Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Pac-10 and Mountain West Conferences.
A Look Back
It was another one of those weeks in the Pac-10. Just when you thought the wheat had been separated from the chaff, everything gets all mixed up again. Conference-leading Washington drops two games in stunning fashion. Oregon rises up from the back of the pack to sweep the Washington schools, marking their fourth win in five games and getting back to within a game of .500. Oregon State shows signs of life, while Washington State, after seemingly being back in the mix, looks horrible in earning a split and UCLA has now having won seven of eight. And through it all, Arizona just keeps winning games and now finds itself at 20-4 on the season, 9-2 in the Pac-10, a game and a half ahead of UCLA, and #16 in the latest RTC poll despite not having beaten a team ranked in KenPom’s top 40 this season.
- Team of the Week: Oregon – With all due respect to Arizona, this recognition has to go to the Ducks this week. All season long we’ve noted that this team probably has the least talent in the conference, yet they keep doing everything necessary to give themselves the best chances to stick around and maybe even beat you in the end. And then, on Thursday night, they throw that book right out the window and just pummel Washington State, 69-43, their largest margin of victory in the conference in almost five years. Joevan Catron continues to amaze, going for 37 points and 18 rebounds over the week, while getting help from all over the roster. Jay-R Strowbridge continued his recent run of providing instant and efficient offense off the bench, scoring 27 points on 11-21 shooting this week. Malcolm Armstead has taken his move to the bench in stride (take note Drew family), going for 16 points, eight assists and ten steals this week, while still getting plenty of minutes off the pine. E.J. Singler: 26 points, ten rebounds, six assists. Tyrone Nared: 14 points and six boards against Washington. Garrett Sim: 13 points and four assists against Washington State. And then solid contributions from Jonathan Loyd and Teondre Williams. All this and we haven’t even gotten to head coach Dana Altman who is on his way to running away with the Pac-10 Coach of the Year honors and throwing his name in the hat as a potential longshot National Coach of the Year contender. While this program has a long ways to go to get back to the level it wants to be at, clearly Altman and these Ducks have gone a long way towards taking that first step.
- Player of the Week: Lamont “Momo” Jones, Sophomore, Arizona – With Arizona down three in the waning moments of regulation against Cal on Saturday night, Jones drove the baseline, drew a bump from Cal’s Markhuri Sanders-Frison, and flipped in a runner, then proceeded to the line and confidently knocked down the game-tying free throw. In the second overtime, with the ‘Cats again down three and with time dripping off the clock, Jones this time pulled up from deep and drilled the game-tying three. And then in the decisive third overtime, Jones put Arizona ahead for good with a layup at the one-minute mark. When Zona’s 107-105 triple-overtime victory was done, Jones had gone for a career-high 27 points. “I’ve played like this my whole life,” Jones boasted after the game. “To other people it might be something new, but to me it’s just another day in the life of Momo Jones.” Nevermind the fact that a quick glance through Jones’ game log in his two seasons with the Wildcats disproves that statement, but for one night at least, Jones was the best player in the Pac-10.
- Newcomer of the Week: Jay-R Strowbridge, Senior, Oregon – Strowbridge is used to being a newcomer. He was a newcomer-to-be at Murray State, where he originally signed, before decommitting and enrolling at Nebraska, where he was a newcomer as a freshman. Then he was a newcomer at Jacksonville State after transferring there after Nebraska. Then, he was briefly a newcomer at Arkansas State, after using the NCAA rule that allows graduates to transfer to a school offering a graduate program not offered at his current school, but left there when ASU turned out to be under NCAA investigation. Now, he’s officially a newcomer at Oregon. Despite what that history of transfers and travels may suggest, he’s been a strong veteran presence for the Ducks, while providing some good offensive firepower off the bench. In Oregon’s four wins in their last five games, he has averaged 13.8 PPG and posted a 59.5 effective field goal percentage, and it seems at long last, Strowbridge has found a good home.
- Game of the Week: Arizona 107, Oregon State 105 (3OT) – Not only is this the game of the week, it is the leader in the clubhouse for game of the year in the Pac-10, and a strong contender for game of the year in the country. 14 ties, 17 lead changes, numerous clutch plays on both sides of the ball, career-highs littering the stat sheets. And RTC Live was lucky enough to be there.
- Game of the Upcoming Week: California (13-10, 6-5) at Washington (15-7, 7-4), 2/10, 6PM PST, FSN – Around this time of year, it starts to seem that every game is a huge one. For the Huskies, riding a three-game losing streak, they need to stop the free fall immediately. They’ve dug themselves a hole in the race for the conference title, but there is still plenty of time to dig back out, provided they can turn things around. For the Golden Bears, there is still hope of getting back in the NCAA Tournament at-large discussion, but following the heart-breaking loss to Arizona on Saturday, they’ll need to bounce back right away. For one of these teams, the bad luck streak continues, while the other has temporarily righted the ship.
1. Arizona (20-4, 9-2): Last week in this space, I said that a road sweep of the Bay Area schools would be mighty impressive, and I stand by that claim. While Stanford and Cal both gave them a run, the Wildcats did what was necessary to come away with a pair of wins. Most impressive of all, however, was getting the win at Cal, despite playing without Derrick Williams for the last 15+ minutes of the game, after he had fouled out. Throwing aside the perception that this was Williams and a bunch of guys riding his coattails, Jones, Kevin Parrom and Brendon Lavender took over the game in the overtime periods and willed the Cats to victory. Between those three, they had 33 of the 34 Arizona points scored after Williams fouled out (Jones 15, Parrom 13, Lavender 5), proving once and for all that this team is capable of beating good teams in tough environments, even without Williams.
Looking ahead: The ‘Cats travel to Tempe to face in-state rival Arizona State in a game that looks like it should be a breather. But we’ve already learned this season that there is nothing that should be taken for granted in this conference, especially in a road environment against your heated rival.
2. Washington (15-7, 7-4): Let’s not go crazy with Washington and kill them for their performance last week in Oregon. Sure, for the team that was the favorite in the conference, losing back-to-back games to those teams is alarming. But, as Lorenzo Romar was quick to point out following their loss Saturday at Oregon, this type of play in the middle of the season is typical for the Huskies. Maddening, for sure, but typical. In 2006, the Huskies lost three games in a row in the middle of Pac-10 play, dropping to 5-5, then proceeded to heat back up again, finish second in the conference and advance to the Sweet 16. Last year, the Huskies lost three in a row near the start of conference play, dropping as far as 3-5 in the conference, before winning 12 of their last 14 in the regular season and again advancing to the Sweet 16. We had been promised that this year would be different, and when the Huskies powered through the distractions of a sexual assault case (which, incidentally, has been dropped by the King County prosecutor) and a season-ending loss of their starting point guard, Abdul Gaddy, we bought into that idea for a while. But now, the Huskies have lost three in a row again and look for all the world to be the same old Huskies. You know, the Sweet 16 variety.
Looking ahead: The Huskies invite Cal and Stanford into the Hec-Ed, with all parties looking to rebound from last weekend’s disappointments.
3. UCLA (16-7, 7-3): We haven’t talked much about the Bruins to this point, but they are coming off a big week for them. First, on Wednesday they broke a four-game losing streak to cross-town rival USC. Then, on Saturday they came back and defeated former head coach Steve Lavin in his return to the sidelines at Pauley Pavilion as the first-year head coach of St. John’s. We detailed the USC game in last week’s Pac-10 Check-in, but the game against the Johnnies on the weekend was a case of the good Bruins getting the better of the bad Bruins. The good Bruins? Try grabbing 51.9% of all offensive rebounds, getting four players in double-digit scoring and outscoring their opponent from the charity stripe 27-5. The bad Bruins, however, showed up in repeated turnovers (19 total, although I swear it seemed like double that) and allowing the Red Storm to grab nearly 37% of their own offensive rebounds. In the end, Ben Howland’s crew needed an unlikely three by Reeves Nelson (who had 12 points and 17 rebounds on the day) to finally put St. John’s away, after they had cut an 11-point Bruin lead at the five-minute mark to just three in the final minute.
Looking ahead: The Bruins host the Oregon schools this week, and you can bet the coaching staff will use Washington’s struggles last week as a major teachable moment: these are not teams to overlook.
4. Washington State (16-7, 6-5): The Cougars loss at Oregon on Thursday night was just disgusting. They posted a sub-30% effective field goal percentage, got killed on the boards and look passive defensively. Junior Klay Thompson turned the ball over six times, missed nine of his 13 field goal attempts (including six of his eight three-pointers) and was frustrated repeatedly by Oregon’s Malcolm Armstead. All of which led to an entirely forgettable 26-point loss. If there was good news for Ken Bone this week, it was that the Cougars were able to put that monstrosity behind them and still go to Oregon State a couple of days later and come away with a hard-fought win. The performance was only marginally better looking (Thompson was just 2/7 in this game and he turned the ball over five times, while his teammates coughed it up 15 other times), but they did just enough work on the boards to escape from Oregon with one win in a completely unimpressive weekend.
Looking ahead: The Cougars host Stanford and Cal this week, and really need to get both of these in order to begin re-establishing their tournament credentials.
5. Cal (13-10, 6-5): There were so many times during the Arizona game on Saturday night where Bear fans had to be telling themselves: “We’re this close to being just a game out of first place in the conference.” Unfortunately for them, in each of those cases, they just couldn’t close the door. Sure, the foul called on Sanders-Frison on the Momo Jones runner at the end of regulation was iffy at best. But the Bears have to be kicking themselves for Jorge Gutierrez’s charge (and fifth foul) on a fast break in the first overtime, for failing to get a hand in Jones’ face at the end of the second overtime, for missed free throws and missed jumpers at the end of the third overtime, and many other plays down the stretch. The fact is, Cal had numerous chances to dance into the night with a victory, but each time it was the Wildcats who made the plays to get the job done. Now, all that being said, this is still a good Golden Bear team that, provided they can shake this loss off and learn from it, could be very much a factor in the final month of the regular season and into the Pac-10 Tournament.
Looking ahead: A trip up north to visit a couple of very angry Washington squads does not make a bounce-back victory easy to come by for Mike Montgomery and company. But if they want to keep their distant NCAA at-large hopes on life support, they’ll need to get right back to business.
6. Oregon (12-11, 5-6): We covered it all above in the Team of the Week section, but let me just repeat how amazed I am that this team has a winning record on the season, is just a game below .500 in the Pac-10 and is worthy of being ranked #6 in the conference; just a stunning coaching job by Altman.
Looking ahead: At UCLA on Thursday, at USC on Saturday – the Ducks have proven that they are capable of winning these types of games, and they have won two of their last three on the road.
7. Stanford (12-10, 5-6): The Cardinal just keep plodding along. Win a game, lose a game, rinse and repeat as necessary. Aside from getting swept in their Southern California road trip, the Cardinal have earned a split in every other week in the Pac-10 schedule thus far. This week, it was a home loss against Arizona after hanging tight for much of the game, then taking care of business against last-place Arizona State on Saturday. Jeremy Green woke up from a slump by scoring 20 or more in back to back games for the first time since before Thanksgiving. He poured in 21 against the Wildcats in a volume shooting effort, taking 21 shots on the night. But against ASU, he was incredibly efficient, knocking down six of his eight field goals, including all five of his attempts from behind the arc, and six of his eight free throw attempts on his way to a 23-point effort. Josh Owens was again his right-hand man, averaging 14.5 points and 8.5 rebounds this week. And junior point guard Jarrett Mann had his best week of the season, doing a little of everything: 25 points, 12 assists, 11 rebounds, and five steals on the week.
Looking ahead: Stanford takes to the highway with visits to highly motivated Washington squads this week. If they can continue their affinity for weekly splits, this week will have to be considered a success.
8. USC (12-11, 4-6): The Trojans are a disappointment, in a lot of ways. KenPom says their defensive efficiency is 43rd in the nation – you can bet that’s at least a couple dozen notches lower than what Kevin O’Neill had hoped. But, worse than that has been their offense, currently the 73rd most efficient offense in the country. The Trojans simply don’t have the firepower offensively to keep up in the Pac-10. It was expected that junior point guard Jio Fontan would provide them with a spark in the backcourt, but while he has done a pretty good job feeding big men Nikola Vucevic and Alex Stepheson, he just hasn’t provided the scoring punch that he showed in his freshman season at Fordham. Right now, the best offense the Trojans can muster on a regular basis is a missed shot, as Vucevic and Stepheson have both been good – albeit not great – offensive rebounders. In just four of their ten Pac-10 games have they averaged more than a point per possession, but surprisingly, they have only won one of those games. They’ve got a 1-3 record in their four best offensive games, but a 3-3 record in the games in the games in which they score less than a point per possession. I know their best chance at winning is to ugly up their games, but that is ridiculous.
Looking ahead: The Trojans host Oregon State and Oregon in an effort to prove that they haven’t quit on the season.
9. Oregon State (9-13, 4-7): This Beaver team makes an art out of being inconsistent. It seems like at every point this season when I’ve written them off completely, they respond with an improbable victory. I overreact to their win, pronounce them one of the top-five most talented teams in the conference, and then they proceed to stink up the gym for a week or two. This week, they added the win over Washington to their hysterically schizophrenic resume. Yes, they’re a young team. But after four months of playing together, you’d think they’d at least be marginally predictable. Obviously, Craig Robinson has a lot of rope in Corvallis, given that there is at least some life in this once moribund program, but I’m ready to see some results – the talent is there.
Looking ahead: A trip to sunny southern California, the home of four of the Beavers best players.
10. Arizona State (9-14, 1-10): Herb Sendek is deep in the middle of a terrible nightmare, and nobody will even do him the solid to wake him up. Nobody thought this was going to be the Arizona State team that would make Sun Devils fans forget all about James Harden or Super Mario or Byron Scott and Fat Lever. But likewise, nobody thought that they would be this bad. The Devils didn’t look great in the non-conference schedule, but they had wins over UAB and Long Beach State and Nevada at least, they played Richmond and St. John’s well. You figured, maybe a lower division Pac-10 finish, but they’ll be right around .500 when all is said and done. They opened Pac-10 play with a home split against the Oregon schools, not great, but not exactly time to slit the wrists. They mixed in a win over a decent Tulsa team in the midst of conference play, but beyond that, they’re left staring at a nine-game conference losing streak. How? This team had three senior returning starters, almost more than the rest of the league combined. This team had, and still has, some good young pieces. How is this team so bad in a year when the Pac-10 is not exactly great? Just look at their Ken Pom page and it all becomes clear. They don’t do anything well, they’re efficiency numbers are mediocre on both ends of the court, they’re terrible at getting to the line and getting on the offensive glass (although that last one is at least by design), and they’ve only got four players on the roster who just squeak over the century mark in offensive efficiency. And worst of all, for a team that relies so heavily on the three (over 40% of their field goal attempts come from behind the arc), they’re just not a very good three-point shooting team, hitting just 34.7% of their attempts from back there, good for 145th in the country. Ouch.
Looking ahead: The massacre continues when Arizona comes to visit on Sunday. Although, you have to figure, if those three-pointers ever start falling at a higher-than-historical rate, they’ll beat somebody. Right?