After kicking off March Madness with three wins on Thursday, the Pac-12 Conference will try to stay perfect as the Round of 64 continues on Friday. Oregon, Arizona and Cal all notched victories on Day 1 of the NCAA Tourney, while Colorado and UCLA are in first-round action tonight. But before we get to the Buffs and Bruins, let’s take a look at how the Conference of Champions got to 3-0.
Oregon got things going for the Pac-12, proving to the selection committee that a 12-seed was downright insulting. The Ducks walked all over 5-seed Oklahoma State, eventually topping the Cowboys, 68-55. The duo of Dominic Artis and Damyean Dotson was electric, as the freshmen guards combined for 30 points on 10-of-21 shooting to lead UO. Senior transfer Arsalan Kazemi also had a great game, tracking down 17 rebounds to go with 11 points, two assists and two steals.
The win set the Ducks up for a Round of 32 showdown with 4-seed Saint Louis (28-6). The Billikens have been impressive this season, sweeping VCU and Butler to claim the Atlantic 10 regular season title outright. Oregon and St. Louis will tip at 4:10 pm PST on Saturday from San Jose.
Following the Ducks’ big day, Arizona kept the Pac-12’s perfection intact, taking care of popular mid-major upset pick Belmont, 81-64. A surprising number of media pundits were siding with the Bruins, but the Wildcats showed why they belong on the fast-track to the Sweet Sixteen. Senior point guard Mark Lyons led all scorers with 23 points on 8-of-15 from the floor, but freshman center Kaleb Tarczewski was the difference for Zona.
“Zeus” tallied 12 points and eight boards with a ridiculous 100 percent field goal percentage (5-for-5). Of all of the highly-rated young Cats, Tarczewski has definitely been the most impressive to date. With the win, Arizona advances to take on 14-seed Harvard (20-9) after the Crimson shocked 3-seed New Mexico to bust brackets across the country. Game time is scheduled for 3:10 pm PST tomorrow in Salt Lake City.
And to round out the winning, California carried the torch for the Pac-12, toppling 5-seed UNLV to avenge a 1-point loss back in December. The Golden Bears held the Rebels to just 32.2 percent shooting from the floor, while posting a 44.1 percent clip of their own. Perhaps most notably, Cal racked up 18 assists in the victory, including six from junior guard Justin Cobbs. Star scorer Allen Crabbe had a nice night too, contributing 19 points and nine rebounds to spark the Bears. But a big test is waiting in the next round, as California will matchup with Big East power Syracuse (27-9) at 6:40 pm PST in San Jose.
Next in line for the Pac-12 is Colorado, as the Buffaloes will square off against Illinois today in Austin, Texas. The Illini are favored as the 7-seed, but have lost four of their last six games. Colorado is also coming off a rough patch, having dropped three of five. However, the Buffs have a very real chance to pull the upset, especially if leading rebounder Andre Roberson (11.3 RPG) shows up to play. Illinois loves to jack up 3-pointers, so there could be a whole lot of loose balls for Roberson to collect.
Finally, UCLA will take part in the last game of the Round of 64 tonight at 6:57 pm PST. The Bruins are set to battle the Minnesota Golden Gophers, who are led by rebound-machine Trevor Mbakwe. Without second-leading scorer Jordan Adams available, UCLA could have the toughest time getting to the “third” round. The Gophers play a physical, Big Ten brand of basketball, but they lack the offensive punch that the Bruins possess. If UCLA is to carry the Pac-12 to a perfect 5-0, the Bruins will need to outpace the Gophers and save face on the glass.