Posted on April 7, 2021
We’ve seen the praise all over Twitter, with the trending phrase, “Back the Pac,” sending shockwaves across the platform. Rightfully so, as the Pac-12 has reestablished itself as a major college basketball conference, something followers of the Conference saw coming all year.
Before I dive into the wild UCLA game and the performance of USC, I want to acknowledge the accomplishments of the Arizona and Stanford women’s basketball teams.
The two squads battled neck-and-neck in the Pac-12 standings during the season. Stanford ended on a 20-game winning streak, compiling an insane 31-2 record overall. Arizona, on the other hand, caught fire during March Madness, knocking off the juggernaut UConn in the Final Four to set up an all-Pac-12 championship.
As with the men, the women’s teams balled out, and what a game they played Sunday night, fighting it out until the final play, with Arizona having a shot to win.
From the standpoint of the Conference and its member teams, as well as media and fans, Stanford’s win in the championship game was a win for all of us, just as UCLA’s performance against Gonzaga was Saturday night.
It’s safe to say that Final Four matchup was one of the best in the Tournament, if not all time.
The Bulldogs entered the game as 14-point favorites, a ridiculous spread, but it made sense because of the remarkable season they had. But any advantage they enjoyed as favorites stopped there, as the Bruins battled and scrapped the entire game.
To be honest, as a current USC student and fan of Trojan athletics, I couldn’t help pulling for Gonzaga against UCLA. But after watching the game, I couldn’t blame anyone for calling themselves a fan of Bruin basketball.
It was an outstanding effort all around.
Johnny Juzang looked like an absolute bucket, scoring at will, and especially when a huge basket was needed. Tyger Campbell played his best game of the season, offering composure in times of pandemonium, and sinking huge mid-range jumpers off the pick and roll.
And of course, the play of Jaime Jaquez Jr. and Cody Riley was simply excellent.
The Bruins never backed down, tackling Gonzaga head-on like no other team had done the whole year—at least, until Baylor.
UCLA deserved a better ending, but they made fans from Corvallis to Los Angeles proud of the way they represented the Conference. I felt like Bill Walton after the game, praising the Conference of Champions, and believing they can take on anybody.
Speaking of Corvallis, who could have predicted Oregon State’s amazing run? Not only did the Beavers announce their presence as a program that appears ready to breakout, they also demonstrated just how deep the Pac-12 runs.
Oregon did its part, too, and if not for the Selection Committee’s confounding placement of the Ducks and the Trojans in the same region, the Conference might well have had four teams in the Elite Eight.
Clearly, however, USC didn’t get Walton’s memo. The Trojans seemed outplayed as well as outcoached. That wasn’t such a big deal, though, since—well, Gonzaga had done this to every single team since February 2020.
The Men of Troy seemed nervous from the start, tossing away turnover after turnover in the opening four minutes, allowing Gonzaga’s Drew Timme to stroke his mustache and blow away USC’s chances of a Final Four.
It was a disheartening way to end an amazing season and tournament run. But not only did the Trojans represent the Pac-12 well, they also showed why USC is more than a football school—something I had been preaching for weeks.
Even though it wasn’t a win for USC basketball fans across the country, the performance of Pac-12 men’s and women’s teams gave fans of the Conference a reason to be proud.
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