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By Bill Seals
Sports Reporter 

Pac-12 schools cruise to the Sweet Sixteen


March 25, 2021


Evan Mobley averaged 13.5 points and 12 rebounds in the Trojans first two wins in the NCAA March Madness.

At the end of the Pac-12 tournament, five Pac-12 schools were selected to the 2021 men's NCAA tournament. The Pac-12 was relieved to get five teams into the 68-team tournament and was hopeful that at least one of the five could make the Sweet 16. As it turned out, the Pac-12 was able to stun NCAA prognosticators and get four teams into the Sweet 16 this weekend.

The UCLA Bruins, USC Trojans, Oregon Ducks and Oregon State Beavers all made the Sweet Sixteen, with only the Colorado Buffalos failing after winning their initial match with Georgetown University, 96-73. This was the first time since 2001 that the Pac-12 had placed four teams in the NCAA Sweet 16. The Pac-12 has gone 10-1 in the 2021 men's NCAA tournament. No other conference had more than two teams in the Sweet 16.

The Bruins had the toughest road, winning three games in five days. As the No. 11 seed in the Eastern regional, the Bruins had to win their play-in game against the Michigan State Spartans to get to the field of 64, or the first round. The matchup of two storied college basketball programs turned out to be an exceptionally good opening day matchup for the NCAA.

The Bruins came out slowly against the Spartans and trailed 44-33 at halftime but responded in the second half and outscored the Spartans, 44-33, to send the game into overtime tied at 77. The defense held the Spartans to three points in overtime and two Johnny Juzang jump shots clinched it for the Bruins. The final score in overtime was 86-80. Jaime Jaquez Jr. led the Bruins with 27 points.

Their next opponent was the BYU Cougars, and the Bruins got some payback in this game. The last time the two teams met in the NCAA tournament was in 1981, the Bruins were crushed by the Cougars, 78-55, behind 37 points by Danny Ainge, who won the John R. Wooden Award that season, given to the best collegiate player in the nation. In this game, Juzang scored 27 points and the Bruins led start-to-finish in defeating the Cougars, 73-62. It took forty years, but the Bruins got their payback.

The Bruins got a break when the Texas Longhorns were upset by the Abilene Christian University Wildcats, 53-52. The Longhorns did a poor job of handling the ACU chaotic defensive style, turning the ball over 23 times in the loss. The Bruins spaced their offense well, moved the ball well and only had eight turnovers. Without the turnovers, the Wildcats simple could not matchup with the more talented Bruins squad.

The Trojans, the No. 6 seed in the Western regional, got the Drake University Bulldogs in the first round and easily defeated the Bulldogs, 72-56. Evan Mobley, the Pac-12 Player of the Year, led the Trojans with 17 points, 11 rebounds and 3 blocked shots. The Trojans then took on the Kansas Jayhawks, one of college basketball's blue-blood programs and a slight favorite to win the game over the Trojans.

The Trojans led from start-to-finish in a dominating win over the No. 3 seed Jayhawks, winning 85-51, in a game that did not even feel that close. Isaiah Mobley, brother of Evan, led a balanced Trojan scoring attack with 17 points. The Trojans had five players in double figures in the game. The Trojans shot 57% for the game while holding the Jayhawks to just 29%. They outrebounded the Jayhawks, 43-27.

Trojan head coach Andy Enfield was ecstatic after the game: "This game meant a lot to our program and our fans. USC basketball is on the rise. Over the last 80 years, it's been like a rollercoaster, a lot of great players, great coaches, great teams, but we're trying to build a program and sustain success and beating a program like Kansas is a great step."

The Ducks, the No. 7 seed in the western regional, had an easier time getting to the Sweet 16. Their matchup with the No. 10 seed VCU Rams was declared a no-contest after multiple Rams players tested positive for Covid-19. The Ducks advanced to the next round based on the forfeiture by the Rams. The Ducks then advanced to the Sweet 16 by knocking off the No. 2 seeded Iowa Hawkeyes, 95-80, behind 23 points from All-American guard Chris Duarte.

The Beavers were the biggest surprise of all. Playing in the Midwest regional, the No. 12 seeded Beavers continued their implausible Cinderella run in the post-season, easily defeating the No. 5 seeded Tennessee Volunteers 70-56 and then cruising past the No. 4 seeded Oklahoma State Cowboys, 80-70. The Beavers have been led by senior guard Ethan Thompson, a four-star recruit from Bishop Montgomery high school in Torrance.

Thompson had 13 points, 10 rebounds and 6 assists in the win over the Volunteers and in the win over the Cowboys, Thompson led the Beavers with 26 points and added seven rebounds. Thompson, a first team All-Pac-12 guard, has really stepped up his game in the postseason. The Beavers have now won five in a row and eight of their last nine games. They have been the underdog in eight straight games.

The road to the next round, commonly called the Elite 8, will not get any easier for the four remaining Pac-12 schools. UCLA will face the No. 2 seed in the eastern regional, the Alabama Crimson Tide. Alabama is 26-6 for the season and won the tough Southeastern Conference. Like UCLA, Alabama plays tough defense. They did lose to Stanford early in the season, 82-64, so there is some hope.

The Trojans and the Ducks will meet in the western regional, so the Pac-12 is ensured of at least one team making it to the Elite 8. The Trojans beat the Ducks in Los Angeles, 72-58, but this next game will likely be much closer. The Beavers have another tough opponent in the Midwest regional, taking on the No. 8 seeded Loyola of Chicago Ramblers. The Beavers are a 6.5-point underdog, which means they have the Ramblers right where they want them.

The Pac-12 conference has come out a big winner in the NCAA tournament, no matter what happen in the rest of the tournament. Each team that makes the NCAA Tournament earns an NCAA financial unit. Each unit is worth about $300,000 or about $1.8 million over the next six years. With five teams invited to the tournament, the Pac-12 earned $9 million over the next six years.

Jules Bernard is averaging 13 points and seven rebounds in the Bruins first three games in the NCAA Tournament.

With ten wins in the tournament, the Pac-12 has earned an additional $18 million over the next six years, for a total of $27 million over six years. Since the Pac-12 will earn an additional financial unit from the winner of the USC-Oregon matchup, that will increase to about $28.8 million over six years. No matter what happens, this will be the most lucrative NCAA basketball tournament in conference history.

The success on the court should translate positively in recruiting circles as well. The Bruins had been doing well in recruiting and now it should really take-off. As Enfield stated, the Trojans have made a great step forward in their basketball program with their tournament success. This should trickle down throughout the conference and with the hiring of a new Pac-12 Commissioner, maybe the Pac-12 will finally get the television exposure and television revenue that they deserve.


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