Pac 12 Basketball Tournament - First Round

Utah beats California in overtime, advances to Pac-12 semifinals

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The Utah Utes entered the Pac-12 tournament with a 13-17 overall record, and as the ten-seed Larry Krystkowiak’s team wasn’t expected by many who follow the league to hang around Las Vegas for too long.

But after wins over USC and California (beating the Golden Bears 79-69 in overtime), Utah is now in the Pac-12 tournament semifinals and finds itself 80 minutes away from an improbable NCAA tournament trip.

The NCAA tournament shouldn’t be the concern because there’s plenty of business to be taken care of, but these two wins represent tangible rewards for a program that’s shown itself to be far more competitive in its second season in the Pac-12.

Jarred DuBois’ three-pointer over the outstretched arm of Cal big man David Kravish with four seconds remaining in regulation tied Thursday’s quarterfinal matchup at 59 apiece, and in the extra session Utah outscored the Golden Bears 20-10.

DuBois, playing his lone season in Salt Lake City after transferring in from Loyola Marymount, finished with 21 points, freshman Jordan Loveridge added 20 and senior center Jason Washburn 18 to lead the way offensively. Utah’s balance proved to be the difference against the Golden Bears, who had no other double-digit scorers to supplement the points provided by Justin Cobbs (26 points) and Allen Crabbe (21).

Nearly a month ago the Utes dropped a 68-64 decision at home to then-No. 9 Arizona, and even in defeat the progress made under Krystkowiak has been evident to many. The conference win total isn’t impressive (5-13 Pac-12 record) but these Utes are light years better than the group that looked overmatched in their debut season in the conference.

DuBois and Washburn are both seniors, meaning that Krystkowiak and his staff have some holes to fill in the offseason. But in Loveridge and freshman guard Brandon Taylor the Utes have two young players they can build around in the near future.

“I trust that these guys aren’t going to get satisfied. They’re going to continue to improve. It’s really nice,” said Krystkowiak after the game.

“I think not just Jordan, but there were some moments at the game, actually in the middle of live action, that I looked out there and we had four freshmen on the court. So the kids are continuing to get better as this year’s gone along.”

If they’re to be successful against Oregon the Utes have to do a better job on the glass, as they were out-rebounded 40-30 by the Golden Bears with Cal grabbing 15 offensive rebounds. But the fact that Utah is playing on Friday night speaks to the fact that the small steps taken in the right direction are beginning to produce tangible results.

“At this point in the season, our guys have learned all the lessons that you can learn, and we’re putting some things together where we’re not overly deficient in any one area, and that’s given us a chance to compete,” noted Krystkowiak.

Raphielle also writes for the NBE Basketball Report and can be followed on Twitter at @raphiellej.

Illinois State ends No. 21 Wichita State’s 12-game win streak

Fred VanVleet
AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki
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Having won 12 straight games, No. 21 Wichita State entered the weekend one of the hottest teams in the country. And with a four-game lead atop the Missouri Valley standings, clinching the regular season title was more a matter of “when” as opposed to “if.” But none of that mattered Saturday night at Illinois State, as the Redbirds managed to hand the Shockers their first conference loss by the final score of 58-53.

In addition to the 12-game win streak, which was second to Stony Brook (15 straight wins), Wichita State also saw its 19-game win streak in Valley regular season games come to an end. Illinois State was the last Valley team to beat Wichita State, eliminating the Shockers in the Arch Madness semifinals last March, and they played with the confidence of a team that believed it could win.

And after a rough first half the Redbirds found a way to come back, erasing a 16-point second half deficit in the process.

Wichita State’s issue in the second half was the fact that they couldn’t make shots. The Shockers shot just 26.7 percent from the field and 1-for-14 from three in the second half, with Fred VanVleet going scoreless and Shaq Morris scoring just one point. And just two players, Ron Baker and Conner Frankamp, managed to make multiple field goals in the game’s final 20 minutes. Illinois State certainly deserves credit for that, as they took away the quality looks Wichita State was able to find in building its lead.

And on the other end of the floor Paris Lee took control of the game during Illinois State’s comeback, scoring 13 of his 19 points in the second half with Deontae Hawkins adding 11 second-half points. Illinois State was even worse from the field, finishing the game shooting just over 27 percent from the field. But they were able to attack the Wichita State defense and get to the foul line, outscoring the Shockers 22-9 from the charity stripe. And in a game in which neither team could get much going offensively, the ability to get points from the line proved to be the difference.

This defeat doesn’t help Wichita State, but did anything really change? Maybe the margin for error when it comes to an at-large bid gets a little smaller with the loss in the eyes of some. But when considering injuries to the likes of VanVleet and Anton Grady in non-conference play, those early season losses are understandable. Saturday was a rough night for Wichita State, but given the maturity and talent on at Gregg Marshall’s disposal the Shockers will be fine moving forward.

VIDEO: New Mexico loses game on blown call by officials

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Nothing like a nice, controversial finish to get the blood flowing.

New Mexico was on the receiving end of a rule misinterpretation on Saturday afternoon, and that interpretation likely cost the Lobos a win over San Diego State and, arguably, a shot at the MWC regular season title.

Here’s the situation: New Mexico is up by three with 12 seconds left and the ball under their own basket. Their allowed to run the baseline, so Craig Neal calls a play where the inbounder throws the ball to a player running out of bounds.

Totally league as long as the player establishes out of bounds before touching the ball. The referee rules that he doesn’t.

Here’s the video:

The problem?

According to the rules, Xavier Adams — the player receiving the pass from Cullen Neal — only needed one foot on the floor out of bounds in order to establish himself as an inbounder that was able to catch that ball. He got one foot down (see the picture above), but the referees appeared to rule that he needed to have both feet down.

That was incorrect, according to the Mountain West office.

“While this was a very close judgment call made at full speed, it has been determined after careful review of slow-motion video replays the call was in fact incorrect,” the league said in a release. “The New Mexico player did get one foot down (two feet are not required) out-of-bounds before receiving the ball, thus establishing his location in accordance NCAA Basketball Playing Rules 4.23.1.a and 7.1.1.  By rule, the officials were not permitted to go to the monitor during the game to review this play.”

And here’s the kicker: When SDSU got the ball back, they hit a three to send the game into overtime, where the Aztecs won. But if New Mexico had won this game, they’d be sitting at 8-2 in MWC play, one game behind SDSU in the loss column with a return game against them in The Pit.

Instead, they’re now three games back with seven to play, meaning that the race is effectively over.

It’s tough to blame the referees here — it was a bang-bang call that is only clear in slow-motion replay — but man, that’s a big call to miss.