This Week In The Pac: Arizona Survives, Washington & UCLA Do Not

The performances of Arizona, Washington and UCLA were somehow each microcosms for the performances of all three teams during their regular season.  Consider that Arizona emerged as the most successful team in the Pac-10 again because Derrick Williams saved them again.  Consider that Washington's raw talent and athleticism was enough to defeat Georgia and should have been enough against North Carolina but their inability to consistently execute an offense cost them another chance to maximize that talent.  Consider that UCLA's extreme inconsistency within individual games almost led to an epic tournament collapse, then

In all another four Pac-10 teams saw their seasons come to a close.  In addition to Washington and UCLA, Cal ran out of healthy bodies in the NIT and USC forgot how to play offense and lost to Virginia Commonwealth, the most surprising team in the tournament.  Meanwhile, Oregon and Washington St. are still competing in the battle to see which Pac-10 team can extend their season the longest - both teams won first round games in the CBI and NIT respectively, and both will play in the second round of each tournament tonight.

But what are Arizona's chances of advancing?  Duke is a number one seed defending NCAA champion, but they will also be playing 3,000 miles from home in Anaheim and didn't look particularly convincing against Michigan yesterday.  Do the Wildcats have a chance to pull the upset?  And if they do, can they then knock off San Diego St. or UConn?  I'm guessing Arizona can go as far as Derrick Williams can carry them.

Arizona 77, Memphis 75 ; Arizona 70, Texas 69

One of the emerging themes from the NCAA performance of Pac-10 teams was an impressive level of ineptitude during crunch time, and Arizona was no different.  Memphis should have been put away when Arizona had a 5 point lead with 25 seconds left, but a bad foul, a turnover and the inability to box out an intentionally missed free throw almost conspired to cost the Wildcats the game before Derrick Williams swooped in to once again controversially save the Wildcats with a last second block (this time some accused him of fouling rather than goaltending).

Arizona didn't fail to execute at the end of the game against Texas as much as Texas just beat them - until the refs gave the Wildcats possession and Williams hit a circus shot to win the game.  What his heroics overshadowed was a very bizarre game - Williams and Momo Jones combined to shoot just 4-20 from the field and Williams missed a flurry of important free throws late in the second half.  And yet Arizona's under-appreciated supporting cast stepped up to save the season.  Back-up point guard Jordin Mayes and Solomon Hill both had the best games of their lives and kept Arizona in the game just long enough for Williams to find his shooting touch.

The play of Mayes and Hill and Arizona's ultra-deep rotation has to be an encouraging sign for Wildcat fans - with so many contributing players it almost seems inevitable that somebody will step up in any given game.  Sean Miller has shown himself to be adept at finding the hot hand.  Can they do it again against Duke?

Washington 68, Georgia 65 ; North Carolina 86, Washington 83

Washington's own crunch time problems were significantly greater than Arizona's.  I didn't see what happened against Georgia but it seems insane to me that Washington held a 10 point lead with 2:00 to play and an 8 point lead with 44 seconds to play and Georgia still managed to get off a decent look for a game-tying shot.

But it was much, much worse against North Carolina.  From the neutral perspective it was probably the single most entertaining NCAA tournament game, at least for the first 38 minutes.  The two fastest paced teams left in the tournament ran up and down and met little in the way of defensive resistance.  With 5:42 left Isaiah Thomas hit a jumper to give UW a 3 point lead.  Here are the results for the rest of Washington's possessions:

-Justin Holiday turnover
-Isaiah Thomas turnover
-Matthew Bryan-Amaning missed jumper
-Darnell Gant missed layup
-Isaiah Thomas missed jumper
-Justin Holiday missed jumper
-C.J. Wilcox missed jumper
-Aziz N'diaye made tip-shot
-Terrance Ross turnover
-Matthew Bryan-Amaning made layup (assist Thomas)
-Terrance Ross missed jumper
-Scott Suggs made three pointer (assist Thomas)
-Venoy Overton missed layup
-Justin Holiday turnover
-Venoy Overton turnover
-Isaiah Thomas missed jumper

If you're counting, that's more turnovers (5) than made shots (3).  It's also worth noting that Isaiah Thomas only took two shot in the last five minutes of the game, and didn't even have the ball in his hands for most of the final possessions.  Once again Washington's lack of any semblance of an offensive plan likely lost them a very winnable game.

UCLA 78, Michigan State 76 ; Florida 73, UCLA 65

UCLA continues to tantalize with their obvious talent, which was fully on display for the first 32 minutes against Michigan St.  And their inability to fully realize that talent was also fully on display when they managed to turn a 23 point lead into just a 3 point lead in the span of eight minutes of game action.

UCLA's in-game performance was considerably more stable against Florida, but the imposing front court duo of Josh Smith and Reeves Nelson (combined 17 rebounds and 32 points on 11-21 shooting) could not mask UCLA's iffy front court play, particularly from point guards Jerime Anderson and Lazeric Jones.  It's a truism that guard play wins games in March.  I don't know if I buy that, but the cliche held true for the Bruins.  Ultimately, relying on Josh Smith just wasn't a safe strategy because of his propensity to draw fouls - Smith drew his 4th foul with 9:30 left in the game and would only score two more points the rest of the way.  Another year of conditioning and Smith could turn in to an unstoppable force on the low block, but until he learns to avoid a few whistles he won't be a night-in, night-out first option.

Next Week

Washington St. vs. Oklahoma St. in Pullman, Monday, ESPN2
Oregon vs. Duquesne in Eugene, Monday
Arizona vs. Duke in Anaheim, Thursday, CBS

I can't imagine anybody around these parts will be paying too much attention to the Cougars and Ducks, though Washington St. has an outside chance of not only making it to New York but winning the entire NIT.  I know it's not normal to get excited about the NIT, but a final game between Alec Burks and the Buffaloes and Klay Thompson and the Cougars would be a pretty fun matchup.

Of course, the vast majority of the attention will go to Arizona.  Will it be the last harrah for Derrick Williams as a Pac-10 player?  Can Arizona become the first non-UCLA Pac-10 team to make the elite 8 since Oregon in 2007?

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