If Session 1 of the 2017 Pac-12 Men's Basketball Tournament gave the crowd at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas some thrills on Wednesday afternoon, then Session 2 certainly held up its end of the bargain on Wednesday night. Both the Colorado Buffaloes and the USC Trojans overcame halftime deficits with big second-half efforts to avoid upsets and win their respective games while also advancing to Session 4 on Thursday evening. The Buffaloes had the bigger comeback, after being down 14 points at halftime, as they outscored the Washington State Cougars 46-22 in the final 20 minutes to emerge victorious, 73-63. However, the Trojans' 78-73 victory over the Washington Huskies had larger ramifications for the both the conference and the NCAA Tournament next week, as USC may have secured itself a big to March Madness with the win.
If you had dinner plans or just went to bed early on Wednesday night, here's what went down in Session 2.
Whose fans will be happy?
Despite a gaudy 23-8 recording coming into the Pac-12 Tournament, the Trojans were considered a bubble team for the NCAA Tournament due to some inconsistent play and a weak non-conference schedule. While the win over the Huskies (9-22) wasn't super impressive, it was still a win under pressure in a league tourney. USC now has 24 wins, and it's very difficult to imagine a power conference team with that many wins not being invited to March Madness. Trojan fans everywhere probably can breathe a sigh of relief for the school's second straight trip to the big dance.
Whose fans will be sad?
Washington State (13-18) wasn't going anywhere this postseason unless it won the tournament, and that was quite improbable. Yet blowing a 14-point halftime lead was still a gut punch to a fan base that deserved to see senior star Josh Hawkinson play in one more game. He turned in another double double (12 points, 12 rebounds) in his final game for the Cougars, but it wasn't enough to keep Colorado (19-13) from shooting the lights out in the second half. WSU fans had to watch helplessly as the Buffs shot 53.6 percent from the floor in the second half to end Hawkinson's brilliant career while also vanquishing those long-shot dreams at upset glory.
What were the big moments?
In the space of four minutes early in the second half, Colorado cut its deficit from 13 points to just two, and everyone watching knew it was only a matter of time before the Buffaloes pulled ahead of the Cougars for good. In that stretch, Buffaloes senior guard Derrick White scored 13 points by himself: two layups, two three-point bombs and one old-school three-point play when he was fouled on another successful layup. Even though Colorado didn't take the lead for good until there were nine minutes left in the game, that White-dominated sequence absolutely crushed Washington State's spirit, and the outcome of the game was a formality at that point. In the other game, a similar explosion by the Trojans buried the Huskies: With 10:15 left in the game, USC was up by five points. But a few fouls by Washington and a huge three-pointer later by Elijah Stewart gave the Trojans a 14-point lead just about a minute later. The Huskies sagged, and USC was on cruise control for the rest of the game.
Which players came up big?
White was the bright light for Colorado as he has all season. Playing 38 minutes, he scored 26 points, dished out five assists and grabbed five rebounds while not committing a single turnover. He added a block and a steal, and White basically turned the tide in the second half almost all by himself while willing his teammates to victory with the huge comeback. It doesn't get much bigger than that. USC's Chimezie Metu scored 24 points, secured nine rebounds and two blocks while shooting 10-of-17 from the field. The rest of his teammates were somewhat sluggish on the night, so Metu's star needed to shine very brightly for the Trojans, and it absolutely did.
Which players needed to be better?
WSU freshman guard Malachi Flynn will remember this loss for a while, as he shot 0-for-6 from the floor and grabbed only two rebounds in 31 minutes of play. After averaging almost 10 points a game during the regular season, the Cougars starter couldn't afford to disappear in the Pac-12 Tournament, but that's just what he did. As for U-Dub, two starters—sophomore David Crisp and Matisse Thybulle—played a combined 78 minutes due to a depth issue on the roster, and they scored a combined 36 points on 13-of-23 shooting. The problem was they also combined for 10 turnovers, and overall, the Huskies coughed up the ball 17 times in this game. That's why they lost, despite shooting almost 54 percent from the floor.
Big picture in the Pac-12 men's basketball tournament
Like Session 1 on Wednesday afternoon, there were no upsets in Session 2. The bracket is intact as Session 3 and Session 4 begin on Thursday afternoon and evening, respectively. Seventh-seeded Colorado now gets to face the No. 2-seed Arizona Wildcats, and sixth-seeded USC gets to take on No. 3-seed UCLA in Session 4. The Wildcats are ranked seventh in the nation right now, and they will be expected to overcome White's prowess and advance to Friday night's semifinals. As for the big rivalry game that closes out the day in Vegas, the Bruins and the Trojans don't like each other. UCLA is ranked third in the country, but one of its three losses this year came against USC. That makes this game personal.
Colorado began the Pac-12 regular season with seven straight losses, and the Buffaloes have done a wonderful job getting their overall record to 19-13. They are sure to get a bid to the National Invitational Tournament (NIT) next week, but unless they beat the Wildcats and end up winning the tournament on Saturday night, the Buffs won't be headed to March Madness. For USC, the task is now to repeat an earlier upset against UCLA, a team fighting for a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. If the Bruins lose to the Trojans again, that won't be happening.