I'll get to the greatness of the great Pac-12's great, great NCAA tournament day (perhaps foreseen by some, but not by me, since I picked against each team—OOPS), but first...
The most compelling statistical mismatch of Cal's 64-61 first-round upset of UNLV at HP Pavilion:
* Cal walk-on forward Robert Thurman made all six of his shot, all dunks, and finished with 12 points.
* UNLV super-freshman and potential top-3 NBA pick Anthony Bennett made only 4 of his 14 shots, finished with 14 points, and was a key reason why Thurman was open for so many of those dunks.
This just should never happen in any game, particularly a tournament game, and yet there it was. I don't know why Bennett was so passive out there, but I know Thurman and his teammates were thrilled to take advantage of it.
The key strategic mismatch of the night:
* Cal's Mike Montgomery had his players sharp-eyed and active all game, put them into a tight zone defense to protect the interior, and on offense got the ball to Allen Crabbe—who often then moved the ball to Thurman—in great spots at every important juncture.
Crabbe was great—19 points, 8 rebounds, 5 assists—made great decisions and just ran circles around the Rebel defenders. If he drew the defense, there was the Thurman-ator to finish.
* UNLV coach Dave Rice either didn't know what to do against Cal's zone (how about a high-post pass?) or couldn't pass along that information to his very, very talented group of players in any practical way, and also had no answers for Cal's slice-and-dice offensive maneuvering.
Just pure domination by Montgomery, whose schemes forced UNLV away from doing the things it wanted to do—mainly, just giving it to Bennett and letting him score at will and apparently letting him sleepwalk on defense...
And UNLV apparently had no counter to any of that, which, again, just should not happen in a tournament game.
Add all that up, and that's how 12th-seeded Cal beat 5th-seeded UNLV... which, of course, the Bears almost blew by missing SIX free throws (two on the front of one-on-ones) that could've sealed the game in the last minutes.
(I can't believe Montgomery called a timeout to ice his own guy—Justin Cobbs—with 13 seconds left after Cobbs had made his first free throw to put Cal up 3 and was getting ready to shoot his next one. Sure enough, Cobbs missed the next one. Oh well. They survived.)
This was the capper to an incredible afternoon/evening run for the much-maligned Pac-12, which earlier saw 12-seeded Oregon run through 5 Oklahoma State (also in San Jose) and 6th-seeded Arizona take care of 11 Belmont.
So the Pac-12 had a 3-0 day... the best NCAA day it has had in I can't remember when>
Next up: UCLA is set to go tomorrow as a favored 6 seed vs. 11 Minnesota, and yes, I picked Minnesota. Full apologies to the commissioner of this fine Western league if I screwed that one up, too.
The best explanation for the success today is that Arizona did what it was supposed to do—let its talent overwhelm Belmont (Arizona shot 56.9% and was 9-for-17 on three-pointers) .
And Oregon and Cal did what they had to—play smarter than their more talented opponents, rebound the misses, play good defense, and push Oklahoma State and UNLV, respectively, into awkward decisions.
Coach Dana Altman had the Ducks in tune—and they held star Oklahoma State guard Marcus Smart to 5 of 13 shooting, and he committed 5 turnovers.
And Montgomery had UNLV dialed up—I think he knew what the Rebels were going to do before they ever thought of doing it, and that gave the Bears confidence, and that played out through the 40 minutes of action.
How do the Pac-12 teams match-up heading into the weekend? I'm sure they want to enjoy the moment now, but if they play as well as they did today, you've got to give them each every shot at keeping this going.
It was a great tournament day for a conference that hasn't had many lately. If they get two or three more wins—out of UCLA, and the three victors today—it'd make this an incredible, potential corner-turning Pac-12 tournament, just like that.