It says a lot about the Pac-12 and says it’s definitely not a weak conference. I think (Arizona and UCLA are) just as capable of winning as we are. It’s a tough conference. – Utah guard Brandon Taylor
SALT LAKE CITY — Surprised to see three Pac-12 teams left in the NCAA Tournament?
The Runnin’ Utes aren’t.
Utah, Arizona and UCLA each advanced to the Sweet 16 over the weekend. It’s the Utes’ first appearance this far into the tournament since 2005, while the Wildcats and Bruins return from last season.
In fact, the conference teams are 7-1 after the first two rounds, despite what many considered a “down year” for the Pac-12. The only team eliminated, Oregon, lost after a close battle with Wisconsin on Sunday.
Utah head coach Larry Krystkowiak said he believes some of the shock has to do with games that occur in the Pac-12 over the course of the regular season. Writers, pundits, fellow coaches and fans may not turn on a Pac-12 game that regularly begins at 9 or 10 p.m. on the East coast. Thus, many are asleep by the time the final horn sounds in those games.
That said, he believes the conference was as strong as ever this season and the results prove it. And in the end, the results mean everything.
“I think we know within that we have some pretty good teams in this (conference),” Krystkowiak said. “The home court was a strong factor in the Pac-12. It was very hard to get a road win. It seems to me in the Big Ten, the ACC, Big 12 or whatever, it’s OK if everyone beats up on each other because they’re all the elite teams. In our conference, if everyone beats up on each other, then it’s a down year.
“It’s not worth getting on the soapbox and talking about. Talk is cheap. It’s good that we’ve made it and beyond that, we’ll try to earn respect on the court rather than talking about it.”
Krystkowiak isn’t alone in his feeling about the strength of the conference. Guards Brandon Taylor and Delon Wright each say it’s a difficult league to play in, which makes the success less surprising.
“It’s self-explanatory,” Taylor said about the conference’s winning percentage in the tournament so far following the team’s practice on Monday. “Everyone’s still in it except for Oregon, and they played a very good Wisconsin team and took them down to the wire. It says a lot about the Pac-12 and says it’s definitely not a weak conference.
“I think (Arizona and UCLA are) just as capable of winning as we are. It’s a tough conference.”
Wright added he finds the surprise of the conference’s success a bit perplexing.
“I feel like a lot of people don’t respect the Pac-12, even though we have a lot of players that make it to the NBA,” he said. “It’s kind of good to prove ourselves on the national stage.”
As for the other teams in the Pac-12, Taylor said he plans to root for his conference counterparts.
That is, unless they cross paths later in the tournament, of course. If UCLA and Utah both win on Friday, the two teams would play against each other in the South region final.
“I think we’re all pulling for each other — until we play against each other,” Taylor said. “That’s the beauty having so many teams of your conference in this tournament.”