Washington State Week: Q&A With CougCenter

Posted by Connor Pelton on August 5th, 2012

As part of our Washington State week, we wanted to reach out to the guys at CougCenter for their takes on the upcoming Cougar basketball season. Kyle Sherwood was kind enough to spend some time with us and give us his thoughts.

Rush The Court: How do the Cougars plan on replacing players like Marcus Capers, Abe Lodwick, and Faisal Aden?

CougCenter: Easier than you’d think. Capers, Lodwick and Aden were all high-character guys and great team leaders, but for the most part they were all one-dimensional  players. Those players meant a lot to WSU, but I think this current roster is the first one that really fits into how Ken Bone wants to play. The 2012-13 team is loaded with athletic wings who can create space and hit shots from long-range, so we’re going to replace those guys by running…and running…and running..?

Look For The Fast Cougars To Have Many Transition Opportunities That End With Dunks (credit: Stephen Dunn)

RTC: CBI time! Washington State played four games in three different tough road environments (well, as tough as CBI crowds can get), and ended the tournament with a 4-2 record and runner-up finish. Overall, was this a good experience for the team?

CC: Well, Capers and Lodwick meant so much to the program that it was worth playing as long as they wanted to keep going. The team had really turned a corner around the beginning of February, but it wasn’t showing up in the win column. When they started advancing in the CBI, it wasn’t just that they were winning, it was how dominating they looked. It was nice for the players to see the work they had put in to turn their season around pay off with such lopsided scores. I think we all would’ve liked a tournament win (because you know WSU would hang a flippin’ CBI banner), but the team got what it needed from its success in the first four games.

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Washington State Week: Kansas Transfer Leads Large Set Of Newcomers

Posted by Connor Pelton on August 4th, 2012

On the heels of last-year’s CBI runner-up season, Ken Bone welcomes in eight newcomers, headed by Kansas transfer Royce Woolridge. The eight newcomers will no doubt ease the blow of losing three “team first” guys, but sometimes talent can’t make up for chemistry. We’ll break all eight of them down below, roughly in the order of the contributions we expect from them.

Royce Woolridge, Sophomore, Guard, 6’3” 175 lbs, Kansas – Woolridge received pure garbage minutes in his freshman year at Kansas (0.9 PPG, 0.5 RPG, 0.6 APG in 2.8 MPG), with his best game coming in his first one – six points, two rebounds, and two assists in eight minutes against Longwood. It was an uphill fight from there, and by season’s end Woolridge decided a transfer was necessary. He chose Washington State, a place where he could study Faisal Aden’s game — one much like his own — in the mandatory sit-out season, then fill his role after Aden leaves. Like the departing sharpshooter, Woolridge is a “fill-it-up” type of scorer, meaning he needs to shoot the ball to get his points. That will be fine with Cougar fans if he can make those shots consistently. He will also bring the physical, explosive, nose-for-the-ball mentality that Marcus Capers left behind. Described by coaches and teammates as the best player on the practice floor last season, everyone is anxious to see what he’ll bring to the table once the bright lights are shining.

Woolridge’s Explosiveness Off The Dribble Will Have Opponents Scrambling This Season (credit: Jerry Wang)

Demarquise Johnson, Freshman, Shooting Guard, 6’5” 190 lbs, Westwind Prep Academy, Phoenix, AZ – Johnson hails from the central Arizona power Westwind Prep. While primarily a shooting guard, Johnson is very explosive off the dribble and can slash and score with ease inside the paint, something the Cougars have been missing the past few seasons. That being said, his intensity and on-court toughness does draw some question marks. If he is going to earn major minutes as a freshman in the rotation, Johnson needs to move better without the ball instead of just waiting for it to come to him. This kid is a legitimate player that will surely make an impact by the time he’s done in Pullman. After all, he didn’t earn offers from UNLV, Gonzaga, and Washington for nothing.

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Washington State Week: Running Down The Returnees

Posted by Connor Pelton on August 2nd, 2012

Washington State returns four players who were part of the rotation last year, highlighted by Brock Motum – a preseason candidate for Pac-12 Player of the Year – but also extending down to a guard that is back for his senior season after leading the team in minutes per game, a sophomore shooting guard primed to build off a solid freshman campaign, and yet another guard who will probably enjoy a similar role to what he saw last year. We’ll go through all of those guys below, in order of last year’s scoring totals.

Brock Motum Will Be The Key To Any Cougar Success In 2012-13

Brock Motum, Senior, Forward (18.0 PPG, 6.4 RPG, 0.4 BPG) – After a quiet first two seasons at Washington State, Motum exploded onto the scene in 2012-13. The junior forward took on the minutes left by departing senior DeAngelo Casto, and he showed the Cougar coaching staff immediately what he could do with them. From the very beginning of the year, he introduced a new style of game to the team’s offense. Motum led the team in scoring in the Cougars’ first two games, dropping 17 in a nationally televised contest at Gonzaga, and 23 in their second game against Sacramento State. He took on a “point-center” type role, one where the big man could handle the ball up top and act as a triple threat against opponents. His ability to drive and hit a pull-up jumper made him one of the toughest forwards to defend in the Pac-12, evident by his 18.0 PPG, the conference’s best. Not only a threat to score, but also a force on the glass, Motum pulled down a very respectable 6.4 RPG. Those two feats combined earned him the title of “Most Improved Player” in the Pac-12. Some of Motum’s critics will say he took a lot of defenses by surprise last season, but the truth is, the Cougars were just a tough team to defend. With Faisal Aden and Reggie Moore able to score the ball consistently, Motum was bound to get a few extra looks a game. And he took advantage, making him one of the deadliest players in the league.

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Washington State Week: Players Not Returning

Posted by Connor Pelton on July 31st, 2012

Seven players earned significant playing time for the Cougars in 2011-12, and three of those will be gone next season. Of those three, each has used up his eligibility and at least one will get an opportunity to play professionally somewhere or another. Gone is Washington State’s second-leading scorer and top shot-blocker along with a big man who could be very effective on the boards at times. With only one incoming recruit who is likely to make an immediate impact, head coach Ken Bone will have a tough time early on replacing the shooting ability and athletic presence provided by those three players. Below we’ll take a look at who will be missed the most and who can step in to make the transition easier.

Capers’ Athleticism And Ability To Handle The Ball Made Him Valuable As Both A Guard And Defender

Marcus Capers – Capers was a fan favorite on the Palouse. While he wasn’t the most prolific of scorers, he was one of the top shooters from the field. However, his main contribution to the team’s success came on defense. Capers was by far the most athletic player on the roster, and he proved it by leading the squad in blocks and coming in second in rebounding last season. Some of Capers’ biggest games as a Cougar came at the end of his career as the combo guard averaged 5.5 PPG, 4.8 RPG, and 3.5 APG in Washington State’s six CBI contests.

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Washington State: 2011-12 Post-Mortem

Posted by Connor Pelton on April 16th, 2012

Over the course of the next two weeks, the Pac-12 Microsite will break down each team’s season: what went well, what didn’t, and a look ahead at the future. Today’s subject: Washington State.

What Went Wrong

Washington State was plagued by inconsistencies in shooting especially from three-point range all season long. Their season was simple in a lot of ways; when they would shoot the three well, they’d win games. But when the touch was missing, boy was it missing. That led to mind-boggling losses against teams like UC Riverside, Utah, and Arizona State, which cost the Cougars a possible NIT bid. Some bad luck struck Pullman in late-January, when just after senior guard Faisal Aden went down for the season with an ACL tear just as he was hitting his stride. He suffered the leg injury after playing just 11 minutes at Arizona on January 26, a game the Cougars would go on to lose by 24. The injury would hurt Washington State physically and mentally, as they would lose four of their next six games. That dropped them to 13-13 with just two weeks to play in the regular season.

Coach Ken Bone wished he could have cut down the nets again after a CBI Championship, but advancing to the three-game championship series of a postseason tournament was still a solid way to end the season. (credit: Don Ryan)

What Went Right

The Cougars were able to develop a pair of hybrid players in junior Brock Motum and senior Abe Lodwick. By seasons end, both were viable threats from both the paint and outside of three-point line, making things incredibly tough on opposing defenses. The newcomers were also solid and came up big at different times throughout the season. Freshman DaVonte Lacy quickly earned playing time as a combo guard early in the year, and did he ever make the most of it. Lacy averaged 8.5 PPG to lead the newcomers in 26.6 minutes of action. Junior shooting guard Mike Ladd came up big at times, and while only averaging 5.4 PPG, he threw in a pair of 13-point performances in hostile environments against Gonzaga and Oregon. Sophomore forward D.J. Shelton had a great season as well, averaging 4.7 PPG to go along with 2.9 RPG. Shelton’s best game by far came against his father’s old school in Washington State’s February 9 meeting against Oregon State in Corvallis. Shelton led the Cougs to an 83-73 victory and added 14 points and nine rebounds.

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Pac-12 Honors: Week 11

Posted by AMurawa on January 23rd, 2012

Team of the Week

Washington State – There are really three choices here, as Colorado, Oregon and Washington State all went 2-0 this weekend while homestanding. While the Colorado and Oregon performances are arguably more important in terms of the conference race (since each keeps up the pace with just two conference losses), the Cougars’ sweep of the Bay Area school is more impressive. We’ll get to Faisal Aden’s heroics shortly, but the two wins on the Palouse were very much team wins. Brock Motum averaged 15.5 points and eight rebounds per game while being ridiculously efficient; Reggie Moore seems to be buying into his role as point guard, handing out seven assists on Saturday despite failing to score; and guys like DaVonte Lacy, Abe Lodwick and Marcus Capers all made significant contributions to the wins. And, let’s not forget head coach Ken Bone, who was still making adjustments and keeping his team’s attention despite a 1-4 conference start.

Faisal Aden, Washington State

Faisal Aden's Big Weekend Helped Washington State Sweep The Bay Area Schools (photo credit: Dean Hare, AP)

Player of the Week

Faisal Aden, Sr, Washington State – It wasn’t all that long ago that we were killing Aden for taking 37% of his team’s shots. Yet, this weekend he hoisted 41.2% of WSU’s field goal attempts, and in doing so he dragged his team across the finish line in both games. Thursday night against Stanford, Aden missed four of his first six FGAs, including misses on all three of his three-pointers. Over the rest of the weekend, Aden never shot from behind the arc, converted 17 of his 23 remaining field goal attempts and got to the line 18 times. For the weekend he averaged 28.5 points per outing, made 65.5% of his field goal attempts and posted a true shooting percentage (which includes his scoring from the line) of 75.4%. In short, while Aden’s usage numbers went through the roof, he was very efficient. It remains to be seen whether or not he can keep it up, but for one weekend at least, Aden was spectacular.

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76 Classic Notes From Day One

Posted by AMurawa on November 25th, 2011

Andrew Murawa is an RTC correspondent for the Pac-12 and Mountain West conferences and a Pac-12 microsite staffer. This week he’s checking on the eight teams at the 76 Classic in Anaheim with some thoughts…

While the old tradition about Thanksgiving Day and football going together like turkey and mashed potatoes is all well and good, college hoops fans know that Thanksgiving week has fast become a smorgasbord of hoops action as well. Thursday night after some turkey and fixings with the family, I got a chance to dig into the basketball buffet a bit at the 76 Classic with a pair of intriguing games: New Mexico/Santa Clara and Oklahoma/Washington State. While I’ve had a chance to catch WSU and UNM on TV a couple of times, this was my first real good chance to get to know these teams. Here are my thoughts on what I saw Thursday night.

Drew Gordon, New Mexico

Drew Gordon Is Just One Lobo Who Has Yet To Get On Track This Year

The big question mark for New Mexico coming into the season was how they would go about replacing point guard Dairese Gary, who graduated last season. Junior Jamal Fenton had served as Gary’s understudy for a couple of years, but at 5’9”, he can be a liability on the defensive end. Well, after four games I think we can safely say that UNM has its point guard – and it’s not Fenton. Freshman Hugh Greenwood, a 6’3” native of Australia, saw the majority of the minutes at the point Thursday night (he played 33 minutes, Fenton just 16) and scored 14 points, handed out three assists and never turned the ball over. “I thought he was tremendous,” said head coach Steve Alford. “He has, like a lot of guys, some things he has to do better defensively but he competed and ran our team well.” However, as solid as Greenwood was, the Lobos still are having trouble getting Mountain West Preseason Player of the Year Drew Gordon, or even MW preseason all-conference player Kendall Williams, on track. Gordon scored 11 points and added ten rebounds on Thursday, but did so in a below-the-radar way, while Williams scored just six points and was repeatedly exposed defensively by Santa Clara’s Kevin Foster. In the Lobos two losses so far this season, Williams and Gordon area combined 2/25 from the field. ““We had some guys, very similar to the New Mexico State game, where there was just no production and we’re not good enough for that,” said Alford in a clear reference to his two stars. “We’ve got to have production from guys who are supposed to produce.”

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Pac-12 Morning Five: 11.09.11 Edition

Posted by Connor Pelton on November 9th, 2011

  1. Washington State heads into this season with lower-than-normal expectations after the departures of Klay Thompson and DeAngelo Casto. Thompson and Casto were arguably the best two players on the roster a year ago, so this season the Cougars will need to rely on experience and chemistry if they are to return to a major postseason tournament. If they are to make the NIT or NCAAs, it will be because of their guard play. Marcus Capers and Reggie Moore both return in the backcourt, and with the additions of Fresno State transfer Mike Ladd and freshmen DaVonte Lacy and Dexter Kernich-Drew, the Cougars feel like they can go up against any group of guards in the nation. Washington State’s season will get underway next Monday night when they take on Gonzaga in Spokane [ed. update: head coach Ken Bone said Tuesday that Moore is questionable for Monday’s game with a groin injury].
  2. Three regular season games have already tipped off across the nation, but the season doesn’t officially start at most places until Friday. That means the previews are still rolling out, including this look at each Pac-12 team and the best players in the conference. They have California guard Jorge Gutierrez and UCLA center Joshua Smith highlighting the first All Pac-12 team, while Oregon guard E.J. Singler and California forward Harper Kamp highlight the second. The All-Freshman Team includes four guards, highlighted by Arizona’s Nick Johnson and Washington’s Tony Wroten, Jr.
  3. Bakersfield High (CA) combo guard Tyrone Wallace committed to California on Monday, and in this interview with Jim McGill he talks about his decision. “I’m going to play the one and two, play combo,” says Wallace. “It depends on whatever we need. I’m versatile so Coach (Mike) Montgomery said they’d play me where I’d fit best at any given time.” Wallace is a four-star recruit coming out of high school and could see some major minutes next season with Gutierrez graduating. Wallace was down to Cal and Colorado before his commitment.
  4. Not only did Utah lose a game last Friday night, but they also lost a pair of key players for several weeks. The biggest loss was to starting center David Foster, who is out indefinitely after a foot injury. “We need Dave,” Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak said after the game. “When Dave went down, it put us in a little bit of a whirlwind.” The Utes have also lost junior shooting guard Chris Hines to a rib injury. The designated “sixth man” of the team will be out three weeks. The injuries mean that the Utes will only have eight scholarship players for their first six games of the year. Expect them to struggle mightily.
  5. Stanford coach Johnny Dawkins is hoping that the meaningful minutes most of his freshman played last year will translate into victories this season. While Dawkins knows that the majority of his team is still mostly sophomores (seven of them, to be exact), the Cardinal doesn’t have much of a choice. If players like forward Dwight Powell, guard/forward Anthony Brown, and center Stefan Nastic all have big years and get some help from senior center Josh Owens, this team could be on the rise again.
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Pac-12 Team Previews: Washington State

Posted by Connor Pelton on November 7th, 2011

Over the next two weeks, we’ll be previewing each of the Pac-12 teams as we head into the season.

Washington State Cougars

Strengths.  The Cougars return four starters from last year’s NIT Final Four team in junior guard Reggie Moore, senior guard Marcus Capers, and senior forward Abe Lodwick. However, the biggest contributions could come from the three incoming guards, Mike Ladd, DaVonte Lacy, and Dexter Kernich-Drew. Those three will be needed at the two guard since both Moore and Capers will be at the point. Coming into the season as a Top 50 shooting guard, Lacy is the star of the group. In their exhibition on Saturday against Lewis-Clark State, Lacy proved his value with a 21-point performance. The frontcourt will be held down by Lodwick (when he returns from a left foot injury), junior power forward Brock Motum, and junior center Steven Bjornstad. With Motum and Bjornstad at 6’10” and 6’11”, respectively, opposing defenses will have trouble matching up in the post.

Lacy has proved early on that he is the go-to guy at shooting guard

Weaknesses.  The Cougars lost two of their three best players from last year in forward DeAngleo Casto and guard Klay Thompson. Those two accounted for 45% of the 2010-11 Wazzu offense. The team will be tested early on with six of their first nine games away from Pullman. For a team that is looking to rreutrn to the NIT, that is a very tough start.

Nonconference Tests.  The Cougars have a relatively easy OOC slate, with only three games that should really challenge them. The first is their regular season opener at Gonzaga. The game will be played at 9:00 PM PST and is the first game of ESPN’s annual 25-Hour Tipoff Marathon. The next challenges will come in the second and third rounds of the 76 Classic down in Anaheim during Thanksgiving weekend. On Nov. 25 they will most likely meet New Mexico in the semifinals, and on Nov. 27 a championship meeting with Villanova looks to be in the cards.

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RTC Conference Primers: #6 – Pac-12

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 1st, 2011

Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Pac-12 and Mountain West conferences as well as a Pac-12 microsite staffer. You can find him on Twitter @AMurawa.

Reader’s Take I

With only two of the ten players named to last year’s All-Pac-10 team returning, the race for the conference player of the year is wide open.

 

Top Storylines

  • Twelve Is The New Ten: After 33 seasons, college basketball fans on the west coast are getting used to calling their conference the Pac-12. With Colorado and Utah along for the ride (and currently taking their lumps in football), gone are the days of the home-and-away round-robin schedule on the basketball side of things. But lest the traditionalists complain too much, it could have been much different, as schools from Oklahoma and Texas (obviously the very definition of “Pacific” states) flirted with changing their allegiance for the second consecutive year before heading back to the Big 12.
  • Fresh Blood: As mentioned above in our poll question, the conference loses eight of the ten players on last year’s all-Pac-10 team, with just Jorge Gutierrez of Cal and UCLA’s Reeves Nelson returning. In other words, it is time for a new set of players to step up and take the reins of the league. The most likely candidates are a talented group of freshman guards – names like Josiah Turner and Nick Johnson at Arizona, Tony Wroten, Jr. at Washington, Jabari Brown at Oregon, Norman Powell at UCLA and Chasson Randle at Stanford.

Jorge Gutierrez Is A Lightning Rod Of A Guard For Mike Montgomery's Golden Bears, And Big Things Are Expected.

  • The Carson Show On Hold. A seventh highly-touted freshman guard, however, is stuck in limbo. Arizona State’s Jahii Carson has yet to be cleared for practice while an investigation continues into an online course the 5’10” point guard took this summer at Adams State in Colorado. That school has yet to release his course transcript, and until that happens, Carson is unable to practice with the Sun Devils, making an already difficult situation (being regarded as a savior for a team coming off a 12-19 campaign) even worse.
  • Hard Times for Kevin Parrom: Sometimes, just when everything is going well, life conspires to deal you a set of circumstances that just suck. It’s not bad enough that Parrom took a couple of bullets on September 24 during a home invasion, while in the Bronx visiting his sick mother. But on October 16, Parrom’s mom then passed away after a long battle with cancer. While both incidents will have lasting effects on Parrom, the bullet wounds are the biggest obstacle to him getting back on the court, with bullet fragments lodged in his right leg, a boot on his right foot, nerve damage and his left hand currently wrapped up to protect lacerations sustained in the attack. Parrom is rehabilitating his injuries and as of this writing, no hard timetable is set for his return. But if anybody is due for a good break or two, Parrom’s the guy. Get well soon, Kevin.

Predicted Order of Finish

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RTC Summer Updates: Pac-12 Conference

Posted by Brian Goodman on July 25th, 2011

With the the NBA Draft concluded and the annual coaching and transfer carousels nearing their ends, RTC is rolling out a new series, RTC Summer Updates, to give you a crash course on each Division I conference during the summer months. The latest update comes courtesy of our Pac-12 correspondent, Andrew Murawa.

Reader’s Take #1

Summer Storylines

  • The More, The Merrier: The Pac-10 is dead. Long live the Pac-12. The conference welcomes in Colorado and Utah for their first season in the conference, the first expansion in the West Coast’s premier conference since Arizona and Arizona State were added 33 years ago. Along with the new teams comes a new schedule – gone is the full home-and-away round robin. While there won’t be divisions in basketball like there are in football, each team will play an 18-game schedule with home and away games against its traditional rival, with six other rotating home-and-away series and four additional single games against the remaining teams. For instance, Colorado and Utah will only play the Southern California schools and the Washington schools once each, while they will play the remainder of the conference twice. While neither of the new schools are expected to make a big splash immediately in the conference, their arrival, coupled with other changes around the conference, such as the huge new $3 billion TV deal with ESPN and Fox that begins in the fall of 2012, makes it an exciting time to be a Pac-12 fan.
  • Is There A Draft In Here?: Last summer, a big story around the conference was the dearth of Pac-10 players picked in the NBA Draft, as just two players from the conference were selected by NBA teams in 2010. After the 21 players that were picked in the conference between the 2008 and 2009 drafts, that was a precipitous fall. And, back before the season started, there didn’t seem to be a whole lot of future high draft picks on the horizon. However, the conference had six players picked in the NBA draft, including three first-rounders and two lottery picks. Derrick Williams, the 2010-11 conference player of the year, led the way, getting snapped up by Minnesota with the #2 overall pick. Unfortunately for teams around the conference, 12 seasons of eligibility were left on the table between those six picks and the two early entries who went undrafted: Stanford’s Jeremy Green and Washington State’s DeAngelo Casto. And as a result, what had looked like a potential big-time bounce-back season for the conference now sees somewhat diminished expectations. Perhaps no team was hit harder by early defections than UCLA, who had Tyler Honeycutt and Malcolm Lee leave a total of three years of eligibility behind to go get second-round NBA draft picks (and the absence of guaranteed contracts that goes with them) at a time when the NBA labor situation is highly in doubt, but Washington State’s loss of Casto and lottery pick Klay Thompson also leaves the Cougars’ situation fuzzy at best.
  • Replacing Production: Between the early entries to the NBA Draft and departed seniors, the Pac-12 loses its top seven scorers from last season, and 11 of its top 20. Likewise, ten of the top 20 rebounders are gone. However, as always, a new batch of youngsters is ready to show up on campuses this fall and begin contributing immediately. While the Pac-10 inked only nine of the ESPNU top 100 recruits, seven of those players are exciting young guards, all ranked in the top 60 on that list. Arizona leads the way, signing point guard Josiah Turner (#14 overall, according to ESPNU) and Nick Johnson (#21), to go with a couple solid frontcourt signees (Angelo Chol and Sidiki Johnson, #60 and #91, respectively). But Washington (Tony Wroten, Jr., #16), Oregon (Jabari Brown, #25), Arizona State (Jahii Carson, #49), UCLA (Norman Powell, #51) and Stanford (Chasson Randle, #59) all have their own big backcourt recruits ready to provide a burst of energy.

Derrick Williams' performances were one of the highlights of the 2010-11 season.

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Checking in on… the Pac-10

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 3rd, 2011

Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Pac-10 and Mountain West Conferences.

A Look Back

Two weeks back, Washington beat Arizona pretty convincingly to grab sole control of the Pac-10 lead. A week later, the Wildcats snuck back into a first-place tie when they held serve at home against the Los Angeles schools on the same weekend the Huskies turned the ball over 24 times in a loss at Washington State. Such is life in the Pac-10 this year. The Huskies are the big favorite in the league and look for all the world to be head-and-shoulders above the rest of the competition, but every time they wrest away sole possession of first place, they give it back shortly later. And now, as we make the corner and head for the second turn around the conference, Washington and Arizona sit atop the leaderboard with 7-2 records, with UCLA just a half-game back and Washington State and Cal just another game back from there. To make a long story short, there is no room for mistakes for anyone at the top of the conference in the back half of the schedule.

Team of the Week: Arizona – There aren’t a ton of impressive wins on the Wildcat schedule, but they just keep plugging along solidly and taking care of business. And really, you don’t rack up an 18-4 record, even against mediocre competition, without being a pretty good team. This week they handled their business at home, knocking off UCLA and USC with relative ease and establishing themselves beyond any doubt as Washington’s main competition for the conference title.

Player of the Week: Klay Thompson, Junior, Washington State – With plenty of great games out of Derrick Williams and Isaiah Thomas lately, Thompson has been something of a forgotten man in the Pac-10. And yet, he leads the conference in scoring (22.3 PPG), three-point field goals (65), he’s third in assists (4.4 APG), third in steals (2.0 SPG) and in the top 20 in rebounding (5.3 RPG). And this week, he led his Cougs to a huge home win over in-state rival Washington by posting 25 points and constantly disrupting the Husky offense on his way to five steals. While Thomas and Williams may get most of the ink in the conference Player of the Year discussion, let’s not forget that this is still really a three horse race.

Newcomer of the Week: Allen Crabbe, Freshman, California – After no one really distinguished themselves in the non-conference portion of the schedule, Crabbe has taken a commanding lead in the race for Pac-10 Freshman of the Year with eight straight double-figure scoring performances in conference play. He continued his excellence this week by averaging 15 points, seven rebounds, two steals and two threes per game in a Golden Bear home sweep of the Oregon schools.

Game of the Week: UCLA 73 Arizona State 72 (OT) – After getting a reality check in Tucson on Thursday night, the Bruins looked like a focused team early against the Sun Devils on Saturday. They built up a lead as high as 15 points in the second half behind balanced offense, smothering defense, and a good dose of ASU ineptness. But Herb Sendek’s squad didn’t quit, and when the Bruins eased off the gas a bit, the Devils were able to tighten things up. Still, it took back-to-back Ty Abbott threes and a rebound-and-putback of a missed free throw by Trent Lockett to tie things up in regulation and send the game to overtime. In the extra period, the Bruins jumped out to a 9-2 run behind three consecutive threes by Lazeric Jones, Malcolm Lee and Jerime Anderson in the first two minutes, and from there the Bruins held on for a much-needed win.

Game of the Upcoming Week: Arizona (18-4, 7-2) at California (12-9, 5-4), 2/5, 5PM PST, Fox Sports Arizona – UCLA plays an interesting game this weekend when they host St. John’s in the Steve Lavin Bowl, but this is the game that may ultimately have the biggest effect on the conference race. All four of the Wildcat losses have come away from the McKale Center, and the Bears have won three of their four conference games at Haas Pavilion. And given Cal’s gritty defense, strong frontcourt play, excellent head coaching and the emergence of Crabbe and junior Harper Kamp as solid offensive threats, the Wildcats will have their work cut out for them on Saturday. Of course, Mike Montgomery still has to devise some sort of plan to slow Williams, so both coaches may not rest easy on Friday night.

Power Rankings

1. Washington (15-5, 7-2): When Lorenzo Romar got the stat sheet Sunday night after Washington’s loss in Pullman, I’m guessing his eyes went directly to the turnover column. And he couldn’t have liked what he saw there. Washington 24, Washington State 12. Isaiah Thomas, seven turnovers. Scott Suggs, five turnovers. Justin Holiday, four turnovers. Despite the Huskies’ dominance on the glass at both ends (they grabbed 85.7% of the available defensive rebounds and 37.8% of the offensive ones), the sheer number of turnovers was just something they couldn’t overcome. While the hope is that this game was just an aberration (the Huskies have actually been very good on the season, turning the ball over just under 17% of all their possessions – 16th-best in the nation), the fact is that Thomas’ turnovers have been increasing of late. In four of his last five games, he has turned the ball over at least four times, although the good news is that he has been handing out so many assists, his assist-to-turnover ratio over that span has still been better than two-to-one. Nevertheless, it will be worthwhile to keep an eye on Thomas in the coming games to see if he begins taking better care of the ball.

Looking ahead: The northwest flavor of the Washington schedule continues this week, with a trip to the Oregon schools and a good chance to right the ship.

2. Arizona (18-4, 7-2): I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: beyond Derrick Williams – who is as talented a player as there is in the nation – this roster looks completely ordinary. So how have they gotten to this 18-4 record, and how do we find them tied with the Huskies atop the Pac-10? Three things: (1) they shoot a great percentage from the field (eighth in the nation in effective field goal percentage and three-point percentage), (2) they defend the hell out of the three (their opponents shoot just 26.7% from behind the arc against them, the lowest percentage in the nation) and (3) they get to the line effectively (they shoot almost half as many free throws as field goals) and once there, knock down the gimmes at 74.3% rate. Now, in all of these areas, Williams is the linchpin behind these numbers. He’s first in the nation in effective field goal percentage and true shooting percentage, while knocking down a spectacular 70% of his threes. And he is second in the nation in fouls drawn per 40 minutes and in free throw rate. But the fact is, the rest of his teammates are excellent complements to him and his skills. Sure, if you take Williams out of the lineup, this team will fight with Oregon State and Arizona State at the bottom of the conference, but the way things are, the Wildcats are a formidable opponent.

Looking ahead: A trip to the Bay Area looms and the Wildcats have a big mid-term ahead of them this week. A couple wins would be mighty impressive, while a split would be perfectly acceptable.

3. UCLA (15-7, 7-3): The Bruins had a chance to make a big splash this week in their trip to the McKale Center, but despite escaping with a one-point overtime win at ASU on Saturday, Ben Howland and crew returned home with plenty of regrets about a missed opportunity. But the fact was, UCLA’s defense just wasn’t very good, especially against Williams. Plenty of Bruins had their chance at slowing him, and none were very effective. Throw in the fact that Lazeric Jones and Tyler Honeycutt combined to make just one of their 15 field goal attempts and the Bruins left the desert feeling like they had left some money on the table. However, they were able to post a big win last night, knocking off cross-town rival USC and breaking a four-game losing streak in the series. Still, questions remain about the overall maturity on the team. As good as Reeves Nelson has been at times this year, he has a tendency to pout and sulk when things aren’t going his way, and he’s disappeared from a game on more than one occasion. Freshman center Josh Smith has had similar apparent attitude problems, could still stand to lose a pound or 50 and has struggled with foul difficulty all season long. And on Thursday night against Arizona, it was the junior point guard Jones who picked up a dumb technical on an intentional elbow at an inopportune time in the second half. The Bruins will need to get more consistency and more maturity in order to have a serious effect on the Pac-10 championship race, but given all the mistakes they’ve made thus far, the fact that they are right near the top of the standings has to be encouraging.

Looking ahead: On Saturday, UCLA welcomes Steve Lavin back to Westwood, as their former coach returns with his athletic St. John’s team in tow.  Next week, they host the Oregon schools, so this is a big stretch for the Bruins where they are capable of stringing together a streak of wins.

4. Washington State (15-6, 5-4): The Cougars really needed a win on Sunday night against Washington. A loss would have put them under .500 on the first swing around the conference and would have relegated them to long-shot NCAA Tournament consideration at best. But the win they got serves as by far their best win on the season. It’s not their fault teams like Baylor and Gonzaga have been underwhelming, but losses to similarly disappointing teams like Kansas State, Butler and a few tough losses around the Pac-10 were concerning. However, they got solid play and contributions from up and down the roster. Beyond Thompson, Reggie Moore (18 points, five assists), DeAngelo Casto (11 points, eight rebounds) and Faisal Aden (15 points, three three-pointers) all had impressive statlines, while role players like Abe Lodwick, Brock Motum, Marcus Capers and even little-used freshman Patrick Simon helped out.

Looking ahead: A road-trip to the Oregon schools gives the Cougars a good chance at potentially getting a record-boosting road sweep.

5. Cal (12-9, 5-4): In a way, it’s been a tale of two seasons for the Golden Bears. Remember, this is a team that scored five points in the first half against Temple the day after Thanksgiving. They followed that performance up with a 15-point second half a couple of days later against Boston College, and all told in the Old Spice Classic, they averaged 49 points per game. And, not to blame it all on one kid, but in the 13 games prior to Gary Franklin abruptly quitting the team, the Bears averaged 65.9 points; in the eight games since then (in games with roughly the same average number of possessions), they have averaged 77.1 points per game. A lot of this can be attributed to the emergence of Crabbe as a strong offensive weapon, but there is little doubt that the Cal offense has run much more smoothly and efficiently since Brandon Smith has joined the starting backcourt alongside Jorge Gutierrez in place of the departed Franklin.

Looking ahead: The Bears host the Oregon schools this week, and given the way the Pac-10 has played out thus far, no one really knows what to expect in those games.

6. USC (12-11, 4-6): The Trojans do one thing exceedingly well: they clean the defensive glass with abandon, grabbing over 72% of all available rebounds on that end of the floor. Last week, they were even better than that, grabbing 85.7% of the defensive rebounds against a poor rebounding Arizona State team, and then posting a 77.3 defensive rebound percentage against Arizona. But last night against UCLA, even that escaped them as they allowed UCLA to grab 40.7% of their misses. While the defensive rebounding is usually a strength, unfortunately for Kevin O’Neill, this team doesn’t do much else very well. Against ASU, the Trojans escaped with a two-point win primarily because the Sun Devils missed 13 of their 25 free throw attempts, while against the Wildcats on Saturday, the Trojans had no such luck. Not only was Arizona at least competent from the free throw line, but they were unconscious from the field, posting a 71.4 effective field goal percentage while hitting 10 of their 19 three-point attempts. The lack of defensive acumen has to be particularly galling to O’Neill, widely regarded as a defensive wizard who had these Trojans post the second best defensive efficiency numbers in the country last year. Given that USC’s players are just average offensively, if they can’t pick up their game on the defensive end, this becomes the middle-of-the-road bunch that their record suggests.

Looking ahead: After the Bruin game last night, USC has the weekend off in preparation for the Oregon schools next week, a pair of relatively easy games that the Trojans are desperately in need of. While NCAA Tournament at-large hopes are long gone at this point, USC needs to string together some wins to be considered for the other postseason tournaments.

7. Stanford (11-9, 4-5): The Cardinal have got to be kicking themselves over their loss at Maples Pavilion to Oregon, the first time they had lost at home to the Ducks since 1986. Stanford got off to a slow start and never led in the first half, but came back early in the second half to take a brief lead. But after they let the Ducks rip off a 12-0 run in the middle of the half, they never led again. The two main deficiencies in the loss were their failures at the free throw line and their inability to keep the undersized Ducks off the offensive glass. The Cardinal did bounce back on Saturday, defeating Oregon State and salvaging a home split, but Jeremy Green was particularly bad this weekend, making just five of his 19 shots in the two games. In fact, in the last eight games, Green has shot just 28.4% from the field and has posted just a 35.3 effective field goal percentage. But Johnny Dawkins has to be pleased with the development of a couple of his freshmen, as forward Dwight Powell scored 23 points, grabbed 11 rebounds, blocked six shots and swiped five steals on the weekend, while Anthony Brown had 33 points, 11 rebounds, six threes and four steals.

Looking ahead: The Cardinal play the back half of a four-game homestand this week with visits from Arizona on Thursday and Arizona State on Saturday.

8. Oregon (10-11, 3-6): I’ve written similar things in this space several times this year, but one more time won’t hurt anybody: Dana Altman can-flat out coach. The win over Stanford isn’t a whole lot to write home about, but the fact that this Duck squad has three conference wins and is within shouting distance of a .500 overall record is pretty impressive. This week, senior forward Joevan Catron returned to prominence for the Ducks after some mid-season injury problems, leading the team in scoring in both games and 18.5 PPG and 7 RPG. Malcolm Armstead was also effective in both games (13 PPG, 5 APG) and has now wrapped a pair of strong back-to-back performances around his stinker at Oregon State.

Looking ahead: The Ducks host the Washington schools, a daunting task for anyone in the conference.

9. Oregon State (8-12, 3-6): Remember when the Beavers were 2-0 in the conference, Jared Cunningham looked like the second coming of Russell Westbrook and there was much excitement about the potential of the OSU youngsters? Well, if so, you’re lucky, because watching the Beavers bumble through the last seven games should have rightfully given any basketball fan an amnesia-inducing brain aneurysm. Now I see how this team lost to Utah Valley State. Since Cunningham’s streak of nine straight double-digit games, he has been up and down. He posted a very strong 24-point performance against USC a couple weeks back, but in the four games around that outburst he has averaged 7.5 points per game on five-of-25 shooting. Freshman Roberto Nelson, who briefly stole Calvin Haynes’ starting spot, has been even less effective, scoring 21 total points in the last four games, making just seven of 30 shots and turning the ball over ten times, on his way towards giving that starting spot right back. Joe Burton has been better than both of them, but has never since approached his eye-opening play against the Arizona schools. The talent is under there somewhere, and we’ll see over the next couple of years if head coach Craig Robinson is capable of coaxing it out.

Looking ahead: Washington comes calling on Thursday, with a visit from Washington State on the slate for Saturday.

10. Arizona State (9-12, 1-8): The Sun Devils in no way looked like a 1-8 team this weekend. They played both USC and UCLA right down to the wire, losing the two games by a grand total of three points, but tucked away in the middle of two very close games were some details that ASU didn’t take care of that could have been the difference between a 0-2 weekend and a 2-0 weekend. Against USC, the team missed 13 of its 25 free throw attempts in losing a two-point game. Against the Bruins, they were better in that category, missing just nine of their 24 foul shots, but an inability to connect from the floor for huge swaths of the game condemned them to a 15-point second half deficit. They did scrape back to tie the game and send it to overtime, but allowing three straight open threes to start the extra period again doomed them to trying to fight back from behind; this time they simply ran out of time.

Looking ahead: The Devils travel to Cal and Stanford this weekend, and it will be interesting to see where this team’s head is at. Are they ready to pack it in, or will the three ASU seniors rally the troops and go out fighting?

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