Pac-12 Basketball: A Sleeping Giant Awakens

By Brendan Patel
Kyle Terada - USA TODAY Sports
Kyle Terada – USA TODAY Sports

The Pac-12 Conference has had its fair share of struggles the past couple years, from a lack of elite teams to insufficient depth throughout the conferences. A lot can be credited to all the players who left college early to play pro basketball. Some say the talent on the west coast is not what it used to be. But at the end of the Pac-12 tournament this year, it is clear that the conference is on its way back to being a powerhouse.

UCLA and Arizona tend to be thought of as the elites of Pac-12 Basketball, and both those teams found themselves at the top of the standings by the end of the year. It was only fitting to have the two powerhouses in the conference duke it out in an exhilarating conference title game.

In the first half, the Bruins jumped out to an early lead, but Arizona would quickly close the gap and arguably provide the most entertaining half of Pac-12 basketball this season. Both teams were on fire, lighting up the scoreboard early on to the tune of 83 total points. Kyle Anderson led the charge for the Bruins, but Norman Powell also continued his strong tournament by contributing some early points. Meanwhile, Gabe York came off the bench for Arizona and hit some big threes to get them back in the game. It looked as if both teams would be nearing triple-digits by the end.

As much as the first half was a shootout, the second half was equal in terms of being a defensive slugfest. Arizona and UCLA locked down on defense, with the referees often letting them play. Pac-12 Player of the Year Nick Johnson provided some SportsCenter Top-10 worthy blocks, and was flying all over the court. He finally found his offensive game and seemed to single-handedly carry the offense. But Jordan Adams would have the last say, hitting a big three down the stretch to win the game for the Bruins.

This game helps to define just how far the Pac-12 Conference has come this year. There were future NBA players going at it, with Anderson and Aaron Gordon matching up against one another. The crowd was dominated by Arizona fans, but in combination with the small contingent of UCLA supporters, provided a phenomenal atmosphere. And the game ended in epic fashion, still undecided with a minute left.

More importantly, it summed up a great conference tournament. Arizona will likely remain a one-seed, while UCLA will surely move up in the rankings. Oregon, Stanford, Arizona State and Colorado all should be dancing next week, giving the Pac-12 six teams in the tournament (California still has an outside shot as well). The latter four teams might not receive high seeds, but all four are capable of pulling off upsets along the way.

UCLA should make it past the first weekend and is a dark horse to make a deep run, with both Anderson and Adams playing great basketball. And Arizona, still the top team in the conference, is a legitimate contender to win it all, showing off the excellent depth that the conference now possesses.

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