Welcome to the Pac-12 road, Colorado and Utah.
Both teams probably felt pretty good after the first two weeks of the conference season.
The Buffaloes were alone in first place, the only squad undefeated in Pac-12 play. Behind an 18-point win over Washington and a 40-point drubbing of Utah, Colorado had staked its claim for the conference crown.
Utah, picked to finish 12th in the 12-team league after a 13-18 season last year, actually won a game, defeating Washington State in an overtime thriller. The Utes followed up their fourth win of the season by almost upsetting the Huskies, falling by just four points. Utah was out of the conference cellar — for the time being.
Then Colorado and Utah hit the road, the first Pac-12 road trip for both.
And in the Bay Area this weekend, reality set in.
Both clubs were swept, of course. But more so than just losing, neither Colorado nor Utah looked sharp at all.
On Thursday in their 68-65 loss to Stanford, the Utes took nine free throws; they made only one. They shot well from 3-point range and caught the Cardinal on an off-night — hence the close score — but make no mistake, Stanford was still in control.
In Saturday’s loss to Cal, Utah was not even competitive. The Utes went scoreless for more than seven minutes in the middle of the first half and went nearly 10 minutes without making a field goal. They made just six baskets in their 15-point first half.
The Buffaloes are not a bad team. In fact, Colorado’s defense stuffed the Bears on Thursday. Cal couldn’t hit a shot in the first half and were behind at the half. Unfortunately for the Buffaloes, they stopped making baskets in the second period, shooting 25.9 percent from the field. They couldn’t score against Stanford on Saturday either. The Cardinal blew them out in the second half for a 20-point rout.
There’s no shame in getting swept by the Bay Area teams, the most difficult Pac-12 road trip in this season. The thing is, it’s not just Colorado and Utah losing on the road, and it’s not just in the Bay Area.
The old adage of winning at home and splitting on the road couldn’t be more applicable to the conference this season. Cal, Stanford and Washington, perhaps the top three teams in the league, have all won at home and split on the road so far in Pac-12 play. At this point, that’s probably what the remaining teams can only hope for.
This is the type of parity the conference has had the past few years without a true elite team. It’s been the case for four seasons now, not since Kevin Love was throwing alley-oops to Russell Westbrook at UCLA and the Lopez twins were roaming the paint at Stanford. Now good teams win at home most of the time, while bad teams win at home enough of the time. For instance, struggling squads like the Utes, the Cougars and Oregon State have all won a game at home at least.
In the coming weeks, a few teams will separate themselves from the pack — probably Cal and Stanford, perhaps Washington and Arizona. But will one squad win on the road and take control of the conference championship race?
I can tell you one thing: It won’t be Utah.