After dominating in their second round matchup, the fourth-seed Syracuse Orange will try to avoid a third-round disappointment against the 12th-seed California Golden Bears in the NCAA Tournament's East Region at HP Pavilion on Saturday.
The Pac-12 didn't get much respect in terms of seeding this year with no team from the league getting a spot higher than No. 6. However 12-seeds California and Oregon made those selections look poor as each posted upset wins in the second round. In their 64-61 win the Golden Bears got some revenge against UNLV, a team that beat them on a last second put-back earlier in the campaign. California had recorded back-to-back double-digit setbacks to enter this event, but has gained some distance after Thursday's win.
Syracuse looked as close to the team that rose to No. 3 in the national rankings as it has in the past few months with an 81-34 drubbing of 13th-seed Montana in the second round. The win helped the Orange bounce back from a 78-61 collapse against Louisville in the Big East Tournament title game when they surrendered a 16-point second-half lead. Syracuse has made four straight trips to the NCAA Tournament after a two-year hiatus in 2007 and 2008 and is 10 years removed from its last national title run.
These teams met for the first and only time during the 2009-10 season when Syracuse earned a 95-73 victory in the 2K Sports Classic at Madison Square Garden.
An 8-0 run early in the second half allowed California to take control against UNLV on Thursday. The Golden Bears did not trail the rest of the contest but they had their lead cut to two points or fewer three times in the last 14 seconds. Allen Crabbe sank a pair of free-throws with two seconds left on the clock to ice the game. A huge advantage for California was its ability to score on the inside, as it got a bunch of easy dunks and layups for a 34-18 edge on points in the paint.
Crabbe (18.7 ppg, 6.1 rpg) was the Pac-12 Player of the Year this season and carried the Golden Bears to victory yet again with a game-high 19 points, while coming a rebound shy of a double-double. The 6-foot-6 guard is averaging 21.3 points and seven rebounds per contest over the last three games. Pounding away on the interior for the Golden Bears were Robert Thurman (4.8 ppg) and Richard Solomon (8.5 ppg, 6.6 rpg), who combined for 23 points on 11-of-14 shooting, with the bulk of that production coming in the paint. Justin Cobbs (15.4 ppg, 4.8 apg) continued to play the role of second scorer and distributor for the Golden Bears as he had 13 points and six assists.
After ripping off a 20-4 run out of the gate, the Orange just kept piling on against Montana. The Orange held the Grizzlies to just 20.4 percent shooting en route to the 47-point victory. That margin broke the record set previously by VCU for the largest by a team seeded third or lower in the NCAA Tournament. Brandon Triche was the lead scorer in the contest with 20 points as the Orange hit 51.9 percent from the field and assisted on 21-of-27 field goals.
Like many of the teams in the Big East this season, Syracuse is a squad that can really lock opponents up on the defensive end of the floor. The Orange rank third in the country in opponent field-goal percentage (.372) while among the top 30 teams in points allowed (59.4 pg). Triche (13.9 ppg, 3.6 apg) is one of four double-digit scorers on the roster for the Orange and has scored in double figures in five straight contests after having a season-low two points in the regular-season finale against Georgetown. C.J. Fair (14.3 ppg, 7.0 rpg) is a versatile forward with size that creates his own shot effectively and can hit from long range as well. Michael Carter-Williams (11.8 ppg, 7.8 apg, 2.8 spg) led the Big East in assists and steals, while James Southerland (13.7 ppg, 5.1 rpg) is absolutely lethal from 3-point range.