2017 Pac-12 Men’s Basketball Tournament quarterfinals preview: No. 2 Arizona vs. No. 7 Colorado
LAS VEGAS – T-Mobile Arena should be rocking on Thursday night to see the final two quarterfinals matchups. Arizona basketball fans always bring the noise for the Pac-12 Men’s Basketball Tournament and this year figures to be no different.
The second-seeded Wildcats are set to face No. 7 seed Colorado, who used a strong second half performance to claim a 73-63 win over Washington State on Wednesday. Arizona and Colorado only played once this year, as the Wildcats claimed an 82-73 win in Tucson on Jan. 7.
“That game seems like it was a lifetime ago because it was early January,” said Colorado coach Tad Boyle, “and now here we are in early March, it’s two months later. I think you’re probably going to see a different Arizona team and probably a different Colorado team.”
No. 2 seed Arizona (27-4 overall, 16-2 Pac-12)
Arizona wrapped up its regular season with a 73-60 win over Arizona State Saturday in Tempe. As if knocking off your rival in its home arena isn’t enough, the Wildcats also clinched a share of the Pac-12 regular-season title along with Oregon.
Under the direction of Pac-12 Coach of the Year Sean Miller, Arizona currently sits at No. 7 on the Associated Press Top 25 poll and looks like a Final Four contender with its combination of athleticism, skill and length.
“The one thing we know about Arizona, they’re very efficient,” Boyle said. “They don’t beat themselves. You have to go beat Arizona, and the way you beat them is to be rock solid defensively.”
— Arizona Basketball (@APlayersProgram) March 9, 2017
Players to watch
Lauri Markkanen, F, Freshman
Height/Weight: 7-0, 230
Key stats: 15.2 ppg, 7.5 rpg, 48.4 FG%
Markannen certainly doesn’t move like a 7-footer. The Finnish freshman phenom is a fluid athlete and threat to score from pretty much anywhere on the floor. Other Pac-12 freshmen like Lonzo Ball and Markelle Fultz might be garnering all the attention, but Markannen can ball with the best of them.
Allonzo Trier, G, Sophomore
Height/weight: 6-5, 205
Key stats: 16.4 ppg, 5.0 rpg, 47.2 FG%
The skilled sophomore has only played in 12 contests this year after he started the season on suspension. Since coming back, Trier has established himself as his team’s leading scorer and arguably most talented player on a stacked roster. The Wildcats have gone 10-2 with Trier in the lineup and look like they’re getting comfortable with him in the mix again.
No. 7 seed Colorado (19-13 overall, 8-10 Pac-12)
It looked like the Buffs were dead in the water on Wednesday evening, falling behind 19 points in the first half against a Washington State squad that seemingly couldn’t miss. But Colorado kept clawing back into the game, clamping down on defense before finding a rhythm on offense and cruising to a 10-point victory.
“We did the things that we needed to do to win the game down the stretch,” Boyle said, citing improved defense and rebounding. “Really proud of these guys.”
The Buffs can ill afford to get off to another slow start against the Wildcats, who are known for putting opponents away with big runs. Thursday’s crowd also figures to be a big factor, as Arizona fans often make the arena sound like McKale North when the Pac-12 Tournament is in town.
— Pac-12 Network (@Pac12Network) March 9, 2017
Players to watch
Derrick White, G, Senior
Height/weight: 6-5, 200
Key stats: 17 ppg, 4.3 apg, 3.9 rpg
The First-Team All-Pac-12 selection flexed his muscles in Wednesday’s win, scoring a game-high 26 points while grabbing five rebounds and dishing out five assists. Boyle found himself a gem in White, who watched Colorado play in the 2016 Pac-12 Tourney as a spectator while he sat out the season due to NCAA transfer rules.
Xavier Johnson, G/F, Senior
Height/weight: 6-7, 225
Key stats: 14.5 ppg, 6 rpg, 49.3 FG%
Johnson put together some huge plays for the Buffs the first-round victory, including an eye-opening dunk and key 3-pointer in the second half. Trying to slow down Arizona’s wing players on the other end will surely be an exhaustive task, but Johnson can be a handful to handle himself.