For all the talk of how crazy the conference has been this year, the Pac-10 Tournament has provided a decidedly un-crazy showdown for its championship today, as the top two teams in the conference's preseason poll -- California and Washington -- will meet for the right to lock up an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.
The Bears and Huskies have left little doubt who the two best teams in the conference are. Cal used a 22-7 second half run to put away a pesky UCLA team, 85-72, while Washington led from tip to finish in dispatching Stanford, 79-64.
UCLA was determined to interject some drama into the first semifinal, leading 39-30 with just over a minute to go in the first half. The Bruins were hot from all over the floor, while Cal's usually explosive offense had yet to take flight. But the Bears closed the gap before the buzzer, as Jerome Randle showed everyone why he's the Pac-10 player of the year by draining a 3-pointer off the dribble just before the horn.
From there, it was all about the Bears, says California Golden Blogs:
After Dragovic nailed a 3 to give UCLA a 44-42 lead, Cal went on a 22-7 run to effectively end the game. UCLA shot over their heads in the first half and returned to Earth to start the second, missing their first four shots and going 2 of 11 to start things off. A lot of this has to do with the ramping up of defensive effort, but some of it also has to do with poor shot selection. The Bruins shot 38% in the half, which just isn't going to end well if you're playing Cal.
And while the defense was the catalyst, it ultimately was the Bears' offense that proved to the be difference as they ended up scoring 1.23 points per possession when it was all said and done.
Washington, on the other had, was fueled by its defense -- which has increasingly become the Huskies' identity this season. Stanford shot just 31.3 percent overall for the game and posted just a 35.9 effective field goal percentage thanks in large part to a 6-for-23 performance from behind the arc. The Cardinal posted just .88 points per possession -- their second-lowest mark of Pac-10 play.
The showdown between Landry Fields and Quincy Pondexter would have to be considered a draw, with both players struggling at times to score efficiently from the field -- Pondexter with 19 points (on 5-of-12 shooting), seven rebounds and three assists, Fields with 20 points (on 6-of-15 shooting), 14 rebounds and one assist.
It's tough to know whether the drama has been removed from the championship or not in terms of the conference's postseason fate. It would be shocking if Cal wasn't a lock at this point, and most Bracketology experts seem to agree that Washington is one of the final handful of teams in. It's hard to believe that losing to the regular season conference champion in the final would do anything to diminish that. Regardless, it appears highly unlikely the Pac-10 will receive more than two bids tomorrow, which is still almost shocking to write.
Who will come out on top today? The two teams split their regular season meetings with each team winning convincingly at home. The Huskies' win came in the second weekend of the conference slate, though, with Jerome Randle hampered by a minor knee injury and the Bears' defensive catalyst, Jorge Gutierrez sitting out.
While both teams preach offense and like to get up and down the floor, the truth is that this game will be won or lost with UW's defense. The question is whether the Huskies can be the first team in a month to even sort of slow down the Bears' multifaceted attack.
The final tips off at 3:10 p.m PST on CBS.