Utah opens Pac-12 tournament with battle vs. Stanford
A five-game losing streak ended any lingering hopes Utah had of claiming an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament.
The seventh-seeded Utes will need to win the Pac-12 tournament to go dancing, and their journey will begin on Wednesday when they face 10th-seeded Stanford in Las Vegas.
Underdog teams making a run through the Pac-12 tournament is not unprecedented. Oregon State did it in 2021 and used that as a launching pad for a run to the Elite Eight in that year’s NCAA Tournament. The Utes are taking inspiration from past Cinderella stories as they work to write one of their own.
“Crazy things happen in March,” Utah coach Craig Smith said. “That’s just how it is around the country. We have seen it all. So hopefully we catch a spark here and find a little mojo and catch lightning in a bottle and find a way to make some things happen.”
One factor in Utah’s favor is that starting guards Rollie Worster and Gabe Madsen are fully healthy again. Both players were sidelined late in the season with injuries, contributing to the five-game skid for the Utes. They did return for a 69-60 loss to Colorado in the regular-season finale.
Utah (17-14, 10-10 Pac-12) struggled on offense in their absence, averaging 60.2 points per game over its final five regular-season games. Over their past nine contests, the Utes have shot 40 percent or better from the field only twice.
In terms of momentum, Stanford seems better positioned to make a splash in the Pac-12 tournament.
The Cardinal (13-18, 7-13) won two of three games to close out the regular season and pushed Oregon to the limit in their finale before falling 73-68. They averaged 82 points in victories over Washington and Oregon State ahead of the loss to the Ducks and have shot 45 percent or better from the field in six of their last seven contests.
Spencer Jones has paced Stanford’s attack with 13.9 points and 4.7 rebounds per game and earned All-Pac-12 second team honors this week.
“Spencer, I describe him, you know there’s people that are described as low maintenance, Spencer is no maintenance,” Cardinal coach Jerod Haase said last week. “He’s the one that just handles his business, he goes hard in every drill, it’s just, he handles his business like a professional.”
–Field Level Media