Bleeding Red: Once again, Ducks spoil Pac-12 Tourney for Runnin’ Utes

Utah in Vegas to take on the Ducks
Just for a change could they find some good luck
Like Yogi Berra so famously said
It’s like déjà vu all over again.

COMMENTARY – They say what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas. That may not prove to be true for the Runnin’ Utes. They will likely be haunted by letting their quarterfinal game against the Oregon Ducks slip away for countless sleepless nights to come. For the fourth time in the last six years, Oregon knocked Utah out of the Pac-12 Tournament. The Runnin’ Utes led by 11 points with less than 10 minutes to play, but could not hold on for the win.

utesUtah missed out on an invitation to the NCAA Tournament, but will be playing in the NIT. However, before we get to the NIT, let’s review some of the highlights of the Pac-12 Tournament.

This tournament had it all – the good (Arizona’s Deandre Ayton played like a man among boys and made a strong case to be the top pick in the next draft), the bad (Cal just mailed it in for a 76-58 drubbing by Stanford – and the game was not as close as the score might otherwise indicate), and the ugly (Colorado dunked on Arizona State in the final seconds of a game that was effectively over, leading to a shoving match and ejections – really classy on the part of both teams).

The Arizona fans were loud and proud and in a class all by themselves. Wildcat nation quite possibly had more fans attend games than all the other schools combined (and in the championship game, it was hard to even pick USC fans out of the crowd apart from the band and a small student section). It would be nice if Utah fans could have a similar presence. Admittedly, the MUSS and the rest of the Runnin’ Utes faithful made a respectable showing in Las Vegas, but it still paled in comparison to Arizona. Ultimately, at the end of the game Utah has to give its fans something to cheer about.

Cal’s Oski the Bear is easily the goofiest mascot in the conference (and even makes the Stanford tree look almost charming and endearing).

Oregon’s Kenny Wooten, top, and Utah’s Justin Bibbins reach for a loose ball during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in the quarterfinals of the Pac-12 men’s tournament Thursday, March 8, 2018, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Isaac Brekken)

All I could do was shake my head and laugh at the Oregon fan literally sitting in the row right behind the MUSS when she complained to the arena staff that she couldn’t see the game because the MUSS wouldn’t sit down.

What do Utah and UCLA have in common? The only consistency in their primary color is the consistent variation in shade from year-to-year, sport-to-sport, uniform-to-uniform, and among team gear and fan apparel (you’d think crimson would be a little easier to nail down).

Even some band members can be pretty athletic. During a timeout competition, an Oregon band member was racing down the court with a stack of empty pizza boxes tucked under his chin and held in place with his right hand, when he tripped, rolled into a somersault and back onto his feet (as if he had meant to do so), all without dislodging a single pizza box (unfortunately, the Washington State band ultimately won the relay anyway).

The Pac-12 still has some really bad referees. And I’m not just talking about the calls made down the stretch in the Utah-Oregon game. There were plenty of bad calls in many games. Most of the referees did a fine job, but there were a handful of bad referees that were consistently bad and stuck out like a sore thumb (now I understand a little bit more why Chris Hill went postal on the Pac-12’s coordinator of basketball officials earlier this season).

Celebrity sightings were a lot of fun for the crowd, including Dr. J (watching his son, Jules, play for Cal), Gary Payton (Oregon State alum whose son played for the Beavers in recent years), Magic Johnson, and Nick Foles (Arizona alum and Super Bowl hero). Like many celebrity sightings in general, some were real, and some were not (I heard one fan insist that it really was Brittany Spears performing on the court – it obviously wasn’t).

With all the talent in Vegas to draw on, there were some quality halftime shows, with one of the best being the magic act during the halftime of the UCLA-Stanford quarterfinal.

Las Vegas and the T-Mobile Arena is a great place for the Pac-12 Tournament and hopefully will continue to be for years to come. In fact, the current contract was recently extended to keep the tournament in the T-Mobile Arena through 2020.

And now for the remainder of this season. Utah hosts UC Davis on The Hill on Wednesday, March 14, with a 7 p.m. tip. Last year, the Runnin’ Utes played like a team that didn’t want to be in the NIT and they got bounced in the first round at home. While some of those players remain, the heart of this year’s team appears to be different. We are about to find out if that is really true. How they approach Wednesday’s game may very well be an indication of the path they will be taking in their post-collegiate life.

Here’s hoping the Runnin’ Utes give their fans something to cheer about on The Hill on Wednesday night.

Bleeding Red is a sports column written by Dwayne Vance. The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of St. George News.

Email: sports@stgnews.com

Twitter: @oldschoolag

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2018, all rights reserved.

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