USC Week: One-On-One With Kevin O’Neill

Posted by AMurawa on July 5th, 2012

Kevin O’Neill took over the USC program in the wake of Tim Floyd’s abrupt resignation in June 2009.The instability within the program caused USC to lose much of its 2009 recruiting class, but O’Neill helped that team – playing without the hope of a postseason berth due to fallout from the Floyd era – keep it’s head above water, finishing with a 16-14 record. The following season, the Trojans were able to sneak into the NCAA Tournament, claiming a spot in the initial First Four, but last season the team was torn apart by injuries and recorded a program-worst 6-26 record. This year reinforcements arrive and folks around the USC program think they could be due for a big bounce-back season. As part of our week-long look at the Trojan basketball program, we had a chance last week to talk to O’Neill as he looks forward to 2012-13.

Kevin O'Neill, USC

In Three Seasons At USC, Kevin O’Neill Has Established A Tough Defensive Personality For His Trojan Team

Andrew Murawa: Obviously last year was one of those Murphy’s Law kind of years. Despite all of the bad luck and losses, are you able to find any silver lining in an otherwise bad year?

Kevin O’Neill: You know, once Jio (Fontan) got hurt in Brazil it all sort of fell apart. You kind of have to go back a couple of years. When we took over the program, there were no freshmen or sophomores – we lost two classes completely and we were able to piece it together with six guys per year for the first two years. And we knew we had to avoid injury for the third year. And then everyone got hurt. And once everybody got hurt, we didn’t have enough talent or enough players or enough depth. We had played without depth for two years and had been fortunate to avoid injuries, but it just caught up with up with us last year. But, it will make us appreciate this year a whole lot more.

AM: You did get some guys plenty of experience last year. Maurice Jones, for one, was forced into a pretty extreme role last year, playing a ton of minutes, having the ball in his hands a lot and probably taking more shots than he ever expected to take in his college career. With all the firepower you are getting back this year, is he looking forward to getting back to more of a normal role?

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USC Week: Reinforcements Arrive Among Seven Newcomers

Posted by AMurawa on July 4th, 2012

Coupled with the three players that the Trojans get back from season-ending injuries last season, Kevin O’Neill welcomes in four newly-eligible Division I transfers, two scholarship freshmen, and a walk-on freshman. This means that the USC team that finished off last season with an opening-round Pac-12 tourney loss to UCLA will bear almost no resemblance to the team that tips off the 2012-13 season in November. Below, we’ll introduce you to each of those seven newcomers, roughly in the order of impact that they’ll have on their new team.

  • J.T. Terrell, Junior, Guard, 6’3” 185 lbs, Wake Forest – Terrell played his freshman season as Wake Forest, scoring 11.1 points per game and finishing second on the team in scoring. But, two months before his sophomore season was to begin, he got busted for a DWI and decided to leave the school. He attended Peninsula College in Washington last season and averaged 24.4 points per game on his way towards earning the rating of the best junior college player in America (according to Swannys Roundball Review). In his single season with the Demon Deacons, Terrell showed a great fondness for shooting the ball, taking nearly 30% of his team’s field goal attempts while he was on the floor, but hitting only 38.8% of those. He showed improvement last season at the JuCo level, making 48% of his attempts from the field, but with this Trojan team featuring plenty of capable scorers, Terrell needs to show that he can be an effective offensive player even when not getting all the looks he wants.
J.T. Terrell, USC

J.T. Terrell Headlines A List of Four Newly Eligible Division I Transfers At USC (Chuck Burton/AP Photo)

  • Ari Stewart, Junior, Small Forward, 6’7” 205 lbs, Wake Forest – Stewart’s freshman season at Wake Forest came a year prior to Terrell’s, but they were remarkably similar. Like Terrell, Stewart took almost 30% of his team’s shots while on the floor (albeit in fewer minutes) and made just 37.5% of those. His sophomore season showed some signs of improvement as he became more judicious with his attempts and as a result shot a higher percentage, but for a guy who shoots a ton of threes, his percentage from behind the arc dipped from a solid 37.1% to a woeful 27.4%. Still, Stewart showed a new side to his game as a sophomore, taking on more of a ball-handling role and actually dishing out some assists; unfortunately, a big bump up in turnovers accompanied that change. At USC, he likely won’t be needed to do a whole lot of handling, but he will be asked to knock down the three from the corner and from the wing. He’ll at least need to bounce back to his freshman year efficiency to live up to expectations. Read the rest of this entry »
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USC Week: Running Down The Returnees

Posted by AMurawa on July 3rd, 2012

The Trojans return six contributors from last season’s team, along with point guard Jio Fontan, who comes back after losing last year to a torn ACL. The returnees range from players whose seasons were cut short, to underclassmen who got big time minutes in the absence of their injured teammates, to role players whose minutes could dwindle in the presence of USC’s newly stocked roster. Below, we’ll take a look at each of these returnees in order of their scoring averages in the last season played.

  • Maurice Jones, Junior, Guard (13.0 PPG, 3.5 APG, 2.7 RPG, 1.8 SPG) – Jones’ season last year was one of the most extreme seasons I can remember from a player. He played 94.7% of the possible minutes, logging 24 games in which he played 37 minutes or more, including a 49-minute epic in a double overtime loss to Nebraska. And those weren’t passive minutes either, as he used 26% of the team’s possessions and took 27% of their shots – only four times all season did he attempt fewer than 10 field goals in a game. Unfortunately, many times those double-digit field goal attempts were accompanied by tiny numbers in the field goals made column – he posted a paltry 39.8% eFG and an offensive efficiency rating of 85.4. We could go on for several more sentences ripping apart Jones’ 2011-12 season, but the fact is, he did more or less what head coach Kevin O’Neill asked of him, taking on a huge offensive role in the absence of other more polished offensive players. And, in some areas, Jones shone, specifically with assists on 23.9% of his teammates hoops (the pessimist could point out that was because he always had the ball in his hands), compared with turnovers on just 15% of his team’s possessions (a number even the pessimists would have to admit is pretty impressive for a guy that handled it as much as Jones). With reinforcements arriving this season, Jones’ role should return to some form of normalcy, and you can expect his efficiency to increase as well. Still, at 5’7”, he’s always going to be something of a liability on defense, so it will be interesting to see just how large of a role he plays this year.
Maurice Jones, USC

Maurice Jones Played A Huge Role For USC Last Year, Playing 94.7% Of His Possible Minutes (Brandon Hui/Daily Trojan)

  • Aaron Fuller, Senior, Forward (10.6 PPG, 5.9 RPG) – Fuller was the Trojans’ best offensive player last season, his first year of eligibility after transferring from Iowa. He was the one guy on the team who could get the ball in the post or at the elbow and either make a move or knock down a jumper. And, better still, he excelled on the glass, especially on the offensive end where he could get the Trojans easy buckets. His one major weakness, however, is something that isn’t going to change: He’s a 6’6” power forward. Sure, he can out-hustle and out-scrap a lot of guys, but there is a ceiling to just how good he can be.
  • Jio Fontan, Senior, Point Guard (10.5 PPG, 3.9 APG in 2010-11) – Fontan played 23 games for the Trojans in 2010-11 after transferring over from Fordham, leading the team to a 13-10 record over that span. His USC career got off to a strong start as he scored in double figures in the first four games, but lulled a bit in the meat of conference. At Fordham, he was expected to be the primary offensive force, while the Trojans want him to be more of a pure point, so the last time we saw him play, his game was still a work in progress. But, he’s now had two offseasons to work on his game and he got the blessing-in-a-seriously-good-disguise of being able to watch a season from the sidelines. He’s got the ability to score at a big-time level, but if he can balance his scoring with the ability to create for his teammates, he’ll live up to the high expectations that O’Neill has for him.
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USC Week: Evaluating The Recent Past

Posted by AMurawa on July 2nd, 2012

It has now been 20 seasons since the USC Trojans last finished a season with less than 10 losses, 26 years since they earned at least a piece of the Pac-10 title and 51 whopping years since they won their conference outright (then known as the Athletic Association of Western Universities – or the Big Five). Compared to that history of futility, the recent past in USC basketball has been relatively successful. Between the 2006-07 and the 2010-11 seasons, the Trojans posted a combined 103-66 record, finished tied for third twice and never finished lower than a tie for fifth. And then came last season, when the wheels came off the bus entirely, as the team limped home to a school-worst 6-26 record, helped along by an almost unbelievable stretch of injuries. Of the five players who started in USC’s first exhibition game last summer in Brazil, just one was still active when their season wrapped up, and all told, just six scholarship players remained available.

Kevin O'Neill, USC

The USC Basketball Program Had Been Relatively Successful In Kevin O’Neill’s First Two Seasons, But Nothing Went Right Last Year (Rick Scuteri/AP)

Teams are going to have injuries from time to time, and head coach Kevin O’Neill understands that, but last year’s streak of bad luck came at a particularly tough time, with the program left in a fragile state by previous head coach Tim Floyd. In June 2009, Floyd resigned abruptly in the wake of NCAA investigations (and eventual penalties) related to illegal benefits for O.J Mayo, just shortly after starters DeMar DeRozan, Taj Gibson and Daniel Hackett had all decided to leave school early to pursue professional careers. With the change in staff and the NCAA sleuthing around, the Trojans lost all but one player from their 2009 recruiting class, including Derrick Williams, Momo Jones and Renardo Sidney. The Trojans were able to scrape into the NCAA Tournament in 2011 behind a molasses-slow tempo and stingy defense, but the program was still in recovery mode from the Floyd fiasco, lacking the depth to be able to mask the multiple injuries they endured last year.

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USC: 2011-12 Post-Mortem

Posted by AMurawa on April 13th, 2012

What Went Wrong

Everything. Almost literally. The Trojans lost their senior point guard Jio Fontan to a torn ACL on their summer trip to Brazil, a trip that also saw forward Curtis Washington go down with a shoulder injury from which he would not return. Later injuries ended the seasons for sophomore forward DeWayne Dedmon and junior forward Aaron Fuller, leaving a skeleton crew on the court for head coach Kevin O’Neill. And he, in turn, handed over the keys to the car to sophomore point guard Maurice Jones, who started off the season as a bomber sans conscience (two-for 13 in their season opening win over Cal State Northridge) and went out much the same (two-for-eight in their Pac-12 Tournament loss to UCLA). While you have to give credit to Jones for bringing his lunch pail to work every day (he played in every game, only once played less than 30 minutes and 12 times played 40 or more on his way to playing 94.7% of his team’s minutes), there just came a time when you wished that lunchpail didn’t always include something like a four-for-14 sandwich. But, given the dearth of offensive weapons for the offense and O’Neill’s insistence that Jones keep bombing away, it’s hard to blame him for trying.

Maurice Jones, USC

Maurice Jones Was A Constant For The Trojans, But Was Typically Inefficient (Brendan Hui, Daily Trojan)

What Went Right

Well. The season did end. Eventually. After a school-worst 6-26 record that included one win in the final 20 games.

MVP

As teammates fell by the wayside around him, freshman wing Byron Wesley stepped up his game scoring in double figures in 11 of the final 13 games and averaging 13.9 points and 5.7 rebounds over that stretch while establishing himself as one of the best defenders on the team. And, like Jones, he was an ironman for the team, playing in 85.8% of his team’s minutes.

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Pac-12 Morning Five: 02.16.12 Edition

Posted by AMurawa on February 16th, 2012

  1. Larry Scott has made quite a splash in his two-plus years in his current job. Aside from being partially responsible for making the Pac-10 obsolete and ushering in the era of the Pac-12, he helped the conference ink a huge new television deal with ESPN and Fox that made presidents, trustees and other administrators all up and down the conference very happy. That television deal begins next year, and as part of it, the conference will be unveiling a Pac-12 Network, and we got some more details on Wednesday about how that will look when the conference held the groundbreaking ceremony for the network’s future studios. There will be one national channel and six regional channels, and together they will air approximately 850 live events next year, including every football game and every men’s basketball game that does not appear on other national networks (i.e., ESPN or Fox). Additionally, all of those games will be available on mobile devices. Now, we just need to get some recruits into these schools so we’ll have some significantly more watchable games.
  2. Case in point: I write about Pac-12 basketball, I live in Los Angeles, I love college basketball rivalry games and I may or may not have had a rooting interest in the UCLA/USC basketball game on Wednesday night. But rather than being excited about watching the game, I took a look at it from time to time, merely out of a sense of duty. And the fact that I put my precious eyes in the precarious position of having to watch that mess should show just how dedicated I am. UCLA led the whole way, building its lead as high as 23 points in the second half, before fading back into a 10-point win. Still, despite the lopsidedness of the game, head coach Ben Howland never really called off the dogs, playing just seven players the whole way. The Bruins dominated on the glass (41.2% OR, 88.2% DR) and were led by the Wear twins, who combined for 30 points and 24 rebounds, each registering a double-double. And, Maurice Jones is still gunning away: 3-for-11 tonight.
  3. As we head down the stretch, we start saying goodbye to seniors, little by little. For Washington’s Darnell Gant, his final homestand of his career comes this weekend, as the Huskies finish the season with three straight road games. Gant has been in Seattle for five years now, after taking a redshirt his first year under Lorenzo Romar. But after an inauspicious beginning, Gant has the opportunity to become the first player in Washington history to go to four NCAA Tournaments. While he came into college dreaming of an NBA future, those plans are a longshot now. However, Gant already has a diploma in his pocket, earning a performing arts degree last June and could have another type of entertainment career ahead of him.
  4. Just like the Huskies, every other team in the top five of the conference standings have two home games and three road games remaining on their schedule. And fans of each team are probably all coming up with some sort of formula that will not only put that team in NCAA Tournament contention, but also give them a chance to take down the regular season title. For Colorado, that formula begins with a win at Utah on Saturday. While the Buffaloes have struggled on the road this year, that is a very winnable must-win game. For there, CU returns home, where they are 7-0 in conference, to host California and Stanford. Beating the Golden Bears will be tough no matter where they play, but the Buffs will need to extend their home record to 9-0. To this point, all of this is very reasonable; where Tad Boyle’s club will need to break form is in the final week of the season, when they’ll have to travel to the Oregon schools to wrap up the year. Winning at a lower division team like Oregon State in the final game of the season is very doable, leaving the game on March 1 at Oregon as the lone game where the Buffs would need to significantly overachieve to get the job done.
  5. Lastly, while Arizona is by no means giving up on the rest of the season, they are already making plans for the offseason: namely, the Bahamas. Schools are allowed to take an exhibition tour once every four years, and Sean Miller is planning to take his Wildcats on a short trip to the Bahamas in August. While the team will only play a handful of games there, the major bonus for the squad is the additional practices and extra time together than the team will get to experience. With a group of four talented freshmen coming in next season and needing to be merged with a team that will be missing three senior contributors on this year’s team, the offseason trip should make the Wildcats that much more difficult to handle next year.
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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: 02.01.12 Edition

Posted by AMurawa on February 1st, 2012

  1. It doesn’t come as much of a surprise, but it is still disappointing; Faisal Aden’s career at Washington State is now over, after an MRI on the knee he injured against Arizona on Thursday night showed a torn ACL. In the end, this goes down as a story interrupted in the middle with no satisfactory ending. Just as Aden was playing his best basketball of his career, and doing so in a manner far different than the wild, erratic style he had cultivated in his first year and a half in Pullman. Now we don’t get to see the final act, to see if the changes were just a temporary flash in the pan, or a sign of a change that would bring the player’s redemption. The basketball gods can be cruel at times.
  2. While Aden’s year ends early, David Foster’s season never had a chance to really get underway. Utah’s 7’3” center broke a bone in his foot just six minutes into the Utes’ opening exhibition game, and he’s still in a walking boot three months later. There had been some talk earlier in the year that head coach Larry Krystkowiak might not want Foster to return to the program next year, in part because he has been notoriously injury prone over his career, but also because it would free up another scholarship for the program to rebuild with. And Foster himself considered leaving his basketball career behind. But both Foster and Krystkowiak decided that both the program and the player would be better served by his attempted return next year. Krystkowiak, in particular, notes that he wants “to do right by the kids in the program” and to keep from “kicking anybody to the curb.” You hear a lot about coaches making harsh personnel decisions in which the interests of the program supercede the interests of the player, but in this case it is good to hear a story about a coach taking the best interests of a player into consideration. Now let’s just hope Foster can stay healthy for a full year.
  3. California sophomore guard Allen Crabbe missed practice on Tuesday and was seen wearing a protective boot on his right foot. Mike Montgomery declined to give any comment about the injury, so prior to the Bears’ meeting with Arizona in Berkeley on Thursday night, Crabbe’s status has to be in question. Crabbe is Cal’s leading scorer, averaging 15.8 points per game and hitting 43.6% of his three-point attempts. Last season he missed all or part of three different games with a concussion; the Golden Bears lost all three of those games.
  4. Nobody likes injuries in sports, but I’m pretty sure if USC head coach Kevin O’Neill could read the above three stories, sit back in his chair and say, “that’s nothing.” You see, O’Neill has had five players have their seasons ended prematurely due to injury. In fact, of the five players the Trojans started in their first exhibition game during their summer trip to Brazil, only sophomore guard Maurice Jones remains standing (and shooting – always shooting). If USC had been able to sneak through this season in relative health, they probably would be in the top half of the conference; instead, they just earned their first conference win last weekend against a lowly Utah team. Still, all of those players should be back next season, along with a trio of incoming transfers (Eric Wise from UC Irvine and J.T. Terrell and Ari Stewart from Wake Forest), meaning the Trojans should be a vastly different team in 2012-13.
  5. Lastly, keeping with the injury theme, Arizona State junior wing Trent Lockett has missed the last four games with a right ankle sprain, and there is a good chance he will miss two more this weekend. But, if there is good news about that story, the Sun Devils have seen point guard Chris Colvin take up the reigns in recent games and play his best basketball of his short career in Tempe. Given that Colvin has already been suspended twice by head coach Herb Sendek, it’s good to see him make some positive changes.
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Pac-12 Morning Five: 01.30.12 Edition

Posted by AMurawa on January 30th, 2012

  1. We’re now officially halfway through the conference season (man, does time ever fly) and after nine games we’ve got a tie at the top of the conference, with both California and Washington sitting at 7-2. For much of the season, the Huskies have been considered a significant disappointment, underachieving despite boasting one of the most talented rosters in the Pac-12. But this weekend, they scored a huge road win at Arizona in front of a prime-time ESPN audience, capping a sweep of the Arizona schools and earning what is their most impressive road victory of the season. But, as is typical of the Huskies, it seems, it didn’t come easy. At the final media timeout, the U-Dub held a 62-52 lead on the Wildcats and appeared to be coasting. But, turnovers, missed free throws, blown layups and porous defense (not to mention a healthy helping of Solomon Hill) found the game tied up with nine seconds left after a Hill three. But, following the three, freshman guard Josiah Turner was called for a blocking foul in the backcourt, some 60 feet from the basket, with just five seconds left, sending C.J. Wilcox, a 90% free throw shooter to the line. He made both of them, but Turner had redemption on his mind, driving the length of the court in the final seconds, getting all the way to the cup, only to have his shot blocked by Washington freshman Tony Wroten at the buzzer. The last time these two teams played in Tucson, it was Zona’s Derrick Williams rejecting Darnell Gant in the closing moments to seal the win for UA. The loss sends Arizona two back of the leaders in the conference, and cements them in a situation where they will need to win the Pac-12 Tournament to earn their 27th NCAA Tournament invitation in the last 28 years. Furthermore, they’ll have to do so without junior forward Kevin Parrom, who broke his foot in the game and is out the rest of the year. Meanwhile, the Huskies are tied for first place, and if nothing else, at least are in the conversation for an at-large tournament bid, even if their overall resume is lacking.
  2. California earned its spot at the top of the midway standings by knocking off rival Stanford Sunday night, using a 20-9 run in the middle of the second half to put the Cardinal away. But senior guard Jorge Gutierrez, who had a career-high 12 rebounds to go with 11 points on the night, said the game with Stanford wasn’t necessarily a rivalry game, claiming that the Golden Bears just want to win games regardless of who they’re playing. Nevertheless, the win not only keeps Cal in first place, but it knocks the Cardinal down a peg; they’re sitting at 5-4 in the conference, two games back of the leaders.
  3. Oregon now sits a game back of Cal and Washington, after blowing a nine-point second half lead and seeing their rival Oregon State run away from them with a blistering offensive performance in the second stanza. The Beavers scored 53 points, shot a 66.1% eFG and hit five of their seven three-point attempts after the half, led by junior guard Jared Cunningham who had 24 of his 27 points after the break. The win brings OSU back within a game of .500 in conference play and marks the team’s first road win in conference play. They’ll get a chance to bolster their road chops next week with a trip to the Rockies for games with Colorado and Utah.
  4. Speaking of Colorado, they’re tied with Oregon a game back of the conference leaders, but they’re coming off a shellacking by UCLA in Los Angeles on Saturday in which the Buffs’ struggles on the road were highlighted. They’ve won just one conference road game in the first half of the schedule, and that was against a struggling USC team, so they’ll have to find a way to earn some road wins the rest of the way if they want to remain among the conference leaders, a task easier said than done with trips to the Oregon and Arizona schools still remaining. As for the Bruins, they’re in a pack along with Arizona and Stanford of talented teams sitting a couple games back of the conference leaders. However, much like those other two teams, they’re in win-the-Pac-12-tourney-or-else mode.
  5. Lastly, back to those Trojans for a second, as they got the job done this weekend for the first time in conference play, knocking off Utah on Saturday. Maurice Jones and Garrett Jackson each scored 16 points (the total a career-high for Jackson), freshman Byron Wesley handed out seven assists and junior Greg Allen hit three threes as Kevin O’Neill’s club broke a nine-game losing streak. But, the news was not all good for the Trojans, as sophomore forward DeWayne Dedmon tore the MCL in his left knee during the team’s loss to Colorado on Thursday night and will miss the remainder of the season. Dedmon’s injury means that the Trojans have now lost five different players to season-ending injuries.
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Pac-12 Power Rankings: Week 11

Posted by Connor Pelton on January 25th, 2012

Here’s a look at the power rankings that Drew and I have compiled after the 11th week of Pac-12 games:

1. California, 16-5 (6-2): After Thursday’s big win at Washington, the Golden Bears had a great chance to finish the week 2-0 and be all alone at the top of the conference. Instead, Faisal Aden had his second straight incredible performance off the bench, Brock Motum added 15 points, and at the end of the day, California was headed back to Berkeley with a 77-75 loss. But while the Washington State loss stings, the Bears still had a great win at Hec Edmunson on Thursday, a place where many teams don’t come out alive (unless you’re the fighting Jackrabbits of South Dakota State). Cal is now off until Sunday, when they welcome in rival Stanford for a huge game in the Pac-12 race. Up Next: 1/29 vs. Stanford

2. Oregon, 15-5 (6-2): It wasn’t easy at times for Oregon this week, but when the final buzzer sounded in Eugene on Saturday afternoon, the Ducks found themselves with a 6-2 record, good enough for a tie at first place in the Pac-12. While the week turned out to be a success, it almost started with disaster as USC had a chance to force overtime against them. But Maurice Jones’ three-point attempt with five seconds remaining was missed badly, giving Oregon the 65-62 win. On Saturday, the Ducks had to battle back from trailing by 15 (twice) before finally pulling even with the Bruins with 7:50 remaining in the game. From that point on, despite the score telling us otherwise, it always felt as the Ducks were in control. Turns out that they were, as Dana Altman’s Ducks knocked off UCLA by seven to earn their fourth straight win. Up Next: 1/29 vs. Oregon State

Oregon forward Olu Ashaolu is averaging 8.2 PPG and 4.8 RPG this season. (credit: AP)

3. Stanford, 15-5 (5-3): Cardinal fans couldn’t have asked for a worse week. On Thursday night in Pullman they were torched by the re-emergence of Aden, who went for 33 points off the bench in Washington State’s stunning 12-point win. Saturday’s game in Seattle didn’t go much better, as an uninspired Stanford team got down early and often. They did only trail by seven at halftime, and by five early in the second half, but a 21-3 Husky run shortly thereafter quickly put the game out of reach. Up Next: 1/29 @ California

4. Arizona, 13-7 (4-3): After an easy win at Utah on Thursday, the Wildcats came into the Coors Event Center looking for their fourth win in five tries. The win not only would have put them just a half game out of first place in the Pac-12, but also would have given them another solid road win to add to their résumé. Instead, it’s the Buffaloes that are a half game out, thanks to their thrilling 64-63 win. The game highlighted the fact that even if the Pac-12 is in a down year, Pac-12 basketball is still a great thing to watch. The biggest shot was also the game-winning one, coming with 1:19 remaining. Carlon Brown drained a three to put the Buffaloes up by one, and the defenses would take over from there. Up Next: 1/26 vs. Washington State

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Pac-12 Morning Five: 01.09.12 Edition

Posted by AMurawa on January 9th, 2012

  1. Arizona State came into conference play as one of the least talented teams in the Pac-12. This weekend they played without three of their players, all suspended for “unacceptable conduct” and it was announced Sunday that at least one of those players who had been suspended this weekend will not be returning to the team as Herb Sendek dismissed Keala King from the team. Kyle Cain and Chris Colvin, who were suspended along with King this weekend, apparently will return to the team. King becomes the eighth Sun Devil to leave the program with remaining eligibility since 2008 and the third player in a seven-man 2010 class to leave. It’s a good thing Sendek signed a contract extension earlier in the year, because this program is an absolute mess and will need to start over more or less from scratch next offseason. For what it’s worth, ASU did salvage a weekend split in Los Angeles, knocking off USC on Thursday before getting blown out by UCLA on Saturday.
  2. Saturday night, Stanford and Oregon State played one of the most entertaining games you’ll see this season, as the Cardinal somehow pulled off a 103-101 victory in the fourth overtime at Gill Coliseum. It was a game that was worth watching from the opening tip to the final buzzer, from Roberto Nelson’s shoeless three-pointers early in the first half (that had the OSU announcers way, WAY too excited) to his late body slam of Josh Huestis, to his potential game-winning three-pointer at the end of the fourth OT that just missed. There’s a ton more to be discussed here, and we’ll have something up later this afternoon, but for now enjoy reliving the game with Jeff Eisenberg’s five memorable moments from the game.
  3. There were two Pac-12 games on Sunday afternoon although neither came anywhere near matching the excitement in Corvallis Saturday night. They were, however, important games as the road teams came up with wins in both games. First it was Arizona getting over on USC in one of the uglier games you’ll see this season. The teams combined to shoot 3-of-30 from behind the arc, Arizona turned the ball over 17 times, and Maurice Jones was allowed to shoot the Trojans out of yet another game (he was 3-of-13 from the field and is now shooting a 42.1% eFG this year). Later, it was California going into Oregon and coming away with a 17-point victory that was most notable for Allen Crabbe’s best game of the season – 26 points, 12 rebounds and six three-pointers. In both cases, the road teams earned weekend splits, putting the Bears and the Wildcats, along with Stanford’s Cardinal and perhaps Washington’s Huskies atop the list of conference favorites.
  4. Washington’s on that list above in part due to their road win at Utah this weekend. While a win on the road in this year’s Pac-12 is nothing to scoff at, the Huskies weren’t exactly impressive in their victory. After struggling with the woeful Utes for 39 minutes, Washington at least had some breathing room down the stretch, having built up an eight-point lead with just a minute to play. But then Desmond Simmons missed the front-end of a one-and-one with the Utes in foul mode. And then Terrence Ross missed two more front-ends, allowing Utah to get back to within two points with 12 seconds left. Ross finally capped the game off by drilling a couple free throws, but the Huskies’ performance certainly didn’t inspire much confidence.
  5. Lastly, back to that UCLA/ASU game for a second. Bruin sophomore center Joshua Smith, back after missing Thursday’s game with a minor concussion, had his best game of the season, scoring 18 points in 21 minutes and dominating the undermanned Sun Devils. Thursday night Ben Howland noted that Smith, who has struggled with his conditioning throughout his UCLA career, after much work both in and out of practice, was down to his lowest weight of the season (presumably somewhere north of the 305 pounds at which he is presently listed). Saturday night, the work that he had put in was evident. Not only was he able to play 21 very effective minutes, but he actually dunked a ball – not just once, but twice! Don’t believe me? The proof is in the picture here. Now, this doesn’t mean that all of a sudden Smith is the all-conference performer that he has the talent to be (he did, after all, manage only four rebounds against ASU), but it is a huge step in the right direction both for Smith and the Bruins. I like to think he heard my plea.
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Pac-12 Morning Five: 12.30.11 Edition

Posted by AMurawa on December 30th, 2011

  1. Opening night in conference play was an exciting one, so let’s jump right into it with the game of the night, where Stanford held off UCLA, needing a Josh Huestis block of an attempt by Lazeric Jones to preserve a 60-59 victory. After giving up the first four points of the game, Stanford bounced back with a 15-2 run and never again trailed, although UCLA had multiple attempts to regain the lead in the second half. Jones led the charge for the Bruins, reeling off a career-high 26 points, but it was a couple of threes by Stanford freshman Chasson Randle wrapped around another three by sophomore Anthony Brown that broke a late tie and gave Stanford a five-point lead with five minutes to play. Randle had struggled on the night, hitting just one of his ten other attempts from the field and getting exposed on the UCLA pick and roll throughout the evening, but came up big down the stretch. Prior to the game, Stanford head coach Johnny Dawkins announced that junior guard Gabe Harris would miss the rest of the season after having surgery on his injured right knee. Harris had been averaging over 13 minutes per game off the bench.
  2. Up the road a stretch, California had to withstand a late charge from Maurice Jones and USC to pull out a four-point win. Jones hit three 3-pointers in the final four and a half minutes to bring the Trojans back from a 16-point deficit, and were right there, just a point back with the clock running down when Trojan sophomore center Dewayne Dedmon swatted Jorge Gutierrez’s layup attempt. However, the ball wound up in the hands of Allen Crabbe who, in his own words, “just threw it up” from behind the three-point line and was fouled by little-used Eric Stangis. Crabbe hit all three free throws and the Bears escaped. If there was ever a game for Gutierrez to shine in, it was this gritty, hard-fought game, and he certainly stood out, leading his team with 13 points, seven rebounds, seven assists, and four steals. However, his uncharacteristic two-of-seven night from the line was crucial in keeping USC in the game. Even more concerning for Mike Montgomery was his team getting absolutely crushed on the glass, allowing USC to grab 50% of the available offensive rebounds and 74.1% of the defensive rebounds. As expected, sophomore forward Richard Solomon did not play for Cal due to a stress fracture in his foot.
  3. Things were significantly less dramatic in the state of Washington last night, although for a brief moment it looked like Oregon State was on its way back from a 20-point deficit to make the Huskies sweat a bit down the stretch. After a wild Ahmad Starks three-pointer brought back to within 83-80, U-Dub closed the game on a 12-0 run to finish off the Beavers. The big story in the game was the played of Husky freshman guard Tony Wroten, who had 26 efficient points on 10-16 shooting, nine rebounds, four assists, just two turnovers, and hit five of his seven free throw attempts. While Wroten has now scored 20 or more in four of his last five games, this was far and away his best game in a young career. Lorenzo Romar also got significant production from the rest of his roster, with five other players – including sophomore wing C.J. Wilcox, who came off the bench for the first time this season – scoring in double figures.
  4. Perhaps the biggest surprise on the night in the conference was Oregon going into Spokane and taking apart Washington State, ending the Cougars six-game winning streak in spectacular fashion. While senior forward Olu Ashaolu gets the honorifics after scoring 23 points and grabbing ten rebounds, it was a total team effort for the Ducks, as they shot a ridiculous 78.6 eFG% and controlled the glass. As Craig Powers at CougCenter points out, Oregon scored about 1.31 points per possession on the night, a number that is a bit out of whack since the Ducks spent the last several minutes trying to run out the clock. In the first half, OU scored almost 1.8 points per possession. There’s a long way to go in the season, but this had to be a concerning outing for Washington State head coach Ken Bone.
  5. When Utah tips off its first conference game in the Pac-12 on Saturday at Colorado, it will do so without senior guard Chris Hines. Hines broke his left thumb three weeks ago against BYU, and has been playing through the injury for the Utes last three games (including its only two wins of the season), but head coach Larry Krystkowiak says he can barely even catch the ball, so Hines will sit for the time being. Unfortunately for the under-talented Utes, Hines’ backups are banged up as well, as walk-on Alex Mortenson is out after suffering a concussion in practice this week and junior Cedric Martin has been struggling with plantar fasciitis this week and will be a game-time decision on Saturday.
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