Pac-12 Weekly Honors: Week 15

Posted by AMurawa on February 27th, 2012

Team of the Week

Washington – In coming back from what was a 13-point deficit with just 11 minutes left, the Huskies not only managed to pull off a season sweep of Apple Cup rival Washington State, they also, combined with California’s loss on Sunday, vaulted themselves into sole ownership of first place in the Pac-12. While their win over WSU certainly wasn’t a thing of beauty, the Huskies managed to gut one out, overcoming Terrence Ross’ foul trouble and ineffectiveness to put it away down the stretch. Despite shooting just 62.2% from the line for the season, the Huskies shot made 78.9% of their 19 second-half free throws, including 58%-free-throw-shooter Tony Wroten knocking down seven of his nine attempts in the second half. With a road trip to the Los Angeles schools the last remaining hurdle on the Husky schedule, it looks like it comes down to this: beat UCLA at the Sports Arena on Saturday and claim the regular season conference title.

Kyle Fogg, Arizona

Kyle Fogg Is Wrapping Up His Arizona Career With His Best Basketball Yet (Chris Morrison/US Presswire)

Player of the Week

Kyle Fogg, Senior, Arizona – Fogg has been rock-steady in his four seasons in Tucson, but with his career rapidly coming to a close, he has begun showing a newly developing personality: glass-eating double-double machine. After going 130 games as a Wildcat without once grabbing 10 or more rebounds, in the past four games Fogg has recorded two double-doubles, two near-misses with nine rebounds and has averaged 15.8 points and ten rebounds per game over that stretch. This week it was 18 points and 10.5 rebounds per night in helping to orchestrate a home-sweep of the Los Angeles schools and keeping the Wildcats in line for a opening-round bye in the Pac-12 Tournament. He came to Tucson as a Lute Olson recruit, but never played a minute for the icon whose health forced him to retirement. But over the years, Fogg has become a fixture in Tucson. When the Wildcats eventually open up the Pac-12 Tournament, Fogg will tie Jason Gardner for most games played in Arizona basketball history and he ranks in the top ten in the school’s list for minutes played and three-pointers.

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Pac-12 Morning Five: 02.27.12 Edition

Posted by AMurawa on February 27th, 2012

  1. It doesn’t go down as a surprise of any kind, but Colorado’s win over California on Sunday afternoon certainly doesn’t lack in importance. The Buffaloes got off to a strong start and withstood some pushback from the Golden Bears to lead for the final 30 minutes of the game and knock Cal from their perch atop the conference standings. Colorado, meanwhile, kept themselves in the mix for one of the four first-round byes in the Pac-12 Tournament. The Buffaloes were led by Austin Dufault and Nate Tomlinson, who celebrated their Senior Day in style, as Dufault went for 15, while Tomlinson had 11, four assists, and four boards and had a major hand in throwing a wrench into the Cal backcourt. Jorge Gutierrez and Justin Cobbs were held to a combined three-of-18 from the floor Sunday night, and in both games against Colorado this season, that duo was just eight-of-44 (18.2%) from the field. Lost in all the lovey-dovey Senior Day celebrating was fellow Colorado senior Carlon Brown slumping on the bench and seemingly not all that pleased to watch freshmen Spencer Dinwiddie and Askia Booker finish the game off. Maybe Tad Boyle is already sick of Brown’s act (it is his first year of eligibility in Boulder after transferring from Utah), but with important games still remaining for Colorado (not just their trip to Oregon next week, but the Pac-12 Tournament, which it seems like they will need to win in order to earn an NCAA Tournament invite), Boyle will have to find some way to get something out of Brown, who is just 22-of-76 from the field in the month of February.
  2. The California loss leaves Washington all by its lonesome in first place in the conference. The Huskies needed a second-half comeback to knock off Apple Cup rival Washington State on Saturday, and they earned that victory largely at the free throw line, not bad for a team in the bottom 10% of the nation in free throw percentage. The Huskies made ten of its final 12 free throw attempts while the Cougars hit just 17 of their 32 second half attempts from the charity stripe and U-Dub escaped with a four-point win. Tony Wroten led the way with 21 points (albeit on 6-18 from the field), while Terrence Ross, in his first game after being declared the Pac-12 POY favorite by yours truly, was limited to just 21 ineffective minutes by foul trouble – he was just one-of-five from the field with two points and three rebounds.
  3. It’s been a long, rough season for Utah, with little talent and as a result, little to play for. But, give credit to head coach Larry Krystkowiak who has kept the Utes scraping hard all season long, and give credit to his team, who the head man describes as “resilient.” It took until the middle of December for the Utes to win a game against Division I competition, and there have been two separate eight-game losing streaks, but Utah got back on the right side of the final score on Saturday, knocking off Stanford 58-57. Junior Chris Hines hit a game-winning three with 27 seconds left and Cardinal senior Josh Owens missed a potentially game-tying free throw with eight seconds, and the Utes escaped with just their sixth win of the year. Meanwhile, for a Stanford team that looked brilliant on Thursday in handing Colorado its first home loss in Pac-12 play, it is just the latest in a long line of uneven performances in conference play.
  4. Normally, if there’s an Arizona/UCLA game being played on the last weekend in February, that’s the headliner in this conference. But, the fact is, as go the Bruins and the Wildcats, so goes the Pac-12. There have been more problems around the conference than just some ordinary teams in Westwood and Tucson, but you have to imagine that if these two stalwarts had lived up to their reputations, there would be a lot less jabbering about the weakness in the conference. As far as the game goes, the Wildcat seniors protected their Senior Day with Kyle Fogg leading the way. The senior guard has averaged at least 24 minutes per game every year of his career, but he is certainly wrapping up his eligibility in style. After going for his second double-double in three games against USC on Thurdsay (and the only two double-doubles of his career), Fogg came just one rebound shy of yet another double-double, but still wound up with 20 points and nine rebounds. The ‘Cats tried to give the game away down the stretch, missing four of six free throws in the final minute, but a Jerime Anderson jumper that could have sent the game to overtime was awry.
  5. Elsewhere around the conference this weekend, the nightmare season for USC continued with a four-point loss at Arizona State, as the undersized and undermanned Trojans couldn’t deal with Sun Devil sophomore center Jordan Bachynski who had 19 points and nine boards. However, it was embattled point guard Chris Colvin who iced the game, converting a three-point play with 19 seconds left to seal the win. Freshman guard Byron Wesley has come up big recently for USC, with new career-highs in each of his last two games, but there just isn’t enough help there for now. And, Sunday night, Oregon held off Oregon State in the 337th edition of the basketball version of the Civil War behind 25 points from Oregon senior guard Garrett Sim, whose parents are both Oregon State alumni.
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Checking In On… the Pac-12 Conference

Posted by AMurawa on February 23rd, 2012

Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Mountain West and Pac-12 conferences.

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Last week at this time, we had five teams who were still serious contenders for the Pac-12 regular season title, all of them within a game of the conference lead. This week, the picture has cleared up considerably, but there is still plenty of intrigue out there. California and Washington both scored big wins over two of the other five contenders (Oregon and Arizona, respectively), in turn not only more or less knocking those teams out of the race for the title, but also cementing their status at the top of the heap. Colorado remains in the mix as well, a game and a half back of the co-leaders. The other component of the race at the top of the conference is the jostling for the #4 spot, which will earn the last first-round bye in the Pac-12 Tournament. Oregon and Arizona are currently tied for the fourth spot, but the Ducks own the tiebreaker there on the basis of their earlier win at the McKale Center.

Washington

Washington's Win Over Arizona On Saturday Gave The Huskies Reason For Celebration (Elaine Thompson/AP)

What to Watch For

There is really only one big remaining matchup between teams at the top of the conference over the final two weeks of the season: California’s trip to Colorado on Sunday. Other than that, the Bears go on the road to Utah on Thursday before wrapping up their season with a trip to Stanford on the final day of the regular season.

Likewise, Washington will also be spending its last three games on the road, this week against Washington State and next week against USC and UCLA. Depsite the fact that all of those games are on the road, all of those are eminently winnable games for the co-leaders, with the Colorado/Cal game being the sole time when either Cal or Washington will likely not be favored. For the Buffaloes, however, it is going to be an uphill climb. Along with California, they also face Stanford, Oregon and Oregon State, with the latter two on the road – no pushovers anywhere among that group.

As it is, if the Pac-12 Tournament began with the current standings, this is what we’d be looking at. Certainly some pretty interesting semifinals, but my goodness is that Wednesday slate of games awful bad. The best game of the day is at noon and the Staples Center is virtually guaranteed to be whatever the opposite of “rocking” is that day.

Player of the Year Watch

There are a couple of questions here: 1) who is going to win the POTY award, and 2) who deserves to win the POTY award?

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Pac-12 Morning Five: 02.23.12 Edition

Posted by AMurawa on February 23rd, 2012

  1. It’s the time of year when, more than anything else, you hear talk about the bubble. Who will be the last few teams in? Who will be left out? At present, Arizona is one of those teams who will likely be sweating it out come Selection Sunday, barring a run through the Pac-12 Tournament. But for Sean Miller and the Wildcats, they know that they can’t get caught up worrying about the bracketology, because their best bet to increase the attractiveness of their resume is to keep winning. For what it’s worth, Joe Lunardi’s latest bracket has the Wildcats in as a #12 seed, while our own Zach Hayes has them as the 69th team, just out of the field of 68.
  2. Colorado is in much the same boat as the Wildcats, but they’ve got another goal in mind: just go ahead and win the Pac-12 regular season title. They’re a game behind Washington and California in the loss column, but they’ve got the Golden Bears coming into town this weekend, and they’ve yet to lose at home in the Pac-12. Last year at this time, the Buffaloes were in a similar spot, firmly on the bubble, but that team last year spent a lot of time trying to gauge where they were in relation to other bubble teams. This year they’re in striking distance of a conference title, and for now, that’s their goal.
  3. Up in Washington, they’re in position for a possible Pac-12 championship as well, and for the time being, that is the only focus for guys like Terrence Ross and Tony Wroten. However, there is already speculation running rampant about the possibility that one or both of these players might be finishing up their college eligibility as we speak. In fact, during the Huskies’ win over Arizona on Saturday, Ross was treated to the “one more year!” chant from the student section, in reference to the thought that he could leave after his sophomore year. Both players would likely be first round draft picks should they enter the 2012 NBA Draft (Draft Express has Ross as the #16 pick, Wroten #27), but each could possibly inch into the lottery with another year of experience.
  4. While the above teams have plenty to think about the rest of the season, at Arizona State there is already an eye toward next year. With guys like transfers Bo Barnes and Evan Gordon along with ineligible freshman point guard Jahii Carson practicing with the team, there is plenty of hope that the influx of talent will flip things for the Sun Devils next year. Those players, combined with bright spots amid the wreckage of this year, like freshman wing Jonathan Gilling, sophomore center Jordan Bachynski and junior team leader Trent Lockett, should give Sun Devil fans hope for next season. One thing is for sure, whatever happens next year for ASU, Herb Sendek will be the man on the sidelines.
  5. At UCLA, it hasn’t been quite as bad as in Tempe, but it has certainly been a down year for the Bruins. They still hope to make some noise in the Pac-12 Tournament, but for guys like sophomore guard Tyler Lamb, there is also the quest to build consistency in preparation for the rest of his career. Lamb’s game against St. John’s on Saturday summed up just how well his talent is enmeshed with inconsistency. While he scored 18 points, grabbed six boards and handed out four assists, he also turned the ball over eight times, an absolute no-no. Whether the focus is on a run in the Pac-12 tourney or future success in Westwood, Lamb needs to become a more steady force for the Bruins.
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Pac-12 Morning Five: 02.22.12 Edition

Posted by AMurawa on February 22nd, 2012

  1. With the schedule winding down, it’s a good time to start looking ahead to some of the postseason awards. For quite a while, there was a logjam in the race for Coach of the Year, but with the leaders of the conference now more clear, it looks like Colorado’s Tad Boyle and California’s Mike Montgomery have jumped out into the lead. The two teams meet Sunday in Boulder in a game that could go a long way toward determining the eventual winner, but both coaches have done a stellar job this year. For Boyle, his Colorado team was expected to finish near the bottom of the conference in its first year in the Pac-12; instead they’re just a game and a half back of the leaders. Meanwhile, Montgomery dealt with the aftermath of a successful procedure to treat bladder cancer prior to the start of the season and has since turned in another typically great job patching the holes in a Golden Bear team that now sits tied with Washington for first place.
  2. Speaking of Washington, some Husky fans are still wondering whether head coach Lorenzo Romar has done a masterful job or a subpar job this year. There have been some bad losses for U-Dub this year (the blowout home loss to South Dakota State stands out, but big losses at Colorado and Oregon also fit the bill), but still the Huskies figure to finish the season with more than 20 wins for the fourth straight season and they could still possibly post a 15-3 record (if they win their final three conference games), potentially the best record in school history. And, given the fact that Romar has dealt with the loss of senior leader Scott Suggs prior to the season and has done a good job folding eight freshman into a roster, it appears from this angle that Romar has done just about as good of a job as he’s ever done to this point. However, reputations are earned in March, and the success of the Huskies in their remaining games may deliver the final verdict.
  3. Washington’s players are still debating among themselves whether Aziz N’Diaye traveled on his phenomenal end-to-end blocked shot and dunk against Arizona on Saturday. See for yourself here. Sophomore guard C.J. Wilcox is in Sean Miller’s corner, thinking that the Husky big fella traveled on his way up court, but Romar and senior forward Darnell Gant think N’Diaye made a great, and legal, play. I tend to agree with Romar and Gant; it looks like N’Diaye threw the ball ahead before securing it, then controlled the ball and began his dribble. Regardless, just a terrific end-to-end play by the junior out of Senegal.
  4. The Huskies next get on the court Thursday night at USC, and given that the Trojans have now lost 14 of their last 15, it is likely that Washington will skate through that game. However, despite the team’s struggles with injuries throughout the year, the team is still playing hard for head coach Kevin O’Neill. And, just as importantly, the players in the program are all in O’Neill’s court, supporting their coach despite calls from some SC fans for a new coach. Athletic director Pat Haden has made it pretty clear that O’Neill will be back next year, so it will be interesting to see how far the Trojans can bounce back up next year.
  5. Bud Withers at the Seattle Times takes a look ahead to next season’s Pac-12 possibilities, and sees better things on the horizon. For instance, while California will lose a couple important seniors, and Washington could see guys like Tony Wroten and Terrence Ross head to the NBA early, teams like Arizona, Colorado and Stanford are not only expected to return some quality pieces, but they have strong recruiting classes coming in. Likewise, UCLA sees reinforcements arrive next year, while teams like USC, Washington State and Oregon State could be ready to jump into the upper half of the conference.
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Pac-12 Morning Five: 02.21.12 Edition

Posted by AMurawa on February 21st, 2012

  1. Justin Cobbs of California was named the Pac-12 Player of the Week, the conference announced on Monday. Cobbs scored a career-high 28 points against Oregon last Thursday night, then backed that up with a career-high 13 assists against Oregon State on Saturday, ending his week with averages of 19 points, 10.5 assists, four rebounds and two steals per game. We here at RTC picked Washington’s Terrence Ross as our POTW for his excellence against the Arizona schools this week, but Cobbs is certainly a fine choice, and a guy who has been playing some of the best basketball of his career of late.
  2. It has been a rough year all around for Arizona State, but when they take to the road, it gets even worse. They’re now 0-14 in games played outside of Tempe this year, with the latest strikes against them coming this past week when they trailed by 18 at halftime before losing to Washington by eight, then scored just eight first half points against Washington State before losing by 22. If there’s good news for the Sun Devils, it is that at least they’re done with the road slate, playing their final three conference games at home.
  3. Arizona sophomore point guard Jordin Mayes is just about ready to return to action after missing the last five games with a stress reaction in his right foot. With USC and UCLA in town this week, he’ll likely see time at some point this week, with it all but a certainty that he’ll be ready by the time the Wildcats wrap up their season against Arizona State next week. With the ‘Cats running just a seven-man rotation since the injuries to Mayes and forward Kevin Parrom, senior guard Brendon Lavender has seen his minutes skyrocket. He’s played more than 20 minutes in UA’s last five games, the only times he has done that this season. He’s averaging just over eight points per game and shooting a 67.2% eFG over that span.
  4. California is back on the upswing in the RPI, now ranked at #29 in that index after having dropped several spots the last two weeks. That number should be good enough to earn the Golden Bears an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament should they falter in the Pac-12 Tournament, but no other conference team has an RPI number higher than #50, leaving teams like Washington (RPI #54), Oregon (RPI #55) and Arizona (RPI #67) possibly on the outside looking in come Selection Sunday.
  5. Lastly, the Orange County Register asked the question on Monday morning: Is UCLA NIT-worthy? With the bad loss to St. John’s fresh in the mind and the Bruins sitting behind mediocre Pac-12 teams who may rank higher on the pecking order for an NIT bid, is it possible that the former preseason Pac-12-favorites won’t even garner an NIT invitation? The mere fact that such a question is being asked obviously doesn’t bode well for the future of head coach Ben Howland, who is officially on the hot seat, a spot made even warmer by the rumors that 2012 recruit Shabazz Muhammad, once thought to be a future Bruin, may now be more likely to wind up in Lexington next year.
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Pac-12 Weekly Honors, Week 15

Posted by AMurawa on February 20th, 2012

Team of the Week

Washington – Both California and Washington deserve consideration for this spot after taking care of business at home this week and remaining tied atop the conference standings, but the nod goes to the Huskies if only because their win over Arizona may have been slightly more impressive than the Golden Bears’ win over Oregon. In that game against the Wildcats, the Huskies looked for all the world like a team that could make some noise in the NCAA Tournament. With spectacular plays from either Terrence Ross or Tony Wroten seemingly around every turn, Lorenzo Romar’s team for the first time showed and ability to not only make the spectacular play from time to time, but to not force the action too much, registering just five turnovers on 66 possessions (a TO% of just 7.6%). The Huskies never trailed in the second half and have now set up a very manageable run to the regular season conference title, although they will have to do some damage on the road against Washington State, USC, and UCLA over the next two weeks.

Terrence Ross, Washington

Terrence Ross Was A Terror Around The Rim For The Huskies This Week (Elaine Thompson/AP)

Player of the Week

Terrence Ross, Soph, Washington – Great performances have been the rule rather than the exception for Ross in his second season in Seattle. He has failed to score in double figures just twice in 27 games and has shown a propensity to take over games down the stretch. Against Arizona on Saturday he displayed that ability again. Despite a three-point shot that wasn’t falling, Ross hit ten of his 11 shots from inside the arc on his way to a game-high 25 points. He also turned it on defensively, grabbing five steals, swatting a shot, and playing lock-down perimeter defense. For the week, Ross averaged 21.5 points, five rebounds, and three steals per game while shooting a 64.1% eFG on the week. And in the process, he may have increased his odds of earning Pac-12 Player of the Year consideration.

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Pac-12 Morning Five: President’s Day Edition

Posted by AMurawa on February 20th, 2012

  1. And then there were three. Washington’s nine-point win over Arizona on Saturday afternoon not only kept the Huskies tied atop the conference standings, it all but ended the Wildcats’ chances for the regular season title. Both the Huskies and the ‘Cats have just three regular season games remaining and both Washington and California currently hold a two-game lead over Arizona. Sophomore guard Terrence Ross did the most damage for Lorenzo Romar’s team, having one of the better games of his career, going for 25 points on 11-of-19 shooting and grabbing five steals while layering wave after wave of spectacularly athletic plays on the Wildcats. U-Dub is now done with their home schedule for the year and will need to take care of business against Washington State this week and the Los Angeles schools next week in order to keep at the top of the standings.
  2. California wrapped up its home schedule as well on Saturday, sending off seniors Jorge Gutierrez and Harper Kamp in style with a 14-point win over Oregon State. While Washington gets to finish off the year mostly against the bottom portion of the conference, the Golden Bears will have an absolutely huge game next Sunday afternoon when they travel to Boulder to face a Colorado team that has never lost at home in conference play. Cal currently is only up one game in the loss column on the Buffaloes, meaning a CU win next Sunday could go a long way towards getting them back in the conference title picture.
  3. As for Colorado, they kept pace with the leaders by grinding out an ugly road win at Utah on Saturday. Former Ute Carlon Brown made his return to Salt Lake City, but failed to have a significant positive impact for his team, hitting just 2-of-12 field goal attempts on his way to only five points for the game. However, Andre Roberson had his teammate’s back, leading his squad in both points (12) and rebounds (16) as the Buffs were able to squeak out a game over a team they beat by 40 points on New Year’s Eve. Colorado will host the Bay Area schools this week before having to make a tough road trip to the Oregon schools in the final week of the regular season. Even if CU is unable to make up the current one-and-a-half game deficit in the conference standings, they hope to finish among the top four teams in the conference in order to earn a first-round bye in the Pac-12 Tournament.
  4. Oregon knows all about the race for the ever-important fourth seed in the Pac-12 Tournament. Its grind-it-out win at Stanford on Sunday evening kept the Ducks tied for fourth place with Arizona, with Oregon holding the tiebreaker over Arizona on the strength of their two-point win in Tucson in the middle of January. Sunday it was reigning Pac-12 Player of the Week E.J. Singler providing the heroics for Dana Altman, as he scored 10 consecutive points for the Ducks down the stretch, including the go-ahead three-pointer that kept the Ducks from being swept on their Bay Area swing.
  5. Elsewhere this weekend, Washington State handed Arizona State a 22-point loss on Saturday after holding the Sun Devils to just eight first-half points. ASU made a bit of a second-half charge to get back within 12 points before a Patrick Simon three-pointer killed that run and sent the Cougars on their way. UCLA, meanwhile, traveled across country to play a 10 AM game on Saturday morning against St. John’s and, predictably, laid an egg. Tyler Lamb turned it over eight times, and D’Angelo Harrison went off for 22 points, eight boards and four assists as UCLA fell to 0-4 against power conference schools outside of the Pac-12.
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Pac-12 Game of the Week: Arizona at Washington

Posted by AMurawa on February 17th, 2012

Arizona at Washington, February 18, 12pm PST, FSN

The last time these two teams played in the regular season, the games were decided at the buzzer by great defensive plays. Last time out, it was Tony Wroten rejecting Josiah Turner at the buzzer (just to the 10:45 mark to check it out) and the time before it was Derrick Williams swatting Darnell Gant to save the game. So, can we expect more of the same this time out? Another hard-fought classic that comes right down to the wire? Don’t bet against it.

However, it is worth noting that in the previous matchup this season, Washington went into McKale Center and controlled the action for much of the game, jumping out to an early lead and later taking a ten-point lead into the final media timeout, before some sloppy play combined with some Solomon Hill heroics conspired to set up a wild final minute. The Wildcats had trouble keeping the Huskies off of the offensive glass in that first meeting (U-Dub grabbed over 41% of their offensive rebound opportunities), and they again struggled with turnovers, coughing it up 15 times, or an almost a quarter of all of their possessions. Sean Miller will no doubt want to see his team improve in both of those areas. But one spot where the Wildcats did excel in the previous game was in getting to the free throw line: they got to the line 29 times, made 21 of those attempts and outscored the Huskies by two touchdowns from the charity stripe. Getting to the line and earning easy points is almost assuredly another key to the ‘Cat gameplan.

Solomon Hill, Arizona

Solomon Hill Almost Singlehandedly Kept Arizona In The Game In Their First Matchup With Washington (Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

For the Huskies, they’ll need to find a better solution for Hill, who wound up with 28 points on a highly efficient 9-of-10 from the field and 8-of-9 from the line). They limited everybody else on the Arizona roster to just 12-of-40 shooting and a 32.5 eFG%, but Hill almost singlehandedly kept the ‘Cats around. Further, Hill went a long way towards putting the Huskies in foul trouble, drawing two fouls each on Terrence Ross and Darnell Gant. There’s no single great matchup on the Washington roster for Hill, but redshirt freshman Desmond Simmons could see a significant chunk of face-time with him.

With Oregon’s loss to California on Thursday night, we’re down to four teams sitting within one game in the loss column of first place in the conference. Depending on the outcome here on Saturday afternoon, we’ll either go a long way towards eliminating Arizona from the title hunt (in the event of a Washington win), or the race will tighten up even more, with California leading the way a game ahead of a pack of three other teams (if Arizona wins). Given all that is on the line for both teams, expect this one to be a knock-down, drag-out fight.

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Pac-12 Morning Five: 2.17.12 Edition

Posted by AMurawa on February 17th, 2012

  1. And then there were four. It may not be official, but Oregon’s late-game collapse against California more or less eliminates the Ducks from contention for the regular season title, leaves them currently running fifth in a race for the four opening round byes in the Pac-12 Tournament, and puts a serious dent in their already tenuous claim on an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament. With five and a half minutes remaining, the Ducks led on the road against conference-leading Cal, by a score of 73-65. Over the remaining 13 Duck offensive possessions, they turned the ball over six times (part of their 22 turnovers on the night), hit three jumpers (two of which were increasingly improbable deep Devoe Joseph threes) and made a couple technical free throws. Meanwhile, Cal scored on 11 of their final 13 possessions and pulled out a three-point win in front of the home faithful. Joseph wound up with a career-high 33 points, but in the end was outdueled by his former Minnesota teammate Justin Cobbs, who had a career-high of his own, with 28 points, while also adding eight assists and four steals. The win keeps Cal in a first place tie.
  2. Washington remains tied with Cal atop the conference standing after running out to a big lead in the first half against Arizona State then coasting home to victory in the second half. Terrence Ross got things started early with five points on the Huskies’ first two trips down the floor on his way to a game-high 18 points and his team raced out to an 18-point halftime lead. The lead got as high as 24 points on a handful of occasions before Lorenzo Romar called off his dogs and allowed Arizona State to post a respectable final margin of just eight points. Washington expects a bigger challenge on Saturday afternoon when they host Arizona in a game that will have a big impact on the conference standings.
  3. The Wildcats, meanwhile, had a much tougher go of things on Thursday night, going into Pullman and getting a tough fight from Washington State. With just a minute remaining, the Cougs found themselves deadlocked with Arizona, until a Jesse Perry three-point play gave the ‘Cats the lead. Then Perry fouled Brock Motum at the three-point line with just 21 seconds left, sending Motum to the line to shoot three free throws. However Motum, who led Washington State with a dominating 28-point performance, was only able to convert one of the three, sending Ken Bone’s team into foul-mode. The Wildcats made their freebies down the stretch and escaped with their fifth road win of the conference season.
  4. The other game of the night was a rematch of a classic quadruple-overtime game earlier in the year between Stanford and Oregon State. This one wasn’t quite as enthralling, but it was still an up-tempo, exciting ball game, even though the Cardinal needed 20 less minutes to knock off the Beavers. The Stanford backcourt led the way, with Chasson Randle going for 24 points (including six-of-seven three-point shooting) and Aaron Bright adding 20 (four-of-nine from deep) outdueling Oregon State’s Jared Cunningham, who had 22 points and added four threes of his own.
  5. In the wake of UCLA’s easy win over cross-town rival USC Wednesday night, everything is hunky-dory for Bruin fans. Or not. There are complaints about who Ben Howland chose to use and for how many minutes. He should have given some of the other guys more time, and yet at the same time, there are complaints that he didn’t pour it on even more at the end. There is hand-wringing over who might be the next Bruin to transfer out of the program. And, unbelievably, there are complaints that he has signed and is still pursuing five-star recruits, as if that is somehow a strike against him. Howland definitely deserves plenty of blame for likely missing the NCAA Tournament for the second time in three years, but some of this stuff is plain old ridiculous.
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Checking In On… The Pac-12

Posted by AMurawa on February 16th, 2012

Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Mountain West and Pac-12 conferences.

Reader’s Take

 

Top Storylines

We have heard it all before. The Pac-12 is down. The Pac-12 is terrible. The Pac-12 is a one-bid league. The Pac-12 sucks. There’s some relative truth in some of those and in others, not so much, but one thing is for sure as we sit here with three weeks remaining the regular season and five teams within a game of the regular season title. The Pac-12 is tight. Going into this week, California and Washington are tied for first (with the Golden Bears holding the tiebreaker between the two teams on the strength of their win in Seattle a couple of weeks back), while Oregon, Colorado, and Arizona are all lurking just one game back. We have got a race.

California, Harper Kamp, Jorge Gutierrez

Cal, Currently In First Place, May Have The Best Chance At An At-Large Bid To The NCAA Tournament (George Nikitin/AP)

Aside from a couple of games between top five teams last Thursday night, when Oregon throttled Washington and Arizona took care of Colorado, every other team in the top grouping took care of business against lesser opponents. In fact, looking at the standings right now, the top six teams in the conference are all riding winning streaks while the bottom six are all headed in the wrong direction. At least it now appears that the top of the conference is gaining some separation from the bottom. California, Washington, and Oregon all saw their RPIs improve this week, while Colorado and Arizona saw their number drop a bit, but at least now all five of those teams are at least in the at-large conversation. Our own Zach Hayes has California and Arizona in the tournament in his latest bracket, while Colorado, Washington and Oregon are all among the first eight out. Joe Lunardi’s latest bracket has the Bears and the ‘Cats in as well, with the Huskies and Ducks among the first eight out. Andy Glockner, however, is a bit more pessimistic about the conference’s chances, putting just California in the field with Arizona among the first four out and teams like Seton Hall, North Carolina State, Northwestern, and Xavier all currently higher in the pecking order than the Pac-12 schools.

What to Watch For

With all of the above in mind, every game is going to be critical from here on out for those five teams at the top of the standings. They all need to not only beat up on teams 6-12, but it is time for a couple or three of them to differentiate themselves from the others. We thought last week that Washington might be on the verge of doing that, and then they went out and got blown out by Oregon. Meanwhile, California, and Arizona are the hot teams this week with the Golden Bears on a three-game streak and the Wildcats on a four-game run. Both will find significant tests awaiting them this week, but Cal has the benefit of facing their tests in the comfort of Haas Pavilion, against Oregon Thursday night and then Oregon State on Saturday night. Arizona has to go on the road, and they head to Washington State tomorrow night before a Saturday afternoon marquee matchup with Washington.

Washington, meanwhile, will also have to take care of business against tenth-place Arizona State on Thursday while Oregon travels to Stanford on Sunday afternoon. The Palo Alto trip could be a problem for the Ducks, especially coming off of the big game Thursday night. The other game involving one of the top five schools comes Saturday afternoon, when Colorado travels to Utah. The Buffaloes have won just two conference games on the road thus far, and those came against the teams currently holding down two of the bottom three spots in the standings; if they can handle the Utes, it will become three wins against the three bottom teams in the standings.

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Pac-12 Morning Five: 02.14.12 Edition

Posted by AMurawa on February 14th, 2012

  1. Jeremy Lin’s emergence as the point guard of the NBA’s New York Knicks has been, arguably, the biggest sports story since the Super Bowl. He went undrafted out of Harvard, then bounced around the league a few years before landing in New York, and even then, only getting a chance when other guards before him struggled. But, did Pac-12 schools also miss an opportunity with Lin? After all, Lin played high school ball in the shadow of Stanford at Palo Alto High School, but was never offered more than an opportunity to walk on there or UCLA. Still, with all the recruiting misses that Pac-12 schools could bemoan right now, it seems something of a reach to say the Cardinal or the Bruins should have seen something in Lin that nobody else did.
  2. Speaking of Lin, former Oregon State superstar Gary Payton wants to take just a little bit of credit for the all the Linsanity, noting that he spent time working with Lin during the past summer, honing his ballhandling and pick-and-roll skills. Good news for Beaver fans, as Payton plans to spend time with current OSU guard Jared Cunningham over the summer, going through some similar drills. Even if Payton isn’t exactly solely responsible for the strides that Lin has made in his game this season, the presence of such an accomplished tutor should be a significant positive for Cunningham’s development.
  3. With Washington in a dog fight with California and three other teams for the Pac-12 regular season title, Steve Kelley of The Seattle Times thinks it is time that sophomore wing Terrence Ross takes the next big step for the Huskies and becomes the team’s leader, filling the role that previous Washington greats like Brandon Roy, Isaiah Thomas and Quincy Pondexter have played. He certainly has the game to be the Huskies’ best player, and he’s shown his ability to take over games down the stretch, both in the win over UCLA and the win over Washington State, but does he have the force of personality to take over this team from precocious freshman Tony Wroten?
  4. It’s been a while since we talked about the status of Ben Howland at UCLA, but there is a small segment of the fanbase that thinks it is time for a change of direction in the program. With UCLA’s second subpar season in three years and an invitation to a second-tier post-season tournament a best-case scenario, could UCLA possibly be looking elsewhere? From my perspective, odds are that he gets another year especially with a solid recruiting class on its way to Westwood, with the potential to land Shabazz Muhammad, once the top recruit in the 2012 class (he may have dropped to the #2 recruit since Nerlens Noel reclassified up a year).
  5. Lastly, we named E.J. Singler our Pac-12 Player of the Week on Monday, and conference voters agreed, giving Singler his first ever such honor. Singler averaged 18.0 points, 7.0 rebounds and 2.5 assists this week, while shooting 61.1% from the field and 62.5% from deep. He earned the award over other nominees such as Nick Johnson of Arizona, Harper Kamp of California, Jared Cunningham of Oregon State, Chasson Randle of Stanford, Terrence Ross of Washington and Reggie Moore from Washington State. Surprising that WSU’s Brock Motum (20.5 PPG, 7 RPG, 2.5 APG) and Cal’s Justin Cobbs (14 PPG, 5 APG, 2.5 RPG) were not even nominated.
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