The semifinals are set for the 2017 Pac-12 Men's Basketball Tournament after the completion of Session 4 at the T-Mobile Center in Las Vegas Thursday night. Earlier in the day, both No. 1 Oregon and No. 5 California advanced to the semis with wins in Session 3, and on Thursday evening, No. 2 Arizona and No. 3 UCLA also advanced with victories. The Wildcats pulled away from the Colorado Buffaloes early in the second half on their way to an impressive 92-78 victory, while the Bruins did just enough in the second half to defeat the crosstown rival Southern California Trojans, 76-74.
If you were working late on Thursday night and missed the Conference of Champions in action, here's what happened in Session 4.
Whose fans will be happy?
Bruins fans in Los Angeles and all over the country can breathe a sigh of relief: The Trojans did not ruin their season. It was a very close game for UCLA, though, and as the No. 3-ranked team in the country, the Bruins (29-3) probably shouldn't be playing such tight games against an unranked team like USC. All fans of this rivalry know better, though. Any win for UCLA over the Trojans is a great win, and Thursday night was no different despite the too-narrow margin of victory. The Bruins are moving on in the Pac-12 tourney, and the Trojans are (temporarily) going home.
Whose fans will be sad?
This was a tough loss for USC, as the Trojans (24-9) played strong enough all game long and made UCLA work very hard for this victory. But USC missed eight free throws in this game, and that hurt the Trojans in a loss this close. However, USC definitely proved it belongs in the NCAA Tournament, pushing the No. 3 team in the country this hard. The only solace the USC fan base might be able to take from this defeat is that the Trojans taxed the Bruins for a full 40 minutes, and that could hurt UCLA against Arizona in Friday night's semifinal game since the Wildcats had an easier time in the earlier game on Thursday evening.
What were the big moments?
Nursing a one-point halftime lead over the Buffaloes, the Wildcats (28-4) played very well in the first five minutes of the second half to extend the lead to 13 points, and Arizona maintained that edge until the end of the game. It started right away with freshman forward Lauri Markkanen making a three-point shot and continued with two layups by junior center Dusan Ristic before ending with a three by freshman guard Rawle Alkins. Just like that, the Wildcats were in complete control over Colorado. In the Battle of Los Angeles, Part III, it was a similar scenario: UCLA turned a three-point halftime lead into a 13-point lead just five minutes into the second half, and then the Bruins held on for the rest of the game. UCLA used a 12-0 run in that key stretch, the last five points from senior guard Isaac Hamilton, to take control of the game.
Which players came up big?
All five Arizona starters scored at least 13 points, but Ristic had the most impressive stat line as he shot 87.5 percent (7-for-8 and 15 points in only 21 minutes) from the floor against Colorado (19-14) while leading the Wildcats with eight rebounds as well. Seven of those grabs were on the defensive end, which helped limit the Buffaloes' second-chance opportunities. In the other matchup, Hamilton was the steady force for UCLA all night, as the Bruins shot just 41.2 percent from the floor as a team. The senior was the only UCLA regular to shoot better than 50 percent in this game, on his way to team-high 22 points, while making 4-of-9 from three-point range.
Which players needed to be better?
Colorado senior forward Wesley Gordon had a completely forgettable game, registering more personal fouls (four) than points (three) in 24 minutes on the floor. Gordon did grab four rebounds, but as the only front-court player to start the game for the Buffs, he was out-rebounded by three of his teammates playing the guard position. Gordon will have a chance to redeem himself, however, assuming Colorado gets an invitation to a lesser postseason tournament. As for the Trojans, freshman guard De'Anthony Melton had a tough night, one he'd like to forget. He scored just five points and snared just one rebound in 17 minutes while committing three fouls. All his stats were well below his season averages, and USC just hopes he learns from the disappointing experience. In a game where his team lost by just two points, Melton could have been a difference maker for the Trojans.
Big picture in the Pac-12 men's basketball tournament
The top three teams in the conference, all ranked in the Associated Press Top 7 right now, advanced to the semifinals, and each team still has a great chance to win the championship and claim a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Oregon and Arizona had an easier time on Thursday in respective victories, while UCLA spent a lot of energy taking down USC. That could be a huge factor on Friday night for the Bruins as they take on the Wildcats in the second semifinal, scheduled to start at 8:30 p.m. Pacific Time.
The first semifinal, starting at 6:00 p.m., features the Ducks and the California Golden Bears. While the Oregon roster should be well rested after earning a bye on Wednesday, this will be the third game in three nights for Cal. Fatigue certainly will affect the Bears against the Ducks, so look for the top two teams in the tournament—Oregon and Arizona—to win on Friday night, advancing to Saturday night's championship game.