USA TODAY Sports
Utah faces an opponent they've already defeated this season - last week, in fact.
On paper, Cal appeared to be the match-up from hell for the Utes, and, as we witnessed last night, it didn't exactly turn out that way - the Utes defeated the Golden Bears by ten in overtime for one of the program's biggest victories of the past decade. That makes me wary for tonight's game, since this tournament seems to be about the opposite of conventional wisdom. It is, after all, a wisdom that told us Utah couldn't play with the likes of USC and Cal and yet, in the first and second rounds of the Pac-12 Tournament, that's exactly what they did. So, conversely, does this mean tonight's game might prove far harder than the last two?
Oregon is a good team. Until the Utes upset them in the final game of the regular season, they were close to wrapping up their first Pac-12 championship since 2002. Utah ended that and they'll probably be looking for a bit of revenge. Prior to last night's game against Cal, I said it was hard to beat a team three times in a row and that's in play here - it's just as hard to beat a team twice in a handful of days.
But as daunting as the Cal game might have appeared, at least in the context of 2012 and '13, the Ducks are an opponent that shouldn't scare Utah. As mentioned, the Utes already have defeated 'em once and came close to beating them up in Eugene, even leading by eight at the half before losing by nine. That doesn't mean we're better, or should win this game, in fact, Utah will be, as they've been this entire tournament, underdogs - but they shouldn't play as if this is a team they can't beat because, you know, they've proven they can.
That mindset, especially for a team whose confidence continues to grow with every victory, shouldn't be understated.
One major obstacle this team has faced throughout the season is a lack of confidence and a winning attitude. I think that has been a direct result for their losing so many close games and it's often demoralizing for players and a coaching staff since they invest so much energy without much to show for it. But finally, after all these months, it's paid off with two huge victories in the conference tournament. I don't know if they've fully exorcised those demons, and maybe they haven't, but you've got to think last night's win has broken down some mental barriers that have plagued this team all season - namely losing close games, losing games they trail at the half, and losing games where they go long periods without scoring.
In fact, these past two games have defied what we've come to expect from this year's Utes. Against USC, they did everything we expected from a Utah team - they built a lead, they looked good throughout periods of the game and, right on cue, they collapsed ... blowing a lead a couple of times. But unlike in the past, they didn't fold. They bounced back, forged forward against all odds and prevailed.
That's been the narrative of this year's tournament - going against the odds.
Utah looks to do that again tonight. Logic tells us it won't happen. A streak can only last for so long and at midnight, potentially around the time this game is ending, the Runnin' Utes' chariot will turn back into a pumpkin and, just like that, the season will be over.
But I think we can safely say logic has been thrown out of the window in this tournament.
So, why can't the Utes do the improbable?
Let's go win a berth to the Pac-12 championship game.