Utah basketball: Utes say Pac-12 title up for grabs
Men’s basketball • Utah to face USC in first round of tourney.
Published: March 11, 2013 11:13AM
Updated: March 11, 2013 09:17PM
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Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune Ute head coach Larry Krystkowiak pleads with the referee, after a controversial call, in basketball action between the Brigham Young Cougars and the Utah Utes at the Marriott Center in Provo, Saturday, December 8, 2012.

Neither Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak nor Oregon coach Dana Altman would try to predict the near future. Truthfully, nobody knows what’s in store for the Pac-12 over the next week.

This has been America’s most conflicted college basketball conference, one that didn’t decide a regular-season champion until the 11th hour. Amazingly, this weekend began without a single seed completely set for the league tournament that begins Wednesday at MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas.

You have UCLA as the hottest team and No. 1 seed, Arizona as the most successful team nationally, Oregon as the ranked team bottoming out at the wrong time, and Colorado set to join them all in the NCAA Tournament.

Enjoy the basketball. Just don’t try to predict a winner, because the four-day tourney promises to be as unpredictable as the last three months, and just know that Utah faces USC on Wednesday night. The Utes are facing an uphill battle against the Trojans, who dominated Krystkowiak’s team at the Huntsman Center 76-59 on Jan. 12 in the only matchup of the two teams this season.

“Right now, the only thing we can be sure of is the fact that eight teams will have to play on Wednesday,” Krystkowiak said. “Everything after that is up for grabs. This is a tournament that can be won by anyone.”

The proof of that comes from last season, when Colorado entered the field as a sixth seed and won four games in as many days to earn a spot in the Big Dance.

Unlike last season, the competition and quality of play has been much better this time around. Arizona, a top-10 team for much of the year, finished fourth in the league after tiebreakers. There may not be a dominant team, but there also may not be as deep a league in the country from top to bottom.

This weekend alone, Utah defeated No. 19 Oregon, Washington State defeated UCLA and Oregon State defeated Colorado on the road.

In case you aren’t keeping score at home, those are the bottom three teams in the Pac-12. All three will go into the tournament thinking they have a chance to make an impact.

“We have as good a chance as any,” Oregon guard Jonathan Lloyd said. “We really think we can win it. We have to forget the games we’ve lost, go out there and play good basketball. We have to take it one game at a time and give our all.”

California will enter the week as a two seed and perhaps the favorite as the hottest team in the conference down the stretch. UCLA and Arizona are the two most talented teams and are on track to match up in a semifinal Friday.

Should Utah defeat USC, the Utes would face the Bears in a quarterfinal Thursday night. Cal easily beat Utah in two matchups this year.

tjones@sltrib.comon twitter: @tjonessltrib

Utah vs. USC

P Wednesday, 7:06 p.m., at Las Vegas

TV • Pac-12 Network

Pac-12 tournament schedule

All times MDT

Wednesday

First round

• No. 8 Stanford vs. No. 9 Arizona State, 1:06 p.m., Pac-12

• No. 5 Colorado vs. No. 12 Oregon State, approx. 3:36 p.m., Pac-12

• No. 7 USC vs. No. 10 Utah, 7:06 p.m., Pac-12

• No. 6 Washington vs. No. 11 Washington State, approx. 9:36 p.m., Pac-12

Thursday

Second round

• No. 8/9 vs. No. 1 UCLA, 1:06 p.m., Pac-12

• No. 5/12 vs. No. 4 Arizona, approx. 3:36 p.m., Pac-12

• No. 7/10 vs. No. 2 California, 7:06 p.m., Pac-12

• No. 6/11 vs. No. 3 Oregon, approx. 9:38 p.m., ESPNU

Friday

• Semifinal 1, 7:06 p.m., Pac-12

• Semifinal 2, approx. 9:38 p.m., ESPN

Saturday

• Championship game, 9:02 p.m., ESPN