LOS ANGELES — It was the last game of the day, and the Staples Center seemed like an abandoned parking lot. There were maybe 1,000 fans in attendance. It wouldn't have been shocking to see a tumbleweed blow through.
Such is life in the Pac-12 men's basketball tournament. For starters, Utah got just six wins all season. Then there were the problem with the Pac-12 itself: Things are not pretty in Tinseltown. That was obvious by the 35 percent shooting by both teams in Colorado's 53-41 win over Utah.
Some are saying the Pac-12 could be a one-bid-only league in the NCAA Tournament field. That seems unlikely, considering the conference's political clout.
Still, it would be hard convincing the average person that this year's tourney is a big deal.
"There's no doubt this year our conference this year has not been at the level that people are used to it being at," commissioner Larry Scott said, but added, "what is fair to say is that the conference is probably undervalued."
In any event, the fans stayed away by the millions on Wednesday, which is probably good for the Utes, who wrapped up the worst hoop season in their history. If a tree falls in the forest, and there's no one to hear, does it make a sound? And if the Utes had beaten Colorado in the first round of the Pac-12 Tournament, would anyone know?
The Buffs' win gave them a 4-0 "rivalry" lead in the sports that matter. A Colorado win in football and three this season in basketball makes it a sweep. This from a series that was supposed to evolve into a natural rivalry. Two mountain schools, both newcomers to the conference, just a lift ticket away. But the way it looks so far, the Buffs view Utah like the smallest kid in the playground: someone to pick on.
Wednesday's game marked a milestone in Utah athletics. It was the first revenue sport playoff in the new conference. It's been a year of first: first Pac-12 games in all sports, and first time ever the Utes could call themselves something other than "mid-major," etc.
At the same time, it's hard not to twitch when referring to a 6-25 basketball team as "major," unless you follow up with the terms "disappointment."
It's been that bad.
That's not to say the Utes have been dogging things. On the contrary, they entered Wednesday's game as fired up as they've been all year. They told reporters they felt rejuvenation in the fact the regular season was behind them.
OK, so it was an in-the-moment thought.
If the Utes could have hoped for anything, it would be for Colorado to come out shooting dreadfully — and it did. The Buffs missed 10 of their first 11 shots, allowing Utah to go up 11-4. Two buckets and two free throws pulled CU within one.
That took care of that.
Still, the Utes had vowed to play with abandon and in a way, they did. Nerves? The Buffs began the game far jumpier than Utah.
Even when CU started pulling away, building the lead to five just before the half, Dijon Farr made a buzzer-beating 3-pointer at the end of the half, bringing Utah within two.
But by the time the second half began waning, the Utes were back to reality. Turnovers had spelled their doom. Colorado scored three straight times, going up by six, which isn't insurmountable, but it seems that way when you win as seldom as the Utes. Soon the lead was 10.
Utah never recovered.
Maybe the Utes can package all the bad passes, missed shots and rebounding deficiencies from this season and ship them off to yesteryear. More likely, coach Larry Krystkowiak will have to build his team back up, one brick at a time.
In any case, the most painful of seasons came to an end. The Utes actually seemed fairly relieved as they walked off the court. Nobody cried. That can be good or bad. Resiliency is fine, but at some point feeling bad might be good, too.
Yes, they might have been hurt. But surprised? Not likely.
That went by the wayside months ago.
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