacular. We could not buy an outside shot to save our lives (Shiller, Kenny, Fields, Goods all missed and it was actually Mitch who hit our only 2 3 pointers of the game) and got almost all our points from attacking the paint relentlessly (with Fred driving and our big men hitting the boards). Brook made some tough shots from the post and we rebounded especially well. We also did a good job taking care of the ball and limited Arizona's fastbreak points. In general, I feel that if we make smart decisions with the ball and prevent transition baskets, our half court defense will keep us in the game, even if we aren't shooting particularly well. The refs surprisingly let a lot of contact go in the first half, which I always feel is to our advantage.

In the second, the whistles came out early and often but we continued to score thanks to offensive rebound after offensive rebound. We were really attacking the boards and there were a couple of instances (Fred and Taj come to mind) when it looked like we just wanted the ball more. After initially trading baskets with Arizona, our defense finally clamped down with Fred fighting through screens and shutting Budinger down. After taking Budinger out of the game, he then denied Wise from penetrating, and finally matched up against Bayless who is Arizona's go-to-guy in crunch time. Fred played 33 minutes and got the job done. I cannot underly how important he is to our team.

Tonight was definitely one of our better all around team performances. We got a key win against a very good Arizona squad that is tournament bound. Hopefully the USC game was just an aberration and we're back on track. The short turn-around time could hurt us since a lot of our players played major minutes but I feel we match up really well against Wazzu. More importantly, with Louisville, U Conn and Notre Dame (teams that could have been #3 seeds) losing in their quarterfinal match ups, we just might have sewn up a 3 seed for the NCAA tournament. The rest might be gravy but nonetheless, I'd like to see us take it to Wazzu and have our rematch against a LA school.
~ Zhihao

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