2016 Pac-12 Men's Basketball Tournament: Utah, California semifinal features potential NBA Draft Lottery picks
LAS VEGAS – The chips continue falling as expected in the 2016 Pac-12 Men's Basketball Tournament, and in terms of entertainment value, predictability is a good thing.
No. 3 seed California closed Thursday evening's quarterfinals with a 76-68 win against six-seeded Oregon State, setting up a Friday battle with No. 2 seed Utah (8:30 p.m. PT/ 9:30 p.m. MT on FS1).
The semifinal matchup features three potential NBA lottery selections in the 2016 draft. Golden Bears forward Jaylen Brown will be the most well-regarded prospect on the floor according to many draft boards. But the battle in the paint between Utes sophomore Jakob Poeltl and Cal freshman Ivan Rabb will be Friday's focus.
“[Poeltl] is one of the best bigs in college basketball," Cal coach Cuonzo Martin said, looking ahead to Friday. "He can score, he can pass it, rebounds the basketball, makes great decisions with the ball ... when you double him, you have to be very careful. They have guys that can make shots.”
Poeltl opened up opportunities for his teammates with a 14-point, eight-rebound and four-assist performance against USC in Thursday's early semifinal here.
Later, Rabb powered the Golden Bears' victory with 21 points and 15 boards, overcoming Gary Payton II's jaw-dropping 20-point, 17-rebound game for the Beavers.
Rabb shined late defensively, switching onto the Oregon State guards and keeping himself in front of the Beavers' speedy perimeter players. Rabb had several key rebounds, a putback and a block late to thwart Oregon State's attempted comeback.
“I just thought he did a great job keeping the ball alive, chest to chest, defending those guys” Martin said. “The long rebounds, he's getting most of those 50-50 balls.”
Rabb's versatility again will be on display on Friday, as Utah is adept at using Poeltl on high pick-and-rolls to pull post players toward the perimeter.
Utah, arguably the hottest of the remaining Pac-12 teams -- No. 1 seed Oregon faces No. 4 seed Arizona at 6 p.m. PT/7 p.m. MT -- enters as the favorite, an odd perspective for coach Larry Krystkowiak.
“I've always personally felt a lot better being the underdog and a little bit more of an edge,” Krystkowiak said after the Utes beat USC on Thursday. “But what I'm understanding, and I think our team is understanding, that if we guard, if we defend, which we made a commitment to for a portion of the game tonight, it still wasn't great, but there is a correlation when we focus on stopping the other team.”
Krystkowiak need not feel like Cal is the underdog. The two teams split their season series with each team winning on their home floor.
"This year the league is so, so balanced, and whoever we're going to play, it's definitely going to be a physical match-up and you've got to grind through it,” Poeltl said. “It's three games in a row, hopefully, if you go all the way. That's kind of the mentality that we have to get into. You've got to grind through it and go into every single game with 100 percent effort, and hopefully you're going to come out as a winner.”