The Conference of Champions: How the Pac-12 Shocked the World in the NCAA Tournament

Story posted March 31, 2021 in Sports, CommRadio by Logan Bourandas

When March Madness first started, no one expected the best conference to be the Pac-12. At the start of the tournament, that proved to be the case with all five teams that made the field of 68 advancing to at least the round of 32.

No one, aside from Bill Walton, could have predicted this success, and even though only UCLA has made it into the Final Four, it shouldn’t go unnoticed how shocking this run is.

The Pac-12 entered the tournament an afterthought with conferences such as the Big Ten and Big 12 gaining most of the national spotlight. In fact, the Pac-12 only had five tournament teams in the first place because Oregon State got hot at the right time and won the conference tournament title. Without that championship, the Beavers wouldn’t have been in the big dance.

That same Oregon State team entered the tournament as a No. 12 seed and pulled off three upsets to make the Elite Eight. Those upsets included an embarrassment of Tennessee in the first round before knocking off top NBA draft prospect Cade Cunningham and Oklahoma State in the second round.

While the Beavers were defeated in the Elite Eight by Houston, they were one of four Pac-12 teams to make it that far. The only team that didn’t was Colorado, which would end up getting blown out by Florida State.

Two of those four teams would play against each other. USC and Oregon were the top two seeds in the Pac-12 tournament, and although they didn’t face each other in that bracket, they did battle in the Sweet 16.

The Trojans were coming off a 34-point win over higher-seeded Kansas, while the Ducks had blown out Luka Garza and the Iowa Hawkeyes—this came after a COVID-19 outbreak from VCU bailed the Ducks out of a first-round matchup.

USC would win the head-to-head matchup thanks to 20-point outings from both Isaiah White and Tahj Eaddy. While the Trojans would suffer the same fate as Oregon State in the Elite Eight, there was still one Pac-12 team remaining: the UCLA Bruins.

The run that UCLA has gone on in this tournament hasn’t been seen in quite some time. Not only were the Bruins already a No. 11 seed in the tournament but they also had to play in a First Four game just to make it to the round of 64. That play-in game featured a comeback win over the heavily favored Michigan State Spartans.

From there, the Bruins have won by double digits in every game up until the Elite Eight matchup against Michigan, knocking off highly seeded teams like BYU and Alabama.

The Michigan game, however, is where this team cemented its status as a true threat. In a defensive battle, the Bruins became the only Pac-12 team to make the Final Four with a two-point win. Johnny Juzang picked up 28 points, which led either side, as the Bruins received no scoring help from their bench.

The Bruins will look to continue their run in the Final Four against Gonzaga.

Even if UCLA doesn’t walk away with the national championship trophy, the performance this conference has put up when no one saw it coming has been memorable and will be for quite some time.

 

Logan Bourandas is a sophomore majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email lxb5412@psu.edu.