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My Day At The Pac-10 Tournament: Better Late Than Never

The Pac-10 Men’s Basketball Tournament was decided on a last-second shot by Washington’s Isaiah Thomas — followed by Gus Johnson absolutely losing his mind once again — on Saturday. So what happened during Thursday’s quarterfinal round doesn’t matter much at this point.

But I’m going to write about it anyway. Why? Because I was there. So, three days after the fact, here’s a recap of my long day at the Pac-10 Tournament through some words and a bunch of photos.

Yes, tens of people were lining up to get a piece of Thursday's action

This was my third consecutive year at this tournament, but instead of watching basketball for four days as I have done here in the past, I could afford to attend only Thursday’s sessions. That was fine with me; Thursday is the most entertaining day of the tourney, only because there are four games played in one day. If you haven’t done it, you don’t realize how exhausting it is to watch about nine hours of basketball in one day. I don’t know how fans of the Big East do this three days in a row, but that’s the dream.

I arrived at Staples Center via public transportation at about 10:30 a.m., a solid 90 minutes before the first tip. So I decided to check out the festivities going on beside the stadium. Bands and cheerleaders from different schools were performing, which I soaked in for a few minutes. There wasn’t much for me to do — the last time I shot at a regulation basket, I bruised my spine — so I sort of wandered around, trying to kill time before noon.

One notable event occurred by pure accident. After watching the Cal band, I turned around and saw its mascot, Oski. Much like the Stanford Tree, I am always fascinated by Oski. I understand tradition, but you’d think they would have given him — it? — a makeover through the years to change his current appearance: a happy bear dressed in the clothes of your quirky grandfather.

But my chase to get a picture of Oski was a bit too aggressive as I ran right off a curb and face-planted into the street.

A large group of people rushed over to help me up as I tried to assure and re-assure them that I was no worse for wear. I was relieved that none of them took my wallet.

I was back into my wheelchair and collected all of my belongings within 60 seconds, but I wasn’t allowed to leave the scene just yet. For some reason, I had to file an injury complaint with a Staples Center security guard on the spot. The reasons why weren’t explained very clearly, but I was somehow “required” to give him my address and phone number. I really hope he was actually a security guard and not some predator dressed in a fancy red jacket.

It was pointless, but at least it got me a few minutes closer to game time.

Curbs are dangerous

The one Fan Fest item that intrigued me was the free sign making booth. Oh, the possibilities!

Alas, I was told upon entering Staples Center that my sign was over regulation size. But at least this guy was kind enough to pose with it before disposing of it

Back in the cheap seats. It's how I prefer to view the games

It's an hour before the first game, and this guy definitely knows what photographer square he wants

And now, for the games:

  • California and USC were the first two teams to hit the floor. I expected it to be a good game. It wasn’t. We are about 30 minutes away from finding out which teams will make up the field of 68. I don’t think USC will get in, but if the Trojans are invited, they have a good chance to win a game as a No. 12 seed. The Big Dance is dominated by guards. USC’s guards, especially Donte Smith and Maurice Jones, basically ran the Golden Bears off the floor. They are electric.
  • Freshman Allen Crabbe was Cal’s best player in the losing effort with 21 points on 9-of-17 shots. He and Washington’s Thomas were the only two players to play all 40 minutes Thursday. I sat one section over from Crabbe’s church group during the game. There were about 10 people in T-shirts that read “CCC loves #23.” They’ve known him since he was 7 years old and seem like very nice people. When I go to these conference tournaments, part of the appeal is the continuous basketball, obviously. But I love finding new players to watch and root for. Crabbe has a long and productive college career ahead of him, and I’m in his cheering section now.

    Heh, heh. Beavers

  • Oregon State versus regular-season champion Arizona was next up. I didn’t expect it to be a good game. It wasn’t. It followed a predictable script that we see all the time in college basketball: The underdog gets off to a good start and people start thinking upset early on. The Beavers got up by six in the first six minutes.

Then the favorite mounts a charge near halftime to get it close. Arizona trailed at the break, 40-37.

The clearly better team shows up quickly in the second half and runs away. The Wildcats went from down three to up 13 within the first six minutes of the second half. They won by nine.

  • The most interesting part of the game came when OSU’s Joe Burton got ejected for throwing and landing with an elbow midway through the second 20 minutes. It was about as blatant of an elbow punch as I’ve seen.
  • And I guess Secret Service is always interesting. At least, I assume it’s Secret Service. To my delight, the same guy who covered Craig Robinson’s back at the 2010 tournament was back at it in 2011. Robinson, Oregon State’s head coach, is Michelle Obama’s brother. And man, they look A LOT alike.
  • Throughout the day, The Staples Center’s JumboTron would display tweets from different people talking about the Pac-10 Tournament. One of the better ones came from an Oregon State sports information director, who wrote that sophomore guard Jared Cunningham was “psyched” to get dressed in Blake Griffin’s locker. That spot must hold some magic as Cunningham scored 15 points in the first nine minutes against Arizona.
  • It was an absolute pleasure to watch sophomore Derrick Williams. Oregon State had no solution to him, but most teams don’t either. A 6-foot-8-inch wide body who can rebound and nail 3-pointers? No wonder he’s projected to be the No. 1 overall pick in the 2011 NBA Draft. He scored 22 against the Beavers and hit five of his six shots from deep. He added seven rebounds and two steals.

The Silver Fox has Craig Robinson's back. Or front

After the second game, everyone had to clear out onto the concourses. Now, since the Lakers were playing the Heat at this time and this was the Staples Center, you would think TVs all over the joint would be showing the game for the fans who were forced to wait 60 minutes before returning to their seats. The grand total of TVs showing the Lakers-Heat showdown: One. All other monitors were advertising upcoming Staples Center concerts and events. So people huddled around that one television like mountain climbers seeking warmth. We were joined by players from USC and Oregon State

The obligatory "Here's what it looks like from the roof of the Staples Center" shot

  • The first game of the day’s second session pitted UCLA against Oregon. I didn’t expect it to be a good game. It wasn’t, but for reasons that no one saw coming. Frankly, the Bruins had no desire to play this game. They were outworked to every loose ball and ran horrible offensive sets. The Ducks were able to neutralize their size disadvantage with some stellar shooting performances from E.J. Singler and Malcolm Armstead.
  • UCLA shot 25 percent in the first half, missed numerous attempts from within five feet, missed 6 of 16 free throws and trailed by 14 points after 20 minutes. The Bruins never got the margin to single digits and trailed by as much as 22 points against an inferior squad in a game played 25 minutes from campus. Some pointed to the first-round bye as the reason why UCLA was so flat, but that makes no sense. It wouldn’t explain why the Bruins were even worse in the second half. They were just unprepared to play. Oregon won, 76-59.

    It sure was

  • It was too bad that only seven or eight Oregon fans made the trip. That might be underselling it, but not by much. The number had to be less than 50. Seriously pathetic.
  • The final game of the day (already??? But we’ve only been here for eight hours!) was Washington versus Washington State. I expected it to be Thursday’s most entertaining game and it certainly was. It was also memorable. Both fan bases were well lubricated and the inherent rivalry turned the atmosphere into that of a conference title game. Apple Cup, basketball style!
  • The star of the game — and the day — was Washington State’s Klay Thompson. I anticipated that he would be very inspired after missing the Cougars’ final regular-season game due to suspension and being ripped in the press by his father. I didn’t think he would become Jimmer Fredette. That’s no exaggeration; the kid was sinking everything. Thompson connected on four 3-pointers within the first 11 minutes as the Cougars opened up a 13-point lead.
  • But Washington caught up in the second half, which turned into a true back-and-forth duel. With the fans of both teams sitting next to each other, it was easy to get caught up in the frenzy. The turning point of the game may have come with 48.5 second left. With Washington up, 84-82, Thompson went to the line, but made just one of two free throws. Washington State kept pulling back to within one during the final minute, but Thomas always had an answer for the Huskies. He scored six of their final seven points.
  • Washington hung on, 89-87. Thompson dropped 43 (!!!). He made 8-of-14 shots from 3-point range. Five Huskies scored at least 10 points. Thomas, who finished the weekend as tourney MVP, scored 21 points and tallied 11 assists. And the three previous snoozers were forgotten by everyone.
  • While it didn’t have much impact on the result, it’s worth mentioning that Washington State experienced its own Chris Webber moment late in the game. After a Thompson basket, WSU was down, 88-87, but only 0.4 seconds remained. That’s when a Cougar called a timeout that the team didn’t have. Washington made one of the two technical shots to bring us to the final.

Did I mention that I was at that Final Four? I think I have. About 10 times.

  • One final note: The bands from Washington and Washington State resisted any temptations to do their rendition of a Nirvana song. That was a relief for me.

Klay Thompson at the line: The man of the day (and night)

At the end of it all, you just want to put your head down and stop the blurry world from spinning. Or maybe that had nothing to do with basketball

Hello at 10:25 a.m.

So long at 11:20 p.m.

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