College basketball conference tournament action is in full swing all across the nation this week, and the Pac-12 Men's Basketball Tournament got off to an exciting start today in Las Vegas at the T-Mobile Arena with two highly competitive games that went down to the wire. In the first game of the event, the Arizona State Sun Devils held off the Stanford Cardinal in overtime, winning with a barrage of three-point shots in the extra session to win, 98-88. In the second game, the feisty Oregon State Beavers gave the favored California Golden Bears all they could handle down the stretch before Cal emerged victorious by a 67-62 score.
If you weren't there or you missed it on television, here's what went down today in Session 1.
Whose fans will be happy?
With the win over the Beavers, the Golden Bears (20-11) clinched another 20-win season, their seventh such season in the last nine years. The victory also moves Cal closer to earning an NCAA Tournament bid, as the No. 5 Bears now advance to face the No. 4-seeded Utah Utes in Session 3 tomorrow afternoon. Cal had lost five of its last six games coming into the Pac-12 Tournament, so this game definitely showed that the Bears still want to play more basketball this season.
Whose fans will be sad?
In the regular season, Stanford (14-17) lost to Arizona State (15-17) twice, both times by single-digit margins. When the Cardinal overcame a double-digit deficit late in the second half today to tie the game and send it into extra time, Stanford fans had to be thinking their team was due for a victory over the Sun Devils. However, those hopes dissipated quickly in the overtime period as ASU hit three-point shot after three-point shot to run away with the win. While it wasn't a great season for the Cardinal, this was a tough way to see it end when the team was so close to advancing to tomorrow's matchup against the top-seeded Oregon Ducks. Instead, it's the ASU fans that get at least one more day to cheer on their team.
What were the big moments?
In overtime, Kodi Justice, Shannon Evans and Torian Graham hit consecutive three-point baskets for the Sun Devils that simply ripped out the heart of the Cardinal. In the space of 72 seconds during overtime, ASU built an eight-point lead on the back of the three threes. In the second game of Session 1, the big moment came in the final minute: Oregon State had a chance to take the lead with a three-point attempt, but Kendal Manuel put up an airball, and California's Jabari Bird converted a three-point play the old-fashioned way to put the lead back to five points with only 54 seconds to play. That was the sequence that broke the dam for the Beavers (5-27).
Which players came up big?
Arizona State forward Obinna Oleka turned in an impressive double-double effort against Stanford, putting up 27 points and grabbing 13 rebounds. As the only non-guard starter for the Sun Devils, he came through in a big way against the Cardinal. He made 8-of-13 shots from the floor and sunk all nine of his free-throw attempts. It doesn't get much better than that. California forward Ivan Rabb was only 4-of-11 from the floor, but he still posted his own double double against Oregon State (12 points, 13 rebounds). The key was his nine defensive boards, which kept the Beavers from scoring a lot of second-chance points.
Which players needed to be better?
Stanford guard Dorian Pickens needed 15 shots to score just 14 points in the overtime loss, and he shot a mere 4-for-12 from long range. As a team, the Cardinal shot just 10-of-29 from three-point range, so Pickens' struggles were a big reason Stanford was behind for most of the game. He did hit a big three early in the overtime session, but then he missed his next two attempts as the Sun Devils pulled away. Oregon State forward Drew Eubanks had a very quiet game against California, with just six points and four rebounds—well below his season averages of 14.7 points and 8.5 rebounds per game. Eubanks was one of the most improved players in the conference this season, so he probably will use this performance as fuel for his fire next season.
Big picture in the Pac-12 men's basketball tournament
The higher seeds won each game in Session 1, so there were no upsets. However, it's clear both games were very competitive, and that really shows the depth of the conference's talent. The fact that a beaten-up Beavers squad could push a potential March Madness team from Cal down to the wire says a lot about the Pac-12 Conference as a whole.
Now, the two winners from this afternoon's games look toward Session 3 tomorrow: Arizona State takes on Oregon at 12:00 p.m. Pacific Time, while Cal will face Utah at 2:30 p.m. The Ducks (27-4) are favored to win, as they are a Top 10 team nationally, while the Sun Devils still are under .500 for the season overall. The second game is huge in terms of ramifications for March Madness. The Golden Bears might need another victory to get into the big dance, while the Utes (20-10) definitely want to demonstrate they are being dissed too readily despite their fourth-place regular-season finish in the conference.