Here are some key takeaways from the week that was in Pac-12 basketball.
- Washington has been the most surprising team thus far in conference play. Did anyone have Washington 3-0 to start Pac-12 play with all those wins coming on the road? No one gave the Huskies much of a chance to contend in the league this year after their dismal non-conference performance when they lost at home to Albany and Nevada, but they have had a massive turnaround. Lorenzo Romar’s team is winning simply because of its improved defense. Washington held California to 47 points and Stanford to 60 points over the weekend, both of which were season lows for each team. Offensively, C.J. Wilcox has been leading the way for the Huskies in conference play, averaging 21.3 points per game and tallying a career-high nine rebounds in Washington’s most recent win against Stanford. If Lorenzo Romar can continue to get his team to play this type of aggressive physical defense, and create match-up problems like he did against the Cardinal when he used Desmond Simmons to guard Dwight Powell and Aziz N’ Diaye to guard Josh Huestis, that sixth place prediction that the Pac-12 media had for the Huskies might not look so farfetched.
- The UCLA Bruins are finally playing like most expected them to this season. After a home loss to Cal Poly and the continuous struggles on defense in the non-conference season, it seemed like we were getting the UCLA Bruins of last year. However, after their victory against Colorado in Boulder, UCLA is sporting a nine-game winning streak and looks like a much different team than we saw in November. They had previously beaten Stanford and Cal in conference play, but hadn’t been tested by a team as talented as Colorado, especially in a difficult environment. The win has earned the Bruins some of the respect that they had lost as they came in ranked at #24 in the AP poll this week. Ben Howland is relying on his talented freshmen class for scoring, most notably Shabazz Muhammad and Jordan Adams, but he has also needed the experience of former transfers Travis Wear and Larry Drew II as well. Wear was a major factor particularly in the Bruins’ win at the Coors Event Center over Colorado last weekend. The Buffaloes could not stop Wear, as he answered every time CU got near in the second half, finishing with 23 points on 11-of-17 shooting. UCLA has also been on its tear because of the complementary play of Kyle Anderson at his new power forward position, where he is averaging 10.5 rebounds per game in conference play. Ultimately it’s safe to say that UCLA is no longer a conflict-filled team unable to meet expectations. They are now a team that has fixed its early season defensive issues by going small, relying on freshmen for scoring and transfers for leadership. It’s not the typical recipe that Ben Howland has used in the past to win, but it’s working right now and things look better than they have for a long time in Westwood.