Takeaways From the Pac-12’s Weekend Games

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@AMurawa) on January 7th, 2014

It was a busy Pac-12 weekend around the conference. Here are some thoughts on each of the weekend’s five games.

Colorado 100, Oregon 91

  • It was a game that largely lived up to the hype, with both teams looking good for long stretches. But over the last 10 minutes of the game, it was – get this – Colorado’s guard play that was the deciding factor in the game. It was supposed to be the undefeated Ducks with the bevy of play-making guards that had the advantage on the perimeter, while the Buffaloes were going to need to take advantage of a weak Oregon frontcourt in order to win this game at home. Instead, over the final quarter of the game, Askia Booker and Spencer Dinwiddie combined for 25 of Colorado’s 39 points, sophomore guard Xavier Talton chipped in six more, and Jaron Hopkins was the guy to get everything started with a three off a Dinwiddie dime. All told, the five Colorado guards outscored Oregon’s by a total of 66-52.

    Askia Booker, Colorado

    Big Game Askia? Who Knew? (Patrick Ghidossi, BuffaloSportsNews)

  • Meanwhile up front the Ducks were just okay against that tough Colorado frontcourt. On the offensive end, they were great, grabbing better than 41 percent of their own misses and getting a terrific 24-point performance out of Mike Moser. But the bigger concern is their ability to defend on the interior, and here they were exposed a bit, allowing Colorado to grab better than 46 percent of their misses, leading to lots of easy putbacks for the Buffs. Oregon’s guards are going to keep them in a lot of games, but they need to clean up their frontcourt issues in order to reach their potential.
  • For some of the surprises in this game, the most expected angle proved completely true: Colorado is going to be really, really tough at home. With a strong seven-man rotation plus a couple other guys ready to provide spot minutes, the Buffs are deep, athletic, big, strong and – most importantly – good. And the Coors Events Center is a great homecourt advatange. KenPom.com has the Buffs expected to win their next six games at home by an average of just under 10 points per game, but that only takes us to February 22 when they’ll host Arizona in their last home game of the season. Right now that KenPom projection is Arizona, 68-65, but in what could be Dinwiddie’s final home game, the early inclination is to lean Buffs. Not that trying to project a game seven weeks out is good practice.

UCLA 107, USC 73

  • It’s not often when basketball fans from all over the Pac-12 conference find themselves rooting, at least a little bit, for UCLA. But one gets the feeling that was the case on Sunday when the Bruins welcomed brash young coaching hot-shot Andy Enfield to the conference with a 34-point blowout. On a day when several high school recruits deciding between (among others) UCLA and USC were in attendance at Pauley Pavilion, UCLA looked very much like the fun, up-tempo program that Enfield hopes to eventually create, while it was his own Trojans that looked like a slow, sluggish, work in progress. Things will get better for Enfield as he begins to get his own guys into the program, but this kind of display highlights the foolishness of his yapping in the offseason.

    Andy Enfield Got A Rude Welcoming To The Pac-12

    Andy Enfield Got A Rude Welcoming To The Pac-12

  • After the game, Enfield didn’t exactly go out of the way to prove he learned his lesson, instead placing the blame for the loss squarely on the shoulders of his players. From Diane Pucin of the Los Angeles Times, quoting Enfield after the game: “Players win games. Coaches come up with game plans, but players have to perform and ours have to show better leadership.” While not questioning the veracity of such a statement, it would have been awful nice to hear a more diplomatic answer there from the new coach.
  • As for UCLA? Not much to take away from this game. Yup, they’re fast and exciting and have the ability to blow outmatched teams out. We knew that already. The good news is that we don’t have to wait long to get a better read on this team, as they will host Arizona on Thursday night and we’ll have a much better opportunity to see what they’re made of.

Arizona 71, Washington 62

  • Who knows what to make of the Huskies? They were just awful – literally the worst team in the conference – in the non-conference slate. And while they were pretty fun to watch – in the same way an All-Star game where none of the players even pretend to play defense is fun to watch – there was no real reason to suspect that much was going to change. Sure, they’ve got one of the best scorers in the conference in C.J. Wilcox and freshman point guard Nigel Williams-Goss seems to get a little better each time out. But this is a team playing a 6’7” below-the-rim wide-body in Perris Blackwell as their center (Blackwell’s listed at 6’9” in much the same way Kevin Love is listed at 6’11” or whatever he’s pretending to be now) and surrounding him with a bunch of guards and wings. But this week, they were the better team on the glass against Arizona State, then fought Arizona tough and nail there as well. And when the Huskies folded down the stretch on Saturday afternoon against the Wildcats, it wasn’t due to defensive breakdowns so much as an inability to score. Washington made just three of its last 15 shots from the field, turned the ball over three times and scored just ten points over its last 17 possessions of the game (taking up the final ten minutes). That’s 0.59 points per possession, 20% from the field and turnovers on 17% of their possessions. That’s bad.
Versatile Bigs Aaron Gordon And Brandon Ashley Make Arizona's Defense Stout (Christian Petersen, Getty Images)

Versatile Bigs Aaron Gordon And Brandon Ashley Make Arizona’s Defense Stout (Christian Petersen, Getty Images)

  • Or, if you want to look at it from Arizona’s perspective, that’s very, very good. We’ve said all year that this Arizona team is capable of being shaky at times offensively. They’re going to get better as the year goes on, but when they have these so-so games offensively, they’re still going to be a real threat to win because they’ve got a spectacularly good defensive lineup, where everybody is above average. Just the fact that the ‘Cats were playing against a Washington team that was often playing four guards and were more than comfortable sticking 6’9” Aaron Gordon on 6’2” Andrew Andrews or 6’8” Brandon Ashley on 6’4” Mike Anderson shows you just how versatile this squad is. And throw in this little nugget: seven Wildcat players saw action on Saturday; six of them had at least one steal. The one guy who didn’t was 6’3” Gabe York, who made up for that by at least blocking a shot.

Utah 80, Oregon State 69

  • It was good to see Utah bounce back from a demoralizing loss on Thursday night with a strong, business-like performance against the Beavers on Saturday. They were spectacular offensively, averaging 1.36 points per possession against an Oregon State defense that was at times disruptive. Now we get to see what they’re like on the road. The good news for the Utes is they get to be eased into their road schedule with the easiest road trip in the conference this season, to the Washington schools. They need to win at least one, and a road sweep is not completely out of the question.
  • Briefly touching on the Beavers, we know about veterans like Roberto Nelson, Devon Collier, Angus Brandt and Eric Moreland. But at this time next year, each one of those guys will be gone, as will, at this rate, head coach Craig Robinson. So, what will future Beaver teams look like? A lot remains to be seen, but we’re starting to really like the freshman backcourt duo of Hallice Cooke and Malcolm Duvivier. Cooke in particular is really starting to get comfortable, having scored in double figures twice in the last three games and contributing all over the court. Throw in talented but raw sophomore big Daniel Gomis and sophomore wing Langston Morris-Walker – and maybe even super-raw seven-foot project Cheikh N’Diaye – and you probably have the core of Oregon State beginning next year.

Arizona State 66, Washington State 47

  • The Sun Devils landed softly after their bad opening night performance against Washington with – let’s be honest – a breather against the Cougars. Jermaine Marshall and Shaquielle McKissic were excellent on the wing, combining for 38 points and 13 boards, but Jahii Carson remains in something of a mini-slump. He hasn’t hit better than 50% from the field since the middle of December and has now turned it over 14 times (against just four assists) in the last three games. You wonder if the ankle is still bothering him, but whatever the reason, Arizona State really needs him back in top form.
  • DaVonte Lacy returned from his bout with appendix surgery very quickly, missing just two games. But clearly, he is a long way from “back.” He played just 11 minutes, scoring four points for the Cougars.
  • With Lacy weakened and with nobody else willing and/or able to step up into the second scorer role, freshman Que Johnson is beginning to break out. He had 18 points (on just ten field goal attempts) and has now scored 18 or better in three of his last four games. He’s locked in going forward as a very important player for the Cougarss.
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