Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Pac-10 and Mountain West Conferences.
A Look Back
This was the type of week in the Pac-10 to lull you back to sleep. On the heels of last week’s Washington meltdown, this week was all about the chalk. Arizona took care of their last place in-state rival with ease. UCLA put the clamps on the Oregon schools in Pauley. And Washington broke their three-game losing streak, using the home crowd to get them back on track with a couple of wins over the Bay Area schools. With just three weeks remaining in the regular season, it’s Arizona at the top of the Pac with a 10-2 record, with UCLA just one game back and the Huskies just a game back from there. Beyond that, Washington State sits two games further back and in desperate need of a big winning streak to end the season in order to entertain any hopes of an NCAA invite.
- Team of the Week: UCLA – While the Huskies broke their losing streak and the Wildcats continued theirs, we’re gonna take the time to give the Bruins, who have been more or less flying under the radar this season, some love. While the UCLA offense is not exactly a thing of beauty, they are now definitely playing the type of defense you would expect from a Ben Howland team. In each of the five games in the Bruins current win streak, they have held their opponents to less than 40% shooting from the field. Against Oregon State on Saturday, the Bruins racked up a ridiculous 16 blocked shots, including eight by sophomore wing Tyler Honeycutt. Unfortunately, some of that defensive effort was offset by an absurd 26 turnovers, again led by Honeycutt in this category, with seven. While the offense is still a ways away from being considered of championship-caliber, the UCLA defense that looked awful in their last loss, at Arizona, may have turned the corner.
- Player of the Week: Isaiah Thomas, Junior, Washington – Thomas got his mojo back in a big way against the Cal Bears on Thursday night, knocking down a career-high six three-pointers on his way to 23 points as he led the Huskies to their first win in four games. He added nine assists in that game, then back that effort up with 22 points and another four threes in the win over Stanford on Saturday, in which he scored 14 points in the final three minutes of the first half to get the Huskies on their way.
- Newcomer of the Week: C.J. Wilcox, Freshman, Washington – Wilcox shook off a couple months worth of a slump by hitting six threes this week on his way to a 12 PPG average. The sharpshooter who redshirted last season got his most minutes in a week since a staph infection in late December killed the momentum he had built up in his first month of play in Seattle. But with Wilcox back in the swing of things, head coach Lorenzo Romar has yet another offensive toy to play with as the Huskies try to get back on top of the Pac-10.
- Game of the Week: Washington State 75, Cal 71 – As the only game decided by less than ten points this week, this game is the easy choice. This was the game to decide fourth place in the conference this week, and really, an elimination game. While neither team is a strong candidate to make the NCAA Tournament, the Cougars win at least keeps that hope alive, while the Golden Bears now know they’ll need to win the Pac-10 Tournament in March in order to go dancing in March. Junior guard Jorge Gutierrez did everything he could to get Cal back into this game after they fell behind by as many as 11 early in the second half, scoring all 19 of his points after the break, but his attempt at a potential game-tying three with three second left came up short and the Cougars added a free throw at the end to clinch the game. WSU was led by sophomore Brock Motum with 19 points and five rebounds.
- Game of the Upcoming Week: Washington (17-7, 9-4) at Arizona (21-4, 10-2), 2/19, 3PM PST, ESPN – With three weeks to go, three teams are still in the running for the Pac-10 regular season title. And the fun part is we’ll get one game a week between two of those three teams down the stretch. This week, the Wildcats look for revenge after the Huskies won by 17at the Hec-Ed in mid-January. In that game, Arizona kept it close for about 30 minutes before Washington, sparked by this great play by Thomas and Darnell Gant, pulled away late. Thomas wound up with 22 points and ten assists, while Derrick Williams posted 22 points of his own to go with 11 rebounds, but the rest of the Arizona team went 16-45 from the field. Of late, Sean Miller has done a great job getting contributions from role players on the U of A roster, and he’ll need to continue that trend on Saturday. If that happens, the Wildcats will be in a very good position to all but knock the Huskies out of the Pac-10 title race.
1. Arizona (21-4, 10-2) – In the Wildcats’ win over Arizona State on Sunday, the Sun Devils surrounded Williams with two and three players every time he touched the ball, limiting him to just five field goal attempts and three free throw attempts. But, as the ‘Cats have made a habit of doing all season long, they had somebody else step up and lead the offense in Williams’ stead. Junior guard Kyle Fogg was the hero this time, popping for a career-high-tying 26 points and six three-pointers. Fogg has been up and down this whole season, but mostly down in Pac-10 play, hitting just 30% of his three-pointers in conference play prior to this weekend, down significantly from last year’s 42% on the season. Perhaps Fogg’s breakout against ASU is a positive sign for the stretch run.
Looking ahead: Arizona hosts the Washington schools this week with a chance to not only beat somebody of significance this week, but also a chance to extend their lead in the conference.
2. Washington (17-7, 9-4): So, is this the start of the patented Husky late-season run? With a game against Arizona coming up this week, the Huskies have a chance to get right back in the thick of things at the top of the conference, but they’ll need some help in order to come away with the regular season title. Aside from the exploits of Thomas and Wilcox, detailed above, Romar got production from all over his roster this week with seven different players scoring in double figures at some point this week. Matthew Bryan-Amaning, in particular, had a big week, averaging 16.5 PPG and 7.5 RPG, while Venoy Overton had his best offensive game of the season with 12 points and four assists against Stanford.
Looking ahead: While Arizona State should be something of a breather on Thursday night, the game against the ‘Cats on Saturday afternoon is huge.
3. UCLA (18-7, 9-3): As of right now, the Bruins are golden. They’ve got 18 wins, they’re on a five-game winning streak and they have won nine of their last ten games. Wins over BYU and St. John’s highlight their resume, and while their RPI in the 40’s isn’t brilliant, if the season ended today, the Bruins would be safely in the tournament. But, the season doesn’t end today. And still ahead on the schedule for UCLA are road trips to the Bay Area and Washington schools wrapped around a homestand against the Arizona schools. While the Arizona State game can safely be chalked up as a win, the other five games remaining in the regular season are perilous. It’s likely that if they come away with a split of those six games, they’ll still be good (although their potential seeding will take a hit). Dreaming bigger, if the Bruins can take advantage of the opportunity to play Washington and Arizona and take care of business in the other games, a Pac-10 title is still within reach, as is a pretty strong seed.
Looking ahead: The road starts this week with a trip to Stanford on Thursday, followed by Cal on Sunday, a pair of games that the Bruins could win, but, as always, a tough intraconference road trip.
4. Washington State (17-8, 7-6): The Cougars have just never gained any traction in Pac-10 play. It’s been two games down one week, two games up the next, and splits abounding. And then after they knocked off the hated Huskies at home, to get back over .500 in the conference, they turn in a complete stinker at Oregon. They get back to even, then let Stanford spank them at home. At this point, it would take stringing together several wins against the rather difficult five games ahead of them in order to make any sort of convincing argument that they are worthy of at-large consideration, even in a week bubble.
Looking ahead: The Cougars travel to Arizona on Thursday, where they’ll hope to catch the Wildcats looking ahead to Saturday’s showdown with Washington. Then, on Saturday, they’ll need to take care of business against the Sun Devils. A 2-0 week here would be a dream come true for Ken Bone and company, and would put the Cougs right back on the bubble again.
5. Cal (13-12, 6-7): This was a very disappointing week for the Golden Bears. After having won four of their last five games, with the only loss a triple overtime knock-down, drag-out battle, they were looking primed to sneak back into the at-large discussion. Then, Washington came out and drilled them something awful on Thursday night, outscoring the Bears by 24 in the first half alone, and 32 on the game. To make matters worse, freshman wing Allen Crabbe sustained a concussion, a turn of events which may have cost them the game on Saturday at Washington State. Fellow freshman Jeff Powers started in his place and did contribute three threes on the way to 14 points, but he was no substitute for Crabbe and the Bears fell by six in Pullman. With the Los Angeles schools visiting this week, a road trip to Oregon next week and a season-closing battle with Stanford the remaining games on the schedule, a 5-0 finish to the season is not out of the question, but even that would probably leave the Bears wanting come Selection Sunday, barring a run to the Pac-10 Tournament Championship.
Looking ahead: The Bears host USC on Thursday, a game in which Crabbe is still questionable. At the very least, Cal fans have to hope he is ready to go by Sunday for the matchup with the Bruins.
6. Oregon (13-12, 6-7): All things considered, a split in Los Angeles for this team is a pretty good week. Malcolm Armstead continued to be a team leader off of the bench, contributing 24 points and 12 assists this week in a total of 65 minutes and the Ducks got threes from seven different players in their win over USC on Saturday.
Looking ahead: The basketball version of the Civil War comes on Saturday when the Ducks host the Beavers at Matt Court.
7. Stanford (13-11, 6-7): Much like the Ducks above, the Cardinal have to be pretty pleased with a road split on the week, especially considering the Washington road trip may well be the toughest trip in the Pac-10 this season. Against Washington State on Thursday, Stanford his seven of their eight first-half three-point attempts on the way to a 17-point halftime lead, then continued to play solid basketball throughout the second half on the way to a 13-point win. The Cardinal wound up with nine threes on the night (compared to just 3-18 shooting from behind the arc for the Cougs) and 20 assists on their 25 made field goals in a very efficient game. Against the Huskies, they weren’t quite as good, still hitting shots at a 55% effective field goal percentage for the game, but turning the ball over 19 times against the Husky pressure. Jeremy Green had a big week, scoring 24 points in each game, and he has now definitely put his midseason slump behind him, averaging 23 PPG over his last four games and having knocked down 15 threes in that span.
Looking ahead: Green can expect to see plenty of UCLA’s Malcolm Lee on Thursday night, and if Green can get the better of the Bruins’ best defender, the Cardinal could get their homestand against the southern California schools off to a good start.
8. USC (13-12, 5-7): In this four-team mush in the middle of the conference (with teams five through eight each having posted 13 total wins and seven conference losses on the season), the Trojans are the team that has struggled the most to get to this point. They haven’t won two games in a week since before Christmas, their offensive efficiency has never picked up, and going forward, they’ll only be a favorite against Arizona State the rest of the way. After the Trojans gave Kansas everything they could handle in mid-December, then beat Tennessee a couple of nights later, the idea of this USC team staring a 6-12 conference season in the face was decidedly improbable. And yet, here they are.
Looking ahead: Cal on Thursday night and Stanford on Saturday are two games that the Trojans are capable of winning. This team’s track record tells us that a split is the best case scenario.
9. Oregon State (9-15, 4-9): The Beavers found plenty of different ways to lose in Los Angeles last week. Against USC they got killed on the glass, they turned the ball over 19 times and they hit just one of their 11 three-point attempts. Against UCLA, they took an entirely different approach. While they still turned the ball over 14 times, they actually forced 26 Bruin turnovers. On the glass, Oregon State performed pretty well, grabbing 38% of all offensive rebound opportunities. But, this time, the Beavers just couldn’t hit from the field, making just 23 of their 70 field goal attempts, and three of those makes coming after UCLA had turned to their walk-ons for mop-up duty. To put it mildly, this Oregon State team is capable of losing games in a wide variety of ways. Craig Robinson has his work cut out for him.
Looking ahead: The Beavs travel to Eugene on Saturday for their battle with the Ducks.
10. Arizona State (9-15, 1-11): And then there are the Sun Devils. 2011 actually got off to a pretty good start for Herb Sendek and his team. They went to Eugene and knocked off the Ducks on New Year’s Day to even their conference record at 1-1, a road split in the first week of the season a pretty good thing. That’s the last time this team won a game in the Pac-10. This week it was another uninspiring effort against Arizona. Senior Jamelle McMillan continued his recent hot steak, scoring 12 points and handing out five assists, and he has now scored in double figures in four straight games, but saying that he is a bright spot is going overboard. There are no bright spots here.
Looking ahead: The Sun Devils host the Washington schools. Not much should be expected, but at some point in the last six games, this ASU team will win a game. They’re simply too good to be this bad.