Surveying Feast Week Carnage Around the Pac-12

Posted by AMurawa on December 1st, 2014

Feast Week around the Pac-12 didn’t bring a whole lot of comfort to the conference. Seven teams around the league played in tournament-style events and only two even made it out of their first game and into the championship side of the bracket, with four of the remaining five teams taking two losses on the week. There was good news, however, as Arizona won the Maui Invitational with a workmanlike win over San Diego State and Washington earned the Wooden Legacy title with solid wins over an underwhelming field. And the teams that did not participate in tournaments this week (including Utah, who hosted a round robin event against overmatched opponents) combined to post a 10-1 record. Of course, that “1” on the right side of the record was an inexplicable Stanford loss to DePaul. Below, we’ll take a quick spin around the conference and get you caught up.

Stanley Johnson Is Turning Into A Disruptive Defensive Force (Casey Sapio, USA Today)

Stanley Johnson Is Turning Into A Disruptive Defensive Force (Casey Sapio, USA Today)

Arizona – The Wildcats have not yet looked spectacular this season, in racing out to a 6-0 start. But as they showed against the Aztecs on Wednesday, this is a team with chemistry and toughness, traits that should help them weather the storm as they work towards living up to their incredible upside. Things are coming along slowly but surely, Stanley Johnson is getting comfortable offensively and turning showing his ability to disrupt things defensively and everybody is feeling each other out. It will come all in due time; they’ve still got three months to dial things in before March rolls around. But in the meantime, even as we can pick apart little faults, the ‘Cats have confirmed what we already thought: Sean Miller’s team is the class of the conference. Read the rest of this entry »

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Pac-12 Preseason Poll and Preview Wrap-Up

Posted by Andrew Murawa on November 14th, 2014

And then there was basketball. Starting tonight, if you play your cards right, you can watch college basketball straight through for the next four months, maybe taking a Friday night off here and there to recharge the batteries. Hopefully we’ve done a good job here at the RTC Pac-12 microsite getting you ready for the season. As our last hurrah before we have actual games to talk and write about, we’d like to unveil the results of our five-man preseason poll (Adam Butler, Andrew Murawa, Connor Pelton, Kevin Danna and Tracy McDannald), linking to our team previews for each of the 12 teams in this conference. Below that we also link to our preseason All-Conference teams for one handy spot to return come March to figure out all the places we screwed up. Besides that, the recommendation from these parts is just to sit back, enjoy a tasty snack or enticing beverage, and enjoy some hoops tonight. Happy New Year everybody.

preseasonpoll

  1. Arizona. The Wildcats are our unanimous choice for first place and, all things considered, we mark them and point guard T.J. McConnell as the team to beat by a wide margin.

    T.J. McConnell and The Wildcats Are The Runaway Favorites In The Pac-12 (Lance King, Getty Images)

    T.J. McConnell and The Wildcats Are The Runaway Favorites In The Pac-12 (Lance King, Getty Images)

  2. Utah. The Utes still have a lot to prove, especially in close games, but with All-America candidate Delon Wright leading the way, their talent wins out for our voters.
  3. Stanford. The Cardinal are coming off a thrilling Sweet Sixteen run, and if the Johnny Dawkins can find a few breakout players they could be the team to challenge the Wildcats.
  4. Colorado. Tad Boyle’s squad returns all of his familiar faces, save one. One of their point guards will have to step up for the Buffaloes to sneak up the standings.
  5. UCLA. The Bruins are the conference’s blue blood, but they’ll need Isaac Hamilton to have an impactful freshman season to get much higher than this.
  6. Cal. Cuonzo Martin’s first year in the Bay Area will be a lot easier if Sam Singer steps up and earns the point guard spot.
  7. Washington. The last time the Huskies made the NCAA Tournament, Isaiah Thomas was their point guard. If they’re going to break that streak, Robert Upshaw needs to begin to live up to his promise.
  8. Oregon. Joseph Young is the team’s star, but newcomers like Dwayne Benjamin are going to have to contribute for the Ducks to have a chance.
  9. Arizona State. Guys like Jahii Carson and Jordan Bachynski are gone, meaning newcomers like Willie Atwood are feeling the pressure to produce.
  10. USC. In Andy Enfield’s second season, the Trojans are starting to look like the team he has in mind, but Jordan McLaughlin and company might need a little more experience to move up the standings.
  11. Washington State. Ernie Kent is ready to change the culture in Pullman, but in the short-term, DaVonte Lacy is the Cougars’ best bet.
  12. Oregon State. The Beavers are ready to bring in a talented recruiting class next season, but in his first year, Wayne Tinkle has to hope Gary Payton II plays a lot like his father.

Beyond all of that content, below you’ll find the rest of our preview pieces. Feel free to make fun of us for our misses, and congratulate us for our hits, when all is said and done a few months from now.

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RTC Pac-12 Preseason POY and All-Conference Teams

Posted by Andrew Murawa on November 14th, 2014

It is Opening Day around college basketball nation, and that means that it is time to unveil our picks for our Pac-12 All-Conference teams. We asked five voters (Tracy McDannald, Adam Butler, Kevin Danna, Connor Pelton and myself) to list their 15 best players in the conference, in order of #1 to #15. What follows is our collective best guess at the 15 players most worth watching in the Pac-12 this season.

Pac-12 Preseason Co-Conference Players of the Year

Delon Wright, Sr, Utah and Chasson Randle, Sr, Stanford. Wright and Randle tied atop our poll and each player received two first-place votes among our five voters, so they’ll share this preseason honor. This first bit to note is that, in an era of star freshmen and one-and-dones and very few elite upperclassmen to speak of, not only do two seniors share our Preseason POY honor, but more than half of the 15 players on our three teams are seniors, with just three underclassmen (one freshman and two sophomores) on our list.

Delon Wright's Versatile And Efficient Game Has The Utes Pac-12 Contenders (Rick Egan, The Salt Lake Tribune)

Delon Wright’s Versatile And Efficient Game Has The Utes Pac-12 Contenders (Rick Egan, The Salt Lake Tribune)

But, let’s focus on our POYs for a second. First, Wright. After earning plaudits in the Utes’ early season practices last year, he announced his presence to the college basketball world by racking up ridiculous lines against overmatched opponents — witness the 17 points on 7-of-8 shooting, 10 boards, seven assists, seven steals and three blocks in the Utes’ opener last season; or the 12 points, nine boards, six assists and two blocks he followed that up with. Sure, those games were against Evergreen State and UC Davis, but as the season advanced, the story they told about him remained the same: a highly efficient player capable of positively affecting the game for his team in a variety of ways. Look at his final traditional numbers on the year: 36.4 MPG, 15.5 PPG, 6.8 RPG, 5.3 APG, 2.5 SPG, 1.3 BPG, 56.1% FG, 79.3% FT. The only glaring weakness was his inability to regularly knock in three-point shots (22.2% on 54 attempts). Oh, and there was that little issue about his team struggling in close games and missing the NCAA Tournament. That last bit? That’s the area Wright needs to change the most this season. For Wright to be in consideration for Pac-12 Player of the Year at the end of the season, we can forgive a little bit of a backslide on last year’s spectacular individual numbers so long as the talented Utes live up to their potential, push Arizona a little bit in the conference standings, and wind up dancing come March. Read the rest of this entry »

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Pac-12 Season Previews: Washington State Cougars

Posted by Andrew Murawa on November 6th, 2014

The Pac-12 microsite will preview each of its league teams over the next few weeks, continuing today with Washington State.

Washington State Cougars

Strengths. Washington State has two things in particular really going for it: (1) DaVonte Lacy, and (2) newness. Lacy himself isn’t new, but he is excellent, as we’ve already detailed this year. But what is new is the culture around the program. Ken Bone is both a fine man and basketball coach, but he had his chance in a place where it is ridiculously hard to succeed and he just couldn’t get it done. That’s no knock against him; many have tried there and failed before. But without a doubt, the excitement level around this program significantly waned to last year’s low point. Enter Ernie Kent. He’s had success in this conference before, and he brings with him a new energy to the program. Make no mistake, he’s got a lot of work ahead of him in convincing talent to come to Pullman, but at least the program gets a fresh start.

New Head Coach Ernie Kent Brings New Hope To The Paloose (Geoff Crimmins, AP Photo)

New Head Coach Ernie Kent Brings New Hope To The Paloose (Geoff Crimmins, AP Photo)

Weaknesses. Everything else. Really, aside from Lacy and sophomore wing Que Johnson, you could make a fair argument that no one else on this roster has any business playing significant minutes in the Pac-12. At the very least, nobody else has proven that worth. Everywhere else on the floor, Kent needs to find temporary solutions. Sophomore Ike Iroegbu figures to start at the point guard slot, but he’s still a work in progress and more comfortable off the ball. He has three freshmen with varying degrees of comfort ready to challenge him for that role. And then up front, wow, it is a mess. Only D.J. Shelton kept the Cougs from being completely overmatched in the paint last year, and he’s already used up his eligibility. At least one of Jordan Railey, Josh Hawkinson or JuCo transfer Aaron Cheatum is going to need to surprise.

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Trick or Treat: Pac-12 Edition

Posted by Adam Butler on October 31st, 2014

Adam Butler (@pachoopsab) of Pachoops.com is back for another go-round on his March to Vegas.

Trick or Treat? DaVonte Lacy, Pac-12 Player of the Year contender. As much as I’d like for us to be treated to this, I’m afraid the firepower just isn’t there. POYs often fill the stat sheet and Lacy can do that as well as anyone. Heck, Dan Hanner and Luke Winn think he’ll score at the fourth highest clip in the nation. Furthermore, these guys project that Lacy will have a 27 percent usage rate. He’s going to have the ball. But he’s not going to have the wins.

DaVonte Lacy Will Be Awesome, But Can He Overcome His Team's Struggles To Win POY (credit: Dean Hare)

DaVonte Lacy Will Be Awesome, But Can He Overcome His Team’s Struggles To Win POY (credit: Dean Hare)

Trick or Treat? Colorado got a jump-start on this season following the Spencer Dinwiddie injury. Big fat trick. But that’s what Tad Boyle is calling it and while he’s smarter than me, he also has to lead a team to believe (trick them if you will) that they’re not a 9-10 group with a 96 Offensive Rating. I appreciate the leadership. But I don’t think it was a jump-start because at the same time the Buffs lost Tre’Shaun Fletcher. He’d been one of their more productive freshmen before busting his own knee. He’ll likely see significant court time, improving what already projects to be a substantial frontcourt. The Colorado narrative centers around Josh Scott and Askia Booker, but Fletcher could be a big part of jump-starting this season.

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Pac-12 Media Day Roundup: Part One

Posted by Adam Butler (@pachoopsab) on October 24th, 2014

Adam Butler (@pachoopsab) of Pachoops.com is back for another go-round on his March to Vegas. He covered the Pac-12 Media Day in San Francisco on Thursday. Check back later in the day for his notes on the conference’s other six teams.

In Case You Needed A Reminder, Pac-12 Media Day Means Actual Basketball Games Are Just Around the Corner

In Case You Needed A Reminder, Pac-12 Media Day Means Actual Basketball Games Are Just Around the Corner

USC

Coach Andy Enfield took the stage with his starting power forward (or center, Enfield noted both), Nikola Jovanovic, and provided opening remarks lasting about as long as a USC possession: 16 seconds. It was swift and brief. He was complimentary of his fellow, on-stage Trojan, and left the rest to us. Which is probably indicative of the program he’s building. It is just year two and arguably the least interesting season during a rebuild. It’s neither new and exciting nor developed enough to garner much attention. His team is picked to finish 10th, but he likes what he’s building, “We have more athleticism, better shooting. We have an elite freshman point guard (Jordan McLaughlin) we recruited,” said Enfield. These components, he notes, are and will become major parts of what we presume is the Enfield system, aka Dunk City, aka Galen Dunk Center. The addition of McLaughlin is huge, and, without directly saying it, Enfield knows how important he is to their future, “We’re expecting big things from him. I think he came to USC for that opportunity, to be relied upon as a freshman. He’ll have that opportunity. We’re excited for him.” Which is great because I am, too! I’ll be closely following McLaughlin’s progress as his commitment to USC, rather than UCLA when the Bruins were in dire need for a 2014 point guard, is a fascinating storyline to this season. USC might play in flashes and make swift opening remarks, but they just might be a program to stick around awhile.

Washington State

Easily the most charismatic of the coaches, Ernie Kent considered himself back from sabbatical: “Any coach that has coached 30-plus years needs a sabbatical. I’m just amazed at what it’s done for me in terms of your energy, your spirt.” Energy and spirit he provided. He was colorful and funny, even having a slight back-and-forth with his accompanying star, DaVonte Lacy. The two seemed to understand the challenges ahead considering the roster in Pullman and the depth of the conference. But Lacy believes they have the unique opportunity to come together, build on chemistry and do something special. It’s something he learned in his short stint with the Pac-12 All-Star team while in China and it’s something he expanded upon when I asked him about leadership, “Being someone that’s been through the fire already, preparing [newcomers] to go through it, that’s how I’m approaching leadership.” Lacy hopes to galvanize this group, building chemistry and subsequently surprising a few people with what the Cougars can do. And speaking of surprises, can you imagine a “lost” Ernie Kent knocking on your door looking for directions? “Hi, I’m lost. I’m also your new basketball coach.” It’s something Kent has been doing in trying to energize the Cougars fan base, “I’ve tried to make myself available as much as possible… it’s been fun getting out and meeting people in Pullman.” Like I said, the most charismatic of the 12 lead gentlemen.

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What You Missed: DaVonte Lacy Edition

Posted by Andrew Murawa on October 17th, 2014

If you were one of those people who went out of your way to avoid watching Washington State play basketball last season, no one can blame you; and second, and more to the point, you missed out on watching one of the best players in the conference put on a pretty impressive performance out of the spotlight. You see, DaVonte Lacy was pretty amazing last year. Just look at his traditional numbers (19.4 PPG, 4.2 RPG, 1.4 APG, 42.9 FG%) and yeah, whatever, they’re pretty good. But take those numbers, and some of the advanced ones, in the context of what Washington State basketball was last season, and they paint a picture that was more readily apparent when you watched the Cougars play: You see, Lacy was a special player on a team that was looking up at mediocre.

DaVonte Lacy Blew Up In His Junior Year Despite Drawing The Attention Of Opposing Defenses (credit: Dean Hare)

DaVonte Lacy Blew Up In His Junior Year Despite Drawing The Attention Of Opposing Defenses (credit: Dean Hare)

The fact is that the 2013-14 Cougars did not have a whole lot in the way of players who could hurt you offensively. Freshman Que Johnson had some moments here and there. Senior power forward D.J. Shelton could blow hot, at times, but tended to drift too far from the lane for a 6’10” guy. And Royce Woolridge may have started the season as a hot name, but he turned into a disaster as the year went on. In other words, when Washington State took the court, the opposing team knew that stopping Lacy was priority number one; nobody else the Cougs threw out there could be considered a consistent threat. So, Lacy put up those 19.4 points per game in the face of defenses dedicated to slowing him.

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Pac-12 Post-Mortems: Washington State

Posted by Andrew Murawa on April 14th, 2014

Over the next couple of weeks, we’ll go through each Pac-12 team one by one and recount the season that has just completed and begin to turn the page to what we might see next season. Today, Washington State.

What Went Wrong

Lots. The Cougars finished the season 140th in the nation in defensive efficiency, and they were far better on the defensive end of the court than they were on the offensive end. If you just look through the Washington State KenPom page and sort through all the stats, the only place where you see any type of green (which means good) is in its defensive rebounding numbers. Everywhere else it is red. Shooting the ball; keeping the other team from shooting ball well; turning it over; getting to the foul line; not fouling defensively; shooting the three; shooting the two; shooting the one; blocking shots; creating steals. In none of these areas (and more) were the Cougars even an average basketball team. Thus, it should be no surprise that they lost 17 of their final 21 games and Ken Bone is now the former head coach at Washington State.

It Was A Rough Season For Ken Bone And The Cougars, And The Washington State Program Will Now Move On Without Him (AP)

It Was A Rough Season For Ken Bone And The Cougars, And The Washington State Program Will Now Move On Without Him (AP)

What Went Right

Not much. Above we mentioned that the one area where Washington State was very good was defensive rebounding, in large part due to the efforts of senior center D.J. Shelton (third in the nation in defensive rebounding percentage). So there was that. Beyond that, the only other bright spot is something we’ll get to in our next bullet point.

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Pac-12 Superlatives: Coach, Newcomer, Freshman of the Year and More

Posted by Andrew Murawa on March 10th, 2014

We announced our Player of the Year and All-Conference teams earlier today, now to dig a little bit deeper with the rest of our All-Conference Awards.

Coach of the Year

Sean Miller, Arizona – This was a no-brainer, as all three of our voters opted for the head coach of the conference champion. Not only did Miller put together a heaping pile of talent in Tucson, but he’s got the group to all buy in to a single goal. They’re all committed defensively, they work together as a single unit, covering for each other. And when Brandon Ashley went down with a broken foot in February, Miller was able to shift on the fly, remaking his team to give it the best chance come March. Many times, a coach is punished in these Coach of the Year votes for having the best talent. This time around, despite Miller having the best team in the league, there should be little argument that he deserves the nod.

Sean Miller Has Done A Brilliant Job Molding The Talented Wildcats Into A True Team (Arizona Athletics)

Sean Miller Has Done A Brilliant Job Molding The Talented Wildcats Into A True Team (Arizona Athletics)

Newcomer of the Year

Delon Wright, Utah – In his first year in Salt Lake City after a stint at the City College of San Francisco, Wright was something of an unknown coming into the season. And then, as the Utes were running roughshod over undermanned opponents in the early schedule, it was hard to tell if Wright’s ridiculous numbers were legitimate. Four months later, there is no such worry;  not only are his numbers legit, he’s one of the handful of best players in the league. He led his team in scoring, assists, steals, blocks and minutes. He posted a 59.7 eFG%, an absolutely ludicrous number for a point guard. And he helped shift the climate in the Huntsman Center from that of a program used to losing to one that now expects to win.

Defensive Player of the Year

Nick Johnson, Arizona – Our three voters are a small sample size, perhaps accounting for this surprising result, but Johnson edged Arizona State’s Jordan Bachynski on the basis of his hounding perimeter defense for the most efficient defensive team in the nation.

Nick Johnson: He's Not Just Our Player of the Year, He's Our Defensive Player Of the Year (Christian Petersen, Getty Images)

Nick Johnson: He’s Not Just Our Player of the Year, He’s Our Defensive Player Of the Year (Christian Petersen, Getty Images)

Freshman of the Year

Aaron Gordon, Arizona – So often, the talk about Gordon is about the things he can’t do, and admittedly, he’s a pretty poor shooter. But, he wouldn’t be our unanimous Freshman of the Year and a second-team all-conference guy if he were defined strictly by what he can’t do. Because, what he can do is pretty special. Athletically alone, he is in the upper 1% of all Division I college basketball players. His versatility – being able to guard not only fours and fives like Josh Scott and Dwight Powell, but also ones and twos like Chasson Randle and Spencer Dinwiddie – allow the Wildcats to switch everything defensively and match up with whatever the opponent puts on the court without tweaking their own personnel. And then his ability to rebound and finish around the rim, or his keen passing eye or developing game off the bounce? It is no wonder NBA scouts drool over his potential.

Sixth-Man of The Year

Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Arizona – What you want most from a sixth-man is the willingness to do whatever is needed to help the team achieve its goals. Sometimes that means a gunner coming in off the bench to provide instant offense, like Jason Calliste at Oregon. Or a complete change of blood like Bryce Alford and Zach LaVine provide at UCLA. But Hollis-Jefferson is the consummate sixth-man, so much so that when Brandon Ashley went down for the year, Hollis-Jefferson was ready and willing to step into the starting lineup. And then, three games later, when Sean Miller decided it would be better for him to return to his role off the bench, he did so without complaint. Oh, and it also helps that he’s really good, a terrific defender that fits in perfectly with the rest of the squad, an aggressive rebounder and a skilled slasher.

Most Improved

Davonte Lacy, Washington State – On a team that lost go-to scorer Brock Motum, the junior guard took over the reigns as the Cougars best offensive option. His scoring average jumped from 10 PPG to almost 20, his shooting percentages went up across the board and his usage numbers skyrocketed as well. It may not have been the year Ken Bone envisioned, but it certainly wasn’t Lacy’s fault.

All-Freshman Team

  • Aaron Gordon, Arizona
  • Nigel Williams-Goss, Washington
  • Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Arizona
  • Zach LaVine, UCLA
  • Bryce Alford, UCLA

All-Defensive Team

  • Nick Johnson, Arizona
  • Jordan Bachynski, Arizona State
  • Aaron Gordon, Arizona
  • Delon Wright, Utah
  • Jordan Adams, UCLA
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Marching to Vegas: The Final Steps

Posted by Adam Butler (@pachoopsab) on March 7th, 2014

Adam Butler (@pachoopsab) of Pachoops again will be joining us all year, providing us with his weekly take on our favorite conference, as we begin the March to Las Vegas.We find ourselves on the penultimate day of the basketball season. A season, like those before it, that has seen highs and low, cliché, cliché, cliché. I’ve been critical of the Pac, supportive of the Pac, predictive, analytical, and funny. I’ve defended it multiple times and sang praise, too. I’ve linked this entire lead. But the point here is that we’re here. The calendar has turned to our favorite month. Our March to Vegas is over. Our season embarks into the madness of sudden death and the promise of possibility. Tournaments begin (ultimately two of them) with abundant hope and now I’m getting lost in Waltonian hyperbole; but if not hyperbole then what is March for? I mean, look at our first and only conference games thus far in the month. The home and road teams have nearly split their contests. To date, home teams had been winning at a greater than 66 percent clip. Suddenly we get to the third month on the calendar and nothing becomes predictable. Each of Wednesday’s road teams won and then, in perhaps the most unexpected of outcomes, the Trojans got their second victory. Indeed we’re knee deep in the madness and we aren’t even in Vegas yet.

Behind A High-Flying Arizona Team, The Pac Is Back, Right? (Ralph Freso, Getty Images North America)

Behind A High-Flying Arizona Team, The Pac Is Back, Right? (Ralph Freso, Getty Images North America)

But before we get there, I’d like to revisit our first thought. When I lauded that the Pac was back before nary a game was played. Is it back? Or, perhaps more aptly said, has it returned? With the benefit of hindsight, I’d say it is. Look at what we have: arguably the best crop of guards in the nation and the best defense the nation has to offer. We watched the emergence of Utah, a budding program under the hard-nosed and determined watch of Larry Krystkowiak. And have you watched Delon Wright? I didn’t see that coming and if you did, link me to what you said about it because I’d like to buy you a drink. What a phenomenal player who is coming back next season. And still has this season to play (I see you, Vegas). Further, we watched what I believe to be the best backcourt in the country. Or at least the most dynamic. Between Kyle Anderson and Jordan Adams, is there anything they can’t do? And if there is, they could just toss it up to Zach LaVine and it might be all right.

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Battle of Basement in Pac-12 Features Coaches Heading in Opposite Directions

Posted by Kenny Ocker (@kennyocker) on March 7th, 2014

Kenny Ocker (@kennyocker) is a national columnist for Rush The Court. He filed this report after USC and Washington State played Thursday night in Pullman, Washington.

What do you expect when you watch two teams who are in the bottom half of their conference in nearly every rate statistic, the two bottom teams in offensive and defensive efficiency, two teams that have combined for three wins since January? Let’s just call this one “aesthetically challenged” and leave it at that. Whether it’s giving up an and-one off an inbounds play or airballing a free throw, there was nothing that made Washington State look good in its 79-68 home loss to rebuilding USC on Thursday night. Having taken a 36-35 lead into halftime and starting the second half with an 8-0 run including three-pointers from guards DaVonte Lacy and Dexter Kernich-Drew and a dunk from forward D.J. Shelton, the Cougars looked to be on track for an easy victory against a Trojans team that hadn’t won since January 22. But USC came out with a 1-2-1-1 zone press that disrupted Washington State’s flow, and a 15-2 USC run turned the tide of the game.

It's been a up-and-down first year for Andy Enfield, but the Trojans did pick up a solid road win Thursday evening. (AP)

It’s been a up-and-down first year for Andy Enfield, but the Trojans did pick up a solid road win Thursday evening. (AP)

“We knew that they would press at some stage,” Kernich-Drew said. “We got lazy.” In the 12 minutes following the Cougars’ 8-0 run, the Trojans turned a 44-35 deficit into a 70-53 lead, capped off by a three-pointer from USC guard Byron Wesley, who finished with 31 points and 10 rebounds. From there, head coach Andy Enfield’s team weathered a too-little-too-late run and held on for its  first road victory since Valentine’s Day 2013 at Stanford. (Back then, Enfield was just a coach at a small Division I school that nobody had heard of unless they were die-hard fans of accurate free throw shooters.) The victory gave USC the tiebreaker for 11th place in the Pac-12, with each two-win team far adrift of the rest of the conference.

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Cal’s Defense the Key to a Run to the NCAA Tournament

Posted by Kenny Ocker (@kennyocker) on February 13th, 2014

Kenny Ocker (@kennyocker) is a national columnist for Rush The Court. He filed this report after California and Washington State played Wednesday night in Pullman, Washington.

Seemingly half of the Pac-12 has been considered the conference’s second-best team this season as Arizona continues to run away with the title. First it was Oregon, but the Ducks lost that title to California when the Golden Bears came into Eugene and left with a 96-83 win in mid-January. Cal held that distinction for all of two weeks before a loss to rebuilding USC began a stretch of five losses in six games. Curiously, that one win was over then-undefeated and #1 Arizona. So the Bears are a confusing bunch, led by their suddenly porous defense and inept offense. Entering last night’s game against Washington State, they had scored more than a point per possession once in their previous five games, and only held their opponents to under a point per possession once in the same span.

Behind a superb second half from Justin Cobbs, the Bears found a way to pull it out in OT. (Getty)

Behind a superb second half from Justin Cobbs, the Bears found a way to pull it out in OT. (Getty)

After Washington State junior guard DaVonte Lacy hung 39 points on them Wednesday night, including eight three-pointers, it’s safe to say Cal’s defense isn’t fixed, even if its offense showed up in a 80-76 overtime win in Pullman. In fact, the Cougars scored more points per possession than the Bears, but lost the opening tip-off and the overtime tip as well, and the Bears had the last possession in all three periods. Cal’s per-possession defensive performance was its worst in more than two months, dating back to an early December home win against Nevada, although last night’s win was just its second since beating Washington State in Berkeley a month ago.

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