Session 4 of the 2017 Pac-12 Men's Basketball Tournament tips off on Thursday, March 9, at 6:00 p.m. Pacific Time in Las Vegas at the T-Mobile Arena with the last two of four quarterfinals matchups. The Arizona Wildcats, currently ranked seventh in the Associated Press poll, face the winner of Wednesday night's Colorado-Washington State game, and then the UCLA Bruins, ranked No. 3 nationally, take on the USC-Washington victor from another Wednesday night contest.
The winner of the tourney will earn the conference's automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament, although the Pac-12 hopes to place as many as six teams in March Madness this year. Along with the Oregon Ducks, the Wildcats and the Bruins are expected to advance on Thursday, as all three teams are vying for a prestigious and valuable No. 1 regional seed in the upcoming NCAA event.
The Wildcats began the season in the AP Top 10, and they're still there, currently ranked No. 7 in the country. With a 27-4 record, Arizona is tough to beat anywhere it plays. Vegas is close to Tucson, so the Wildcats fans will be out in big numbers for this game. Arizona has made the NCAA Sweet 16 five times in the last eight seasons, and the Wildcats are looking to do even better this year. Whether Colorado or Washington State, it's a tough task to beat Arizona this late in the season.
Regular season recap: Arizona was a combined 3-0 against the Buffaloes and the Cougars this regular season, and only one of the games featured a single-digit victory margin—and that was a nine-point Wildcats win over Colorado on January 7 in Tucson. After starting the season 21-2, Arizona has now closed with six wins in its last seven games. The Wildcats are playing well right now.
Players to watch: Six Wildcats averaged over nine points a game this year, through which simple math tells us that Arizona is good. The best of the bunch, though, might be the freshman forward from Finland, Lauri Markkanen. He scores (15.2 points per game), cleans the glass (7.5 rebounds per game) and shoots three pointers as well (42.8 percent from downtown). Any opponent has to keep an eye on Markkanen at all times, and that's the easy part considering he's seven feet tall and weighs 230 pounds.
The Pick: If Colorado gets to this game, it will have secured an NIT bid and probably satisfied with that. If WSU gets to this game, the Cougars will be one of those tough outs that has nothing to lose and everything to gain. Either way, the Wildcats have too much talent to drop a game in the quarters to a conference foe that couldn't finish over .500 in league play. Arizona is one of the best teams in the country, and its four losses came only to nationally recognized programs. The Wildcats will win this game, easily.
The Bruins are arguably the greatest program in the history of NCAA men's basketball. Just look at the 11 title banners in the rafters at Pauley Pavilion. But UCLA hasn't won a title since 1995, and the Bruins haven't been to the Final Four since they made three straight trips in 2006-2008. Heck, UCLA finished under .500 last year (15-17). This team is totally different, though, and now ranked No. 3 in the country with a 28-3 record, the Bruins are hungry.
Regular season recap: UCLA won three of four combined contests against USC and Washington, sweeping the Huskies easily and splitting with the Trojans. The Washington games were ugly, both games blowouts by more than 30 points each. The USC games were more interesting, although after the Trojans beat the Bruins by eight points at home, UCLA turned around a few weeks later and blasted USC by 32 points at Pauley. Yes, this Bruins team is good. Its only three losses came in Pac-12 play, to Oregon, Arizona and the Trojans, by a combined 21 points.
Players to watch: Can you believe that six different players on the UCLA roster averaged double-digit scoring this season? The real star of the show in Westwood, however, is freshman point guard Lonzo Ball. He scores 14.9 points, dishes out 7.8 assists, grabs 6.2 rebounds and makes 2.2 steals per game. At halfway between six and seven feet tall, there's no doubt that Ball is the best player on perhaps the best team in the country.
The Pick: The Trojans beat the Bruins by making 12 steals against them in that late January contest. When UCLA beat USC later, the Trojans still stole the ball nine times. However, UCLA's defense had adjusted well to what USC could do offensively, forcing the Trojans into making just 33.8 percent of their shots from the floor the second time around. The steals didn't matter, because the Bruins played offense and defense, and that's why they won't be denied this close to a conference championship, no matter which team they play in this quarterfinal contest.