California Basketball: Built on Toughness and Smarts

Posted by AMurawa on February 13th, 2012

The big news out of California’s trip to Los Angeles this weekend was the Bears’ first season sweep of both UCLA and USC since the 1958-59 season, an accomplishment that left head coach Mike Montgomery mostly wondering “what’s been going on since 1958?” But the details behind that accomplishment are the important part. And paying attention to details is exactly how Cal pulled off the sweep this weekend. Against UCLA, for example, when big man Joshua Smith entered the game for the Bruins a couple minutes in, he went to work immediately, drawing three early fouls on Golden Bear bigs who were late and a bit tentative when bringing the monster double team. However, after Smith scored five points on the first three possessions where he touched the ball, Cal tightened up that double team with their forwards and got help from their guards trying to cut off the angle to feed the post. “In their offense, they really try to create angles for Smith, just because of how big his body is, and once he gets the ball in there, he can move pretty much anyone in the country around,” said forward Robert Thurman. “So, we just tried to cut off that initial angle and then the monster double was able to come and help out when he did get the ball.” As such, for the final 35 minutes or so of the game, Smith was never again a major positive force for UCLA, just one example of how the Golden Bear defense is able to X-and-O to minimize their opponent’s strengths.

Harper Kamp, Cal

Harper Kamp Headlines A Tough Cal Frontcourt (Sean Goebel/The Daily Californian)

That Cal frontcourt was tested significantly on Saturday, and responded with aplomb. After David Kravish and Harper Kamp both picked up two first half fouls (Kravish picked up his second at the 17:30 mark, Kamp at 8:11), Thurman and Bak Bak were called on to help out along the front line and between the two of them the provided 33 total minutes, nine points, five boards and plenty of tough defense against Smith and the Wear twins (who combined to shoot just 5-of-19 in the game). While the lack of depth along the front line is something of a concern heading into March, on Saturday it was no problem. The frontcourt as a whole may not get the accolades that the flashier backcourt gets, but they’re a big component to Cal’s success. “They’re always in the right spot, they do a great job rebounding the ball, and on defense they’re doing a great job of defending and helping on screens,” said guard Justin Cobbs. When you think of the Golden Bears, it is likely their backcourt that comes to mind first, but the front line is always producing.

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Pac-12 Morning Five: 02.13.12 Edition

Posted by AMurawa on February 13th, 2012

  1. This weekend, for once in the Pac-12, all of the upper echelon teams still competing for a conference title took care of the lower-tier teams. The only losses among the top five teams in the conference came against other top five teams – Colorado’s loss to Arizona and Washington’s loss at Oregon, both on Thursday night. But now, with five games left on everyone’s conference schedule, we’ve got five teams all within a game of first place. California earned its spot at the top of the standings by building up a 17-point second half lead against UCLA and then withstanding a late charge, earning its 20th win of the year. With the win, head coach Mike Montgomery became the first Cal coach to win 20 or more games in three of his first four years at the school, while the Golden Bears also completed a regular season sweep of the Los Angeles schools for the first time since 1959. UCLA sophomore center Joshua Smith got off to a strong start in that loss against Cal, scoring five points on his first three possessions and racking up two fouls on Cal freshman forward David Kravish and another on senior Harper Kamp. But, over the next 35 minutes he managed just five more points and was frustrated by Golden Bear double teams and his own conditioning issues. While it isn’t exactly breaking news that Smith is overweight and in poor physical condition, leave it to Bill Plaschke to get Smith on record as saying he “didn’t do anything” to prepare for this year over the offseason. Smith claims that he’ll be putting in the work this offseason in preparation for his junior year, but we’ll have to wait and see just how well that goes.
  2. Washington got back on track and maintained its own hold on a piece of first place with a 75-72 win at Oregon State last night. The game was sloppy on both ends, but was intensely competed and the Huskies had to hit 10 of 15 free throws down the stretch to hold on to the lead. Terrence Ross, C.J. Wilcox and Tony Wroten led the scoring for the Huskies with 50 points between them, but they all struggled from the field, hitting just 15 of their 44 field goal attempts (37.5% eFG) on the night. Jared Cunningham led all scorers with 23 points, be he too was inefficient, needing 20 shots to get his points. While the Huskies are technically tied with Cal for first place, the Golden Bears beat U-Dub earlier in the year, and that game will not be returned due to the unbalanced schedule in the Pac-12, meaning Cal holds the tiebreaker.
  3. Arizona pulled out a win on Saturday over Utah, but it was in no way a win that left Sean Miller feeling pleased with his team. The Wildcats trailed the 5-20 Utes for the first 27 minutes of the game, and didn’t claim the lead for good until a Nick Johnson three with 1:24 remaining put Zona up 64-61. Six free throws down the stretch provided a final margin of nine points, but UA was definitely fortunate to come away with the win. The Wildcats’ problems began well before tipoff, as senior guard Kyle Fogg was late for a pregame walk-through and was removed from the starting lineup as a result. As for the game itself, Miller described his team’s play as “alarming,” “disappointing,” and “pathetic” and mentioned that at least half of his seven-man rotation was not playing with maximum possible energy. The Wildcats travel to the Washington schools next week, so they’ll need to put out a much better effort to extend their four-game winning streak.
  4. The other two teams sitting a game back of the leaders also took care of business on Saturday, as Colorado earned its second road win of the conference season by taking care of Arizona State, and Oregon completed a sweep of the Washington schools by outlasting Washington State. E.J. Singler led the way for the Ducks with 23 points and four threes and also had a major hand in limiting the Cougs’ leading scorer, Brock Motum, to just 15 points, and just one point in the final 15 minutes. In Tempe, it was freshman guard Spencer Dinwiddie leading the way for the Buffaloes with 15 points, five rebounds and three threes. The Buffs will pick back up next week on the road again, with a trip to Salt Lake City to face Utah scheduled for Saturday. After that, however, the final four games of the season will go a long way towards determining CU’s fate: they host Cal and Stanford before traveling to the Oregon schools the last week of the regular season.
  5. Lastly, Stanford won for just the second time in seven games on Sunday when they took apart a struggling USC team, 59-47. The Cardinal dominated on the glass, grabbing 97% of their defensive rebound opportunities and 41.3% of the rebounds on the offensive end, and they held the Trojans to just 35.4% eFG. But, with Stanford now out of the race for the conference title, the highlight of the game had to be junior forward Andy Brownhe of the three knee surgeries – scoring the first field goal of his Stanford career. Brown played eight minutes on Sunday, and has now played 21 minutes on the season, but his battle back despite injuries could be something to build on for the Cardinal going forward. Quickly, on the USC front, after a solid 8-for-13 performance Thursday night, sophomore guard Maurice Jones returned to form, hoisting 14 shots and hitting only two against the Cardinal. He’s now shooting just a 41.3% eFG on the season.
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Pac-12 Morning Five: 2.10.12 Edition

Posted by AMurawa on February 10th, 2012

  1. It seems like I have spent the last couple days talking and writing about how if Washington could just string together a patch of wins here down the stretch, they could earn themselves an at-large bid regardless of the holes in their résumé. And, typical of what we have come to expect of the Huskies over the past several years, just when you start buying what they are selling in the regular season, they go out and get punked on the road, just like they did Thursday night, losing at Oregon by 25 in a game that was never in doubt. The Ducks scored the first eight points of the game, shot 64.3% from the field in the first half and then coasted in the second half. No Husky who played more than ten minutes in the game shot better than 50% from the field, their top three scorers–Tony Wroten, Terrence Ross, and C.J. Wilcox–combined for 32 points on 12-of-35 shooting, with a ten turnovers between them, and the entire team shot just two-for-16 from deep. The loss drops Washington back into a first place tie while Oregon moves to within a game of first place.
  2. In the other big game of the night, Arizona continued its hot streak, taking care of Colorado by 14 in their third consecutive strong performance. While the Wildcats have struggled to find consistency in the first three months of the season, now they are playing like a cohesive unit, even as they are limited to just a seven-man rotation. Thursday night, the veteran trio of Jesse Perry, Solomon Hill, and Kyle Fogg did the heavy lifting, scoring 17, 16, and 15 points respectively, while guys like Nick Johnson, Josiah Turner, Brendon Lavender, and Angelo Chol slid comfortably into their roles and took care of business. Combined with the other results in the conference, the Wildcats now find themselves within a game of first and rolling at just the right time. Colorado is also a game back of first place, but their struggles on the road will need to be mended if they hope to seriously challenge for the title; they are now 1-4 in Pac-12 road games with the sole win coming against 1-11 USC.
  3. Speaking of USC, they got to 1-11 by getting taken apart in the second half by California last night. After a hard-fought first half that saw the Trojans down by just six going into the locker room, the Golden Bears rode Harper Kamp’s hot streak after the break (he hit his first seven shots of the second half), while freshman forward David Kravish dominated the undermanned Trojan squad on the glass, grabbing a career-high 18 boards. Coupled with the Washington loss, the Golden Bears again find themselves tied at the top of the conference.
  4. UCLA will be Cal’s next opponent on Saturday, and Thursday night the Bruins took care of business against Stanford, using a late 10-0 to finally put away a pesky Cardinal team in a game that saw both teams put together a variety of runs. It was a sloppy affair, with the teams combining for 41 turnovers, but in the end it was the Bruins’ ability to turn Stanford’s turnovers into points that decided the game, as UCLA scored 28 points off of their 22 forced turnovers. Lazeric Jones had 21 points, six assists and six steals, while freshman Chasson Randle was the only Stanford player to score in double figures, with 16.
  5. At the bottom of the conference, Arizona State welcomed back junior guard Trent Lockett with a win over Utah. Lockett had 12 points and six boards in his return, but it was the combination of Jordan Bachynski (11 points, 12 rebounds) and Carrick Felix (15 points, eight rebounds) that put the Sun Devils over the top. Meanwhile, in Corvallis, the maddening Oregon State conference season continued with a ten-point home loss to Washington State, despite Jared Cunningham filling the stat sheet in a big way. The player of the year candidate had 33 points, including five three-pointers, six rebounds, a couple of assists, three steals, two blocks, and even four turnovers for good measure. Teammate Ahmad Starks struggled, however, hoisting 13 threes and only making two on a miserable night. On the other end of the court, however, Washington State’s own POTY candidate, Brock Motum, continued his hot streak, scoring 24 points and adding nine rebounds. Since Faisal Aden’s season ending injury, Motum has averaged 27.3 points and nine rebounds over four games.
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Pac-12 Morning Five: 02.07.12 Edition

Posted by AMurawa on February 7th, 2012

  1. Last week at this time, California sat at #30 in the RPI, one of the factors that the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee uses to determine at-large participants. However, after losing at home to Arizona on Saturday, its RPI fell to #48, giving us an excellent example of just how tenuous of a claim Pac-12 schools have toward an NCAA Tournament at-large bid. The win did bump Arizona up to #62 from #85, while Washington, the conference leader, still sits at #72. For perspective, an RPI in the 30s will very likely get you in, while pushing up into the 40s will leave you wondering on Selection Sunday eve. In short, odds are getting stronger that the only team that will be truly comfortable when they tune into CBS on Selection Sunday is the winner of the conference tournament.
  2. We gave our Pac-12 Player of the Week award to Joshua Smith for his big weekend in Washington, but the Pac-12 handed out the hardware to Arizona senior guard Kyle Fogg, a worthy recipient based on his well-rounded weekend leading the Wildcats to a road sweep of the Bay Area schools. It is Fogg’s first ever POTW honor, and the 83rd all-time selection for an Arizona player.
  3. Yesterday we mentioned the injuries that Cal’s Allen Crabbe and Harper Kamp suffered in their game against Arizona State on Saturday, but today Mike Montgomery confirmed that the injuries aren’t anything to worry about and that both players will practice and play this weekend when the Golden Bears head to the Los Angeles schools. Meanwhile, Arizona State junior guard Trent Lockett will likely return to action this week for the Sun Devils after missing six games with a badly sprained right ankle. The team’s leading scorer took over the point guard duties for Herb Sendek following the team’s dismissal of Keala King, but may be able to return to more of a wing role now that junior guard Chris Colvin has had some success running the point. Nevertheless, ASU has gone 1-5 in Lockett’s absence.
  4. The Pac-12 is probably no different than other leagues around the country in that fans from one end of the conference to the other think the officiating, um, isn’t very good. Oregon fans are the latest to take up the call for better officiating, following their loss to Colorado Saturday night on a controversial last-second foul call. Conference commissioner Larry Scott made it a priority to work on improving the work of Pac-12 football officials last year, and here’s hoping a similar initiative is in the works for the basketball side of things. However, there is a significant barrier in the way: Basketball officials aren’t tied to or affiliated with any one conference, but rather work a variety of games with teams from different conferences involved. But, to this point, Scott has worked wonders in his time with the conference, so hope remains that he can work on improving the state of officiating in Pac-12 basketball.
  5. And lastly, speaking of the commissioner, he was awarded with a contract extension to 2016 yesterday, unanimously approved by all 12 university presidents. In his first two years as the Commish, he has expanded the conference to 12 schools (and twice almost bumped it up to 16), scored a huge new television deal with ESPN and Fox that begins next year and will include a Pac-12 television network, and just generally done a great job marketing and promoting the conference not only around the West, but nationally and even internationally. Now, USC fans may not be all that enamored of Scott, but the rest of the conference seems to be mighty pleased with the way things are being done under the new commissioner.
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Pac-12 Morning Five: Super Bowl Hangover Edition

Posted by AMurawa on February 6th, 2012

    1. Washington sits all alone at the top of the Pac-12 standings after completing a home sweep of the Los Angeles schools this weekend. After struggling in nonconference play, the Huskies now control their own fate in the league and have one of the easier remaining schedules in conference play. While they only have two of their remaining seven games at home, the combined conference record of their remaining opponents is just 33-44. It is interesting to note that the two teams directly behind them in the standings, California and Colorado, are in a similar boat, having to play five of their final seven games on the road as well. Washington has historically struggled on the road in recent years, but this year they are 3-1 away from home in conference play.
    2. Colorado is one of the teams lurking a game back of the Huskies, and they are there on the strength of a last-second victory over Oregon on Saturday night. The Buffaloes remained perfect at home in Pac-12 play when senior guard Nate Tomlinson, with the game tied and just four seconds remaining, took the ball the length of the floor and drew a block from Oregon junior E.J. Singler with just one second left on the clock. He hit the first of his two free throws, then purposefully missed the second one, and the Buffaloes escaped with a hard-fought win. The call on the Tomlinson/Singler play at the end of the game was controversial, to say the least. The video is below. Jump to the 45 second mark for the full final scenario and decide for yourself. My call? Swallow the whistle, ref, and let’s play five more.

Video: Highlights: Oregon – Colorado

3.  California is tied with the Buffs in second place after putting a hurting on an undermanned Arizona State squad on Saturday. Cal forced 20 ASU turnovers, converted those miscues into 34 points and were never seriously challenged in a 68-47 victory. The only downsides of the game for the Golden Bears were a couple of injuries, a sprained ankle suffered by leading scorer Allen Crabbe in the second half, and a dislocated finger for Harper Kamp. Mike Montgomery dismissed the injuries after the game, but they may be something worth keeping an eye on next week as the Bears travel south for games with the Los Angeles schools next weekend.

4.  The biggest accomplishments of the weekend belong to Sean Miller and his Arizona team, who went into the Bay Area and came out with a two-game road sweep. The Wildcats capped off the weekend by completely discombobulating the Stanford offense, holding the Cardinal to just a 27.8% eFG and just six assists on their 16 field goals. Kyle Fogg was excellent all weekend for the ‘Cats, displaying heady defense in both games and coming away with 37 points, eight assists, seven rebounds, three steals, a couple blocks and eight three-pointers for the trip. The young Wildcat backcourt tandem of Nick Johnson and Josiah Turner also displayed excellent defensive intensity throughout the road trip, and while their offense is still a work in progress, they may be playing their best ball as a duo of their young careers.

5.  Lastly, we have a Joshua Smith sighting. UCLA’s sophomore big man had his first set of back-to-back double-figure scoring games in Pac-12 play this weekend, backing up his career-high of 24 points on Thursday night with another 19 in a three-point Bruin win at Washington State. Despite dealing with constant good-natured verbal abuse from the home crowd in his return to his home state this weekend, Smith seems to be coming along just in time for a stretch run for UCLA. He hit 17 of his 22 field goal attempts this weekend, averaged seven rebounds a night, and was actually seen sprinting down the court on a semi-regular basis. Given the depths to which Smith’s conditioning plummeted at the start of this season, whether you’re a UCLA supporter or not, it is good to see a kid who is working towards being able to fulfill his ample potential.

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Pac-12 Game of the Week: Stanford at California

Posted by AMurawa on January 29th, 2012

Stanford at California, January 29, 5:30 PM PST, FSN

The Big Game, basketball edition (part one), lost a bit of its luster last weekend when Stanford got swept by the Washington schools, but with California sitting tied atop the conference standings with Oregon, and with the Cardinal sitting just a game back, there is still plenty of importance to go around here.

Aaron Bright, Stanford

Aaron Bright And Stanford Have Slowed A Bit As The Quality Of Opponent Has Increased (photo credit: Liza Hafalia, San Francisco Chronicle)

For the Cardinal, after losing just one of their first 11 games – and that one to Syracuse at Madison Square Garden – the uptick in level of competition over the last few weeks has exposed them a little bit. After beating up on low-majors (like Bethune-Cookman and Central Arkansas) and mid-majors (like Fresno State and Colorado State), and even sneaking out some tough wins over bubble-minded high majors (Oklahoma State and North Carolina State), Johnny Dawkins’ club has lost four of its last nine games, with all four losses coming to teams ranked lower than #80 in the nation by Ken Pomeroy. Throw in some tight wins (a one-point win against UCLA, a four-overtime battle over Oregon State and even a slugfest W over Utah), and it is clear that despite the major strides this Stanford team has made this season, this is certainly not a team that is going to outclass conference opponents on a regular basis. Along the way, their once stellar efficiency numbers on both ends of the court have taken a significant hit — in their last four losses, Stanford has averaged just over one point per possession offensively, while giving up 1.16 PPP. In their first 11 games of the season, they only allowed more than one point per possession once (the NC State win), but in the last nine they’ve done so five times. Part of that is due to the fact that they’ve been facing better athletes. Where they once were able to outclass opponents on the glass, they’ve now been playing teams with their athletic equals, and the rebounding numbers have dipped. Likewise, guys like Aaron Bright and Chasson Randle have been unable to keep up their ridiculously hot shooting paces; Bright was 49% from three in non-conference play and is down to 37% in conference play while Randle has dipped from 42% to 36%.

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Morning Five: 01.19.12 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on January 19th, 2012

  1. During their one-point loss on Tuesday Michigan State was called for a controversial backcourt violation with less than 2 minutes remaining when Keith Appling appeared to fumble an in-bounds pass and then picked up the ball in the backcourt. Many people criticized the officials afterwards citing Rule 4, Section 3, Article 6 of the NCAA rulebook that says a team must establish possession in the frontcourt inbounds and then cross into the backcourt to be called for a violation. They noted a similar call had been made against Virginia Tech in the their ACC/Big Ten challenge loss to Minnesota and the Big Ten disciplined the official after that game for making the wrong call. However, this time the Big Ten has come out and said that the official on Tuesday made the right call because Appling had established possession in the frontcourt.
  2. We were not sure it was possible, but the Pac-12 just got weaker. The bigger news in terms of the conference race and the national picture was the announcement by California that it was dismissing Richard Solomon for the rest of the season after he was ruled academically ineligible. Even though Solomon only averages 6 points per game it is a big loss for the Bears as he is their top rebounder at 6.2 rebounds per game and provides some much needed depth off the bench as well as an interior presence. Without him the Bears will need Harper Kamp and David Kravish to step up their games and help balance their team, which relies heavily on its three star guards.
  3. The bigger story from an individual impact on a team is Josh Watkins getting kicked off Utah‘s team for an undisclosed violation of team rules. Based on statements from the Larry Krystkowick it appears that this was more a pattern of behavior than a single incident. Watkins, the team’s leading scorer and lone senior, had already been suspended earlier this season, but apparently he still did not get the message. The Utes were already a historically bad BCS-level college basketball team even before they got rid of the player with the highest usage rate in Division I basketball (38.4%) so we cannot wait to see what they are like without Watkins in the line-up.
  4. If you are not a fan of mid-major basketball you may not be familiar with Dennis Tinnon. Even if do know of the tenth-leading rebounder in Division I you probably are not aware of the unique road that he took to get to Marshall. Luke Winn, in a departure from his usual statistical analysis work, takes a look at how Tinnon went from working at a beef processing plant at the age of 20 after serving four months in jail for a parole violation to being the leading rebounder on what might be the best team in Conference USA. It is an interesting read and does a good job of getting into Tinnon’s struggles while still keeping a focus on his impact on the court.
  5. McDonald’s announced the list of nominees for their coveted All-American designation. When we say list we mean pretty much every decent senior in the country as their list includes over 600 nominees (combined boys and girls). Eventually the list will be whittled down to 24 boys and 24 girls, but for now if you want to see which seniors in your area are the best it might be worth checking out. If you are into state bragging rights, the leaders for the boys team are Iowa (36 nominees) and Washington (30) far outdistancing New York (9) and California (8). We are not exactly sure what the political reasons are behind such a stark disparity, but it is amusing.
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The Latest Pac-12 Personnel Problems: Richard Solomon and Josh Watkins

Posted by AMurawa on January 18th, 2012

Oh, the headaches of a college basketball coach. Aside from all the things that coaches have to deal with just in terms of practice and games and apart from the inevitable injuries, these guys are also dealing with young men who have often been coddled for much of their adolescence and sometimes experiencing freedoms that they’ve never known before. And, I don’t know about you, but when I was that age, I had some problems with maturity (still do, on my best days at least). Well, immaturity struck again in the Pac-12 today – and twice. First, Utah senior guard Josh Watkins ran afoul of head coach Larry Krystkowiak for the second time this season, and as a result was dismissed from the already moribund Ute basketball team. Later we learned that California sophomore forward Richard Solomon, who had been leading the Golden Bears in rebounding (when not suspended or injured, that is), was ruled academically ineligible and would also miss the rest of the season.

Josh Watkins, Utah

Josh Watkins' College Basketball Career Is Over, After Being Dismissed By Utah Today (photo credit: Rick Egan, AP)

Let’s start with Solomon, who still has a future at Cal, provided he can take care of the academic side of his business between now and next fall.  He had seen his minutes go up and down in part because of getting into head coach Mike Montgomery’s doghouse early in the year before injuring a foot. But when he was on the court, he was far and away the Bears’ best rebounder and interior defender, grabbing 27.3% of all defensive rebound opportunities (a number that would have put him in the top 20 nationally, had he played enough minutes to qualify), 14.3% of all offensive rebound opportunities and blocking shots on over 7% of all of his opponent’s two-point field goals (those last two numbers would have had him in the top 100 nationally). Without him, Monty and the Bears face the prospect of going the rest of the way with Harper Kamp, David Kravish, Robert Thurman and Bak Bak manning the paint. Given that Kamp has a history of injury problem, Kravish is a freshman, Thurman is a junior walk-on and Bak has shown more potential than actual output, the frontline problems of the Bears could be the stone that drags the whole team down.

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Pac-12 Honors: Week Ten

Posted by AMurawa on January 17th, 2012

We’re ten weeks in, but we’ve still got plenty of surprises, as this week’s winners in all three categories take down their first recognition of the year in this space.

Team of the Week

Dana Altman Has His Team Trending Up in the Pac-12

Oregon – The Ducks went into Arizona this weekend and became the first Pac-12 team to sweep a road trip this season, and in so doing, vaulted themselves right near the top of the conversation in the conference with Stanford and California. It was just the second time in the 33-year history of the Ducks’ visiting the two Arizona schools that they came away from the weekend with two wins, and they did so as the result of true team basketball. No player scored more than 15 points in a game for the Ducks, but four players scored in double figures in each game. The team handed out 32 assists on their 49 field goals over the weekend and were defensively solid, holding their opponents to a combined 0.97 points per possession. While it has been a rocky season in Eugene for Dana Altman and company, they appear to be solidifying into a solid unit right now, and looking back on their record, there are no bad losses here. It’s not inconceivable that if the Ducks can get to 12 wins in the conference (that would put them at 21-9 prior to the conference tourney), they could be in the discussion for an at-large bid.

Player of the Week

Josh Huestis, Soph, Stanford – Terrence Ross went for 30 often spectacular points on Sunday night. Harper Kamp and Justin Cobbs carried California to a couple of wins this week. And Devoe Joseph helped our Team of the Week earn a historic road sweep. But we like to pull for the underdogs here, so we’re recognizing  Huestis, who set a career-high of 13 points on Thursday night against Utah, making all six of his field goal attempts and scoring all of his points in the second half. He added 10 rebounds for good measure as the Cardinal withstood an upset-minded Ute squad. Out to prove that performance wasn’t a fluke, he followed it up with another 13-point performance in the win over Colorado on Saturday, this time adding four blocks. The full line for the week? Twenty-six points, on 11-of-15 shooting, three three-pointers (on four attempts), 14 rebounds, five blocks and a couple of assists – not bad for 43 minutes of work.

Newcomer of the Week

Devoe Joseph, Sr, Oregon – Somehow, we haven’t given Joseph this award yet this season. So, with apologies to Cobbs and Chasson Randle, we’ll rectify that situation this week. We’ve already mentioned the great things that Joseph’s team accomplished this weekend, but the man himself had a lot to do with their success. He averaged 14 highly efficient points (11-of-21 from the field and four threes), handed out seven assists, swiped six steals and grabbed five rebounds while playing all but three minutes of the trip to Arizona. Since becoming eligible for the Ducks in early December, the Minnesota transfer has been a ridiculously consistent piece for Oregon, averaging nearly 15 points a game while meshing perfectly with the rest of his new teammates.

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Pac-12 ATB: 01.12

Posted by Connor Pelton on January 13th, 2012

The Lede.  Through two and a half weeks of Pac-12 basketball, we still don’t know much about this league and how it’s going to shake out. But one thing was confirmed on Thursday night; California is going to have a say on who wins this conference. The Golden Bears got a solid, 57-50 victory over first-place Colorado at Haas Pavilion last night, vaulting Cal into a tie for first place with rival Stanford. In a year where finishing in the top four gives you a first round bye in the pivotal Pac-12 Tournament, the Bears now have big wins over UCLA, Oregon, and the Buffs, all of which can be used as tie breakers for seeding come March.

California forward Harper Kamp led the Bears with 14 points in their win Thursday night. (credit: Tony Zhou)

With the amount of parity and inconsistency in this league, it’s tough to take a single result and make it a big deal. After all, Cal could go out tomorrow and lose to Utah, and Colorado go and win four straight. But last night’s win for Cal felt different, at least to me. First of all, they showed they can win without a huge night from Allen Crabbe. Crabbe, the favorite (or co-favorite) to win Pac-12 Player of the Year, scored in single digits for only the fourth time of the season last night. Instead, players like Harper Kamp, Justin Cobbs were able to step up in the closing minutes to close out the win.

Second, this was the second straight win over a solid opponent for Cal, something that has been and will continue to be tough to come by as conference play continues. The victory moves Cal into a tie for first place in the Pac, and with games against Utah, Washington, and Washington State coming up, the Bears could find themselves on top for a while.

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Pac-12 Morning Five: 01.13.12 Edition

Posted by AMurawa on January 13th, 2012

  1. It’s tough to decide where to begin on another wild night in the Pac-12, but we’ll have to go with our RTC Game of the Week between Colorado and California in Berkeley, the game with the biggest impact on the conference race. The Golden Bears handed the Buffaloes their first conference loss of the season, and overcame a horrendous shooting night from their two stars, as senior Jorge Gutierrez and sophomore Allen Crabbe combined to hit just four of their combined 26 field goal attempts. However, they rode senior forward Harper Kamp down the stretch, as he out-dueled Colorado’s senior Austin Dufault in a battle between two unlikely stars. In the end, however, California’s experience paid off, as the Buffs suffered through some bad shots in the closing minutes and sealed their fate with an unfortunate turnover with just under a minute left, followed up by their failure to secure a defensive rebound following a missed Cal foul shot. While the game was tight throughout, the Buffs’ failure to come through in the clutch was entirely predictable for a young team playing its first road game since the late 60s. Or something like that.
  2. Across the San Francisco Bay and south a bit, Stanford was having some unlikely trouble with expected Pac-12 cellar contender Utah, who turned in its third-straight extremely solid performance in losing by just three despite coming into the game a 22-point underdog. The Utes fought back from a seven-point half-time deficit to actually lead the game through much of the early part of the second half. However, it was Cardinal sophomore forward Josh Huestis who provided the heroics, scoring all 13 of his points in the second half on six-for-six shooting (including a three) and grabbing ten total rebounds. He did miss all three of his foul shots, but that was de rigeur for the evening, as the teams combined to shoot just six-of-26 from the charity stripe, with Utah especially kicking itself by missing all but one of its nine free throw attempts. Larry Krystkowiak’s club simply does not have the talent to give away those types of points and pull out road victories. Likewise, while Johnny Dawkins will take this win and look forward to a tough battle with Colorado on Saturday, knowing they are tied with Cal atop the Pac-12 standings, this was not a win that inspired a ton of confidence.
  3. Oregon State dropped its second consecutive overtime game Thursday night, losing to Arizona in 15 less minutes than they required on Saturday night. Does that qualify as progress? The game was marred somewhat by a little scuffle late in the overtime period, following a fast break layup by Kyle Fogg that put the Wildcats up six, during which Fogg drew the fourth foul on OSU guard Jared Cunningham. Following the play, Fogg started yapping at Cunningham, which drew a shove in retaliation. From there, the Arizona bench came close to emptying, some Oregon State players came onto the court and there was some general pushing and shoving that resulted in Cunningham and Fogg both earning technical fouls – the fifth personals for each – and Kyryl Natyazkho and Joe Burton being ejected for leaving their benches. While the whole thing was stupid and immature, special demerits go to Fogg and teammate Solomon Hill, upperclassmen who are supposed to be the leaders of this Wildcat team, both of whom acted like anything but leaders. Lost in all that was Arizona freshman Nick Johnson breaking out of a mini-slump by hitting three threes on his way to 19 points in a complete performance that included a offensive rebound slam just before the dustup. Cunningham was also big for the Beavs, scoring 22 points, but it was Ahmad Starks who caught fire at the end of regulation, scoring seven points on three straight possessions, preceded by a beautiful strip of Hill on a fastbreak, to get Oregon State into overtime. Nevertheless, the Beavers fall to 1-4 in conference play, while the Wildcats keep pace with Stanford, Cal, Colorado, and Washington atop the conference with just one loss.
  4. Lastly, Oregon scored the lone road victory of the night in the conference, going into Arizona State and coming out with a workmanlike nine-point win. Just looking at the stat sheet, this was an incredibly tight game in a lot of areas, but it again came down to the fact that the Sun Devils just don’t have a point guard able to run this team effectively. Junior guard Trent Lockett did his best playing out of position, scoring 23 points on eight-of-11 shooting, grabbing four rebounds and handing out five assists, but he turned it over seven times and Arizona State turned it over 16 times as a unit, while forcing just eight turnovers by the Ducks. Oregon was led by senior Devoe Joseph who had 15 points, three threes, four steals, and four assists.
  5. Looking ahead to the weekend, we have a couple of big rivalry games on Sunday, including Washington hosting Washington State. Last year, the Cougs swept the season series in a couple of games that weren’t really that close. This year, however, the Washington State defense has been particularly bad, in part due to the premature losses of interior presence DeAngelo Casto and underrated perimeter defender Klay Thompson. Given that the Husky defense hasn’t been much to write home about either, we could be in for quite the shootout in the hardwood version of the Apple Cup.
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Pac-12 Game of the Week: Colorado at California

Posted by AMurawa on January 12th, 2012

Colorado at California, January 12, 8:oo PM, Comcast Sports Network – California

The Buffaloes are alone in first place in the Pac-12, after opening conference play with three consecutive home wins, but they’re yet to really earn any believers. They’ve certainly got a chance to fill up their bandwagon this weekend, as they make this year’s toughest road trip in the conference when they head to California Thursday night and Stanford on Saturday afternoon. By the end of the weekend, we should have a good idea whether Colorado deserves mention among the top teams in the conference, or whether this is a team that is still a year away from being taking seriously over the long haul.

In Tad Boyle’s first year as the head coach in Boulder, the Buffaloes opened Big 12 play with three straight wins, including an eye-opening road win at Kansas State, the Wildcats’ only home loss of the year. However, they then proceeded to lose their next four games, including three disappointing road losses against the dregs of the conference, going a long way towards sealing that team’s Selection Sunday fate and an NIT bid. Gone from that squad are the team’s four most prolific offensive players, including NBA lottery pick Alec Burks.

Tad Boyle, Colorado

Tad Boyle Has Colorado Out To A 3-0 Start In Conference Play For The Second Consecutive Year (photo credit: Getty Images)

But similar to last year, this vintage of the Buffaloes again has four players who are scoring in double figures (although none are approaching the 20 PPG Burks averaged last year) and five different players have led the team in scoring in at least one game. Last weekend it was senior wing Carlon Brown leading the way, averaging 23 points per game in a weekend sweep of the Washington schools, but freshman guard Spencer Dinwiddie had been featured strongly, scoring in double figures in nine straight games before laying an egg against Washington State. Then there’s manchild Andre Roberson, a 6’7” sophomore forward who is arguably the most athletic player in the Pac-12 and certainly its best rebounder; he has already posted nine double-doubles on the season after posting five in his freshman season. Throw in steady senior forward Austin Dufault, who you can seemingly pencil in for ten points a night, and you’ve got a solid four-man core that has played well throughout the season. The other guard spot is a bit of a concern, as senior Nate Tomlinson, a 43.8% three-point shooter in his first three years in Boulder, is struggling with his shot this season, hitting just 32.7% from deep and having made just two of his last 14 out there. Freshman guard Askia Booker also earns plenty of playing time (he’s the only reserve getting more than 50% of CU’s minutes), and he’s an athletic ball of energy who can provide a scoring punch off the bench, but he needs to dial back his aggressiveness a bit until he cleans up his jumper and begins to take better care of the ball.

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