This week, Professor Pac is a proud papa, as some of his most prized pupils have turned in a solid week of work. Of the four teams that earned As this week, three of them are within a game of the top of the conference and all four expect to be invited to the Big Dance.
California – A
At the end of the fourth week of conference play, the Golden Bears sat at 3-4 and four games off the pace set by then 7-0 Oregon Ducks. Since then, behind surprisingly balanced production, Cal has gone 7-1 and eked to within one game of the lead. This week they took a road trip to the Oregon schools and didn’t play particularly well, yet still managed to sneak out a pair of wins by a total of three points. And believe me, those two games were even closer than the tight scores could indicate. But, it’s two more wins to add onto the pile. And with a favorable schedule down the stretch, Mike Montgomery and crew are very much in the title hunt, no matter how improbable that may have seemed.
Tyrone Wallace’s Shots Haven’t Been Falling Lately, But Luckily He Is Capable Of Making Contributions Elsewhere (Lance Iversen/San Francisco Chronicle)
Focus on: Tyrone Wallace. Way back in November and December, if you had told me that the Golden Bears would wind up challenging for a Pac-12 title, I would have figured that the freshman out of Bakersfield had made a quantum leap somewhere around the turn of the calendar. But while Wallace has certainly had his moments this season, over the span of the current Cal five-game winning streak, his only game in double figures came on Saturday against Oregon State with 11. In fact, over the course of conference play, Wallace has shot just 33.8% from the field. While his jumper definitely lags behind other areas of his game, if that gets tightened up, he’s got a promising future.
Looking ahead: The closing stretch for the Bears is fairly manageable. This week they host Utah and Colorado at Haas Pavilion, with the latter of those games obviously being the more perilous, then they wrap up the season next Wednesday by hosting Stanford. We can totally see the Bears earning a sweep this week, then heading into their final game of the regular season looking for a win to keep up with a couple other Pac-12 teams, only to be tripped up by their Bay Area rival.
Arizona – A
The Wildcats hosted the Washington schools and came away with a pair of wins by an average of 17.5 points per game. Now that’s the type of week we’re looking for from a team that wants to be ranked in the top 10 and earn a spot on the one or two seed line next month. And still, there is work to be done, as head coach Sean Miller sees room for more consistent effort on the defensive end. The Wildcats certainly have the talent for a run deep into March, and maybe even April, but we want to continue to see them put away lesser opponents rather than flirt with disaster in the end game.
Focus on: Solomon Hill. We haven’t talked a whole lot about Hill here this season, if only because he’s done the types of things that we’ve come to expect from him – you know, everything. Put it this way – he’s second on his team in scoring, third in assists and rebounds, second in steals and three-pointers made and he leads the team in minutes played. And he’s steady, regularly ready to be penciled in for double-figure points, five boards, three assists and a couple threes over the course of minutes in the mid-30s. Which makes his five-point, two-rebound performance against Washington State confusing. His minutes were somewhat limited by foul trouble, but still in 29 minutes of action, Hill was often invisible.
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