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Sports >  UW basketball

Pac-12 MBB tournament predictions: Washington State run probably ends against UCLA

March 7, 2023 Updated Tue., March 7, 2023 at 12:30 p.m.

By Jon Wilner Bay Area News Group

The Pac-12 tournament moved to Las Vegas a decade ago. During its stay on The Strip, the event has typically unfolded as expected with just two teams seeded lower than No. 3 claiming the trophy: Oregon in 2019, as the No. 6 seed, and Oregon State in 2021, as the No. 5 seed.

Based on a regular season that produced a dominant champion (UCLA) and a clear second tier (Arizona and USC), the likelihood of a surprise winner seems low.

Three questions loom large in T-Mobile Arena, where opening-round games begin Wednesday afternoon:

1. Will UCLA have the services of defensive ace Jaylen Clark, who suffered a lower-leg injury during the regular-season finale against Arizona? And if he isn’t available, how might Clark’s status impact UCLA’s seed in the NCAA Tournament?

2. Will the three NCAA bubble teams secure at-large bids? USC appears to be on the right side of the bubble, Oregon on the wrong side and Arizona State smack in the middle. The Trojans must avoid losing to a lower seed, while the Sun Devils and Ducks need first-rate wins to improve their prospects for Selection Sunday.

3. Will any of the lower seeds rise up to claim an unexpected championship — and the automatic berth in the NCAAs that accompanies the trophy? To maximize its March Madness opportunities, the Pac-12 needs a team to replicate Oregon State’s improbable run to the 2021 title.

Our predictions for each game:


No. 8 Washington vs. No. 9 Colorado

Tipoff: 12 p.m. on Pac-12 Networks

Comment: The Huskies swept the season series and now face a diminished CU that will be without point guard and No. 2 scorer KJ Simpson (mononucleosis). The Buffaloes are 16th nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency while UW is 65th, but both struggle to score. If Buffs forward Tristan da Silva has a breakout game, it’s close to the end. Otherwise, Washington should grind to a low-scoring, hard-on-the-eyes victory.

Pick: Washington

No. 5 Washington State vs. No. 12 Cal

Tipoff: 2:30 p.m. on Pac-12 Networks

Comment: WSU enters the postseason with loads of confidence, six consecutive wins and one of the best inside-outside combinations in the conference (forward Mouhamed Gueye and guard TJ Bamba). Meanwhile, Cal has no playmakers, no momentum and no chance. Even if the Cougars cast one eye ahead to Oregon in the quarterfinals, they should be in control throughout.

Pick: Washington State

No. 7 Utah vs. No. 10 Stanford

Tipoff: 6 p.m. on Pac-12 Networks

Comment: Two teams on contrasting trajectories: The Utes have lost seven of their past nine (the wins: Cal and Colorado) while the Cardinal has won eight of 14 and beat Arizona. Also, Stanford is the top 3-point shooting team in conference play (37.9 percent). Neutral-court games in NBA arenas create difficult shooting environments. In this matchup, the lower seed has more options to score.

Pick: Stanford

No. 6 Arizona State vs. No. 11 Oregon State

Tipoff: 8:30 p.m. on Pac-12 Networks

Comment: The Sun Devils were oh-so-close to the No. 5 seed and cupcake opening-round game. Instead, the loss at USC cast them down one rung and created a vastly more challenging matchup. Although ASU swept the season series, both games were close. The Beavers should be as confident as any team with a 5-15 mark in league play could possibly be. And yet, if the Sun Devils shoot well (always a possibility, never a given), they should win handily.

Pick: Arizona State


No. 1 UCLA vs. No. 8 Washington

Tipoff: 12 p.m. on Pac-12 Networks

Comment: The toll of back-to-back games shouldn’t impair UW, which played its regular-season finale on Thursday. The season series was lopsided, with the Bruins winning easily in Seattle and then leading wire-to-wire in Westwood. Clark’s availability is a huge issue in the postseason, but not here. UCLA should roll with or without him. We do not expect the offensively-challenged Huskies to break 60.

Pick: UCLA

No. 4 Oregon vs. No. 5 Washington State

Tipoff: 2:30 p.m. on Pac-12 Networks

Comment: Let’s hope this duel is as riveting as the teams’ matchup in Pullman three weeks ago — the Cougars escaped by three points — and sets the stage for an entertaining Thursday evening session in T-Mobile. Oregon has an extremely narrow path into March Madness, and it requires a victory here. WSU isn’t an at-large candidate, so it must win the conference tournament to advance to the NCAAs.

Pick: Washington State

No. 2 Arizona vs. No. 10 Stanford

Tipoff: 6 p.m. on Pac-12 Networks

Comment: We were tempted to pick an upset given Arizona’s less-than-stellar finish and Stanford’s recent head-to-head victory over the Wildcats. (Clearly, the Cardinal’s defensive scheme is effective against Arizona’s size.) However, two forces pulled us in the other direction: Arizona’s home-away-from-home-court advantage in T-Mobile; and coach Tommy Lloyd’s stellar record after losses. Our gut says it’s either in doubt with 30 seconds left, or Arizona wins in blowout fashion.

Pick: Arizona

No. 3 USC vs. No. 6 Arizona State

Tipoff: 8:30 p.m. on ESPN

Comment: USC swept the season series and was clearly the better team for 74 of the 80 combined minutes as its perimeter defense smothered ASU’s 3-point shooters. The Trojans have designs on lifting the trophy while the Sun Devils are playing for their NCAA Tournament lives. Our question: How much fuel (emotional and physical) remains in ASU’s tank given three consecutive weeks on the road? The Devils haven’t played a home game since Feb. 18.

Pick: USC


No. 1 UCLA vs. No. 5 Washington State

Tipoff: 6 p.m. on Pac-12 Networks

Comment: The wear of playing in the opening round begins to show in the semifinals, especially if the quarterfinal game is taxing. WSU will need significant support from its bench but has few playmaking options outside the core six. The Bruins won’t be as fatigued and should have energy from the crowd as fans make the Friday afternoon trip to Las Vegas. We expect a taut affair for 30 minutes, but the last 10 will be a first-order challenge for WSU against one of the best defenses in the country.

Pick: UCLA

No. 2 Arizona vs. No. 3 USC

Tipoff: 8:30 p.m. on ESPN

Comment: The teams are one seed apart in Las Vegas and finished with identical conference records (14-6), but their two matchups were anything but even. The Wildcats won by 15 at home and were in control through the matchup last week in the Galen Center. We suspect USC will be more competitive this time, but success depends on slowing Wildcats forward Azuolas Tubelis, who produced 40 points and 27 rebounds in the two games.

Pick: Arizona


No. 1 UCLA vs. No. 2 Arizona

Tipoff: 7:30 p.m. on ESPN

Comment: At this point in the tournament, Clark’s absence becomes a very big deal. (We are presuming he doesn’t play until there is confirmation otherwise.) With a packed arena and No. 1 seed in the NCAAs potentially at stake, in addition to the conference crown, this should be a high-level game with elite shotmaking. The outcome could hinge on which freshman guard, UCLA’s Amari Bailey or Arizona’s Kylan Boswell, produces big plays down the stretch. And we should all hope it’s decided by the players, not the officials.

Pick: Arizona

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