UCLA Week: Players Not Returning

Posted by AMurawa on August 14th, 2012

Last year the Bruins started two seniors in their backcourt, ensuring that the 2012-13 squad would have a new batch of guards. But along with those graduating seniors, three different Bruin frontcourt players that earned time in 2011-12 are no longer with the program. Below we’ll break down those five players in roughly the order of the degree to which they’ll be missed.

Lazeric Jones – He spent just two seasons in Westwood after transferring in from a Chicago junior college, but Jones had a very solid career for the Bruins. In his first year he stepped right into the point guard role and provided much-needed stability along with a capacity for putting the ball in the hole himself when he needed to. Playing with talented wing players like Tyler Honeycutt and Malcolm Lee, Jones led the team in assists, steals and free throw percentage while chipping in a respectable nine points per game. As a senior, he gladly took on the role of playing off of the ball more as classmate Jerime Anderson took over most of the lead guard duties. Jones again adjusted well to his new role, picking up more of the scoring duties (he led the team in scoring with 13.5 points per game), while still leading the team in assists from the two-guard slot. He also led the team in minutes and, along with Anderson, took on a leadership role for a team that was in disarray following their disastrous start amid serious chemistry problems. While he won’t go down on the list of all-time UCLA greats at the point, he overachieved in his time in Westwood and displayed a heart and toughness that endeared him to Bruin fans — his leadership will be missed.

Lazeric Jones, UCLA

In Just Two Seasons At UCLA, Zeke Jones Endeared Himself To Bruin Fans

Jerime Anderson – Anderson’s career at UCLA was, in a very generous word, underwhelming. At one point considered a four-star recruit and the #5 point guard in the 2008 recruiting class, it quickly became quite apparent that he was not all he was cracked up to be. After mostly sitting behind veteran Darren Collison in his freshman season, Anderson was the heir apparent to the point guard position in 2009-10. But he struggled with his shot, turnovers and, most obviously, defense early in that year, and as the Bruins’ losses piled up, his minutes decreased. In 2010-11, both his expectations and minutes were fewere. But in a fine bit of redemption, Anderson was actually a very solid player last season for the Bruins. As a whole, his college career is a case of unwarranted expectations that had no chance of being met turning into expectations so low that his almost nine points per game and turnovers on 20% of used possessions qualifies as a feel-good story. Read the rest of this entry »

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Pac-12 2011-12 Post-Mortem Wrap-Up

Posted by AMurawa on May 4th, 2012

Over the last few weeks, we’ve run down each of the teams in the Pac-12, recounting the high and low points of the 2011-12 season, saying goodbye to departing players, introducing you to new faces around the conference, as well as pointing out reasons for hope and concern for the future of each program. Along the way, we also handed out MVP awards for each team, and we graded each team compared with their expectations. In case you’ve missed any of those posts, below you’ll find a link to each team’s post-mortem, along with the MVP and grade we’ve chosen.

  • ColoradoMVP: Andre Roberson, Overall Grade: A
  • CaliforniaMVP: Jorge Gutierrez, Overall Grade A-
  • StanfordMVP: Aaron Bright, Overall Grade: B
  • OregonMVP: Devoe Joseph, Overall Grade: B
  • Washington StateMVP: Brock Motum, Overall Grade: B
  • WashingtonMVP: Tony Wroten, Overall Grade: B-
  • Oregon StateMVP: Jared Cunningham, Overall Grade: C+
  • ArizonaMVP: Kyle Fogg, Overall Grade: C+
  • UtahMVP: Jason Washburn, Overall Grade: C-
  • Arizona StateMVP: Trent Lockett, Overall Grade: D
  • UCLAMVP: Lazeric Jones, Overall Grade: D-
  • USC MVP: Byron Wesley, Overall Grade: F

As for upcoming features, beginning in June, we’ll spend one week on each team taking you through the dog days of the summer looking ahead to the 2012-13 expectations for the Pac-12 conference. Then every Friday throughout the offseason, we’ll also post a Weekly Five, detailing recent news around the league. And, as events warrant, we’ll drop additional posts as needed and may come up with a handful of other ideas to keep us all entertained as we suffer through the Great Sports Desert.

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UCLA: 2011-12 Post-Mortem

Posted by AMurawa on April 23rd, 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: UCLA.

What Went Wrong

Team chemistry. While Reeves Nelson is the fall guy for this, after displaying abominable behavior for two-plus years on this Bruin team before eventually being dismissed in early December, the problem went deeper than that. There was supposed senior leader and point guard Jerime Anderson getting busted for stealing a laptop in the offseason and earning a light two-game suspension as a result. There was center Joshua Smith showing up for his sophomore season in worse shape than his rotund, breathless freshman edition. And given that he was close friends with Nelson, it appeared at times that his buddy’s bad attitude rubbed off on him. Aside from behavioral issues, there was also a case of mismatched parts on this team, with a talented frontcourt supported by guards that were in a bit over their heads (despite the relative success that Anderson and backcourt-mate Lazeric Jones enjoyed). And there was head coach Ben Howland who had undoubtedly one of his poorest seasons on the sideline. He was unable to respond to the attitude issues with Nelson in a timely fashion, struggled to meld newcomers like the Wear twins in quickly and in the end, was widely questioned for his inability to find playing time for guys like freshman guard Norman Powell and sophomore center Anthony Stover.

Ben Howland, UCLA

Ben Howland Is In The Midst Of A Three-Year Downswing With UCLA (Jamie Squire, Getty Images)

What Went Right

Still, after the Bruins got around to ditching their Nelson anchor, the team developed into a solid Pac-12 squad. After getting off to a terrible 2-5 start with losses to Loyola Marymount and Middle Tennessee mixed in with more reasonable defeats in Maui, the Bruins went 17-9 the rest of the way. Travis and David Wear, regarded as Charmin-soft early in the year, turned into the team’s top two leading rebounders and solid interior players. Smith showed some progress on the conditioning front and somehow Howland turned the combination of Jones and Anderson into a quite competent Pac-12 backcourt.

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Pac-12 Burning Questions: Odds of Stealing A Bid?

Posted by AMurawa on March 6th, 2012

Each week through conference play, we will offer up a couple of different takes on the biggest question of the week in the Pac-12. This week:

“Which team that did not earn an opening round bye in the Pac-12 Tournament has the best chance at winning four games in four days to earn the conference’s automatic bid?”

Andrew Murawa: After consecutive impressive wins to end the regular season, and with the team seemingly rallying around head coach Ben Howland, things set up pretty nicely for UCLA to defy the odds and find its way into the NCAA Tournament by winning the conference tourney. With a couple of senior guards in Lazeric Jones and Jerime Anderson to go with an imposing front line, the Bruins have the horses to make a run, especially considering that they are probably playing their best basketball of the season right now. They open the tournament with cross-town rival USC in a game that is really just a half-step tougher than an opening round bye (and it is tougher, only because of the potential for someone getting hurt) before digging into the meat of the matter. Arizona would be up next, setting up a season tiebreaker between the two Pac-12 powers ; UCLA won by seven in Anaheim back in January before dropping a tight two-point affair at the McKale Center two weeks ago. Washington would be the best bet to be waiting in the semis, and UCLA just showed this past weekend that they can hang with the Huskies.

UCLA

UCLA Is All Smiles, Having Picked A Fine Time To Play Its Best Basketball Of The Year (Jayne Kamin-Oncea/US Presswire)

Certainly, as is the case for any of the bottom eight teams in the conference, the margin for error is slim, but throw in the fact that all year long the Bruins have been playing their “home games” a bit further down the 110 in front of relatively tepid crowds, and UCLA should feel right comfortable playing in the Staples Center this week. And if the Bruins actually seem to be getting things together, maybe the atmosphere at Staples this week will rise above lukewarm.

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Pac-12 Morning Five: 03.05.12 Edition

Posted by AMurawa on March 5th, 2012

  1. The story was pretty simple for Washington when they tipped off against UCLA on Saturday morning: Win, and the Huskies were the conference champion; lose, and they would need some help. And for much of the game it looked like the Huskies were in a mood to take control of their own future, leading for much of the middle 20 minutes of the game. However, when Lazeric Jones hit a three-pointer with just under nine minutes remaining, it gave the Bruins their first lead since the 14-minute mark of the first half and set up a back-and-forth finish to the game. In those last nine minutes, the Huskies turned the ball over five times, made just 3-of-10 field goal attempts and scored just seven points on 14 possessions. But still, with just 15 seconds left, Washington found itself down two as senior forward Darnell Gant received the ball in three-point land at the top of the key. Terrence Ross was open on the wing, but Gant launched the shot and it came up just short, giving UCLA the win and the #5 seed in the Pac-12 Tournament while the Huskies would have to wait until Sunday to find out their fate. As for the Bruins, it was the second straight encouraging win in the aftermath of the controversial Sports Illustrated story last week, sending the team to the conference tournament feeling as good as they have all year.
  2. Washington got the answer it was looking for on Sunday, when California had its conference title hopes dashed by their Bay Area rival, Stanford. It was a tight game down the stretch, but much like the Huskies on Saturday, the Golden Bears just didn’t make the plays necessary to win a championship. For instance, Cardinal sophomore guard Aaron Bright was sent to the free throw line three straight times at the end of the game, and on each of those occasions, he missed the second of his two free throws. However, the first two misses wound up right back in his hands as the Bears were unable to secure an offensive rebound. Earlier, Cal guard Allen Crabbe had passed up an open baseline jumper to drive to the hoop, only to fumble the ball out of bounds. And, continuing a theme for Cal’s loss at Colorado last week, Justin Cobbs and Jorge Gutierrez struggled shooting the ball, hitting a combined six of their 22 field goal attempts. The loss sends the Bears to the Pac-12 Tournament with consecutive defeats for the first time all season. While Stanford’s 10-8 conference record wound up being disappointing (especially the seven losses in its final 12 games), the Cardinal did cinch a 20-win season for the first time in three seasons.
  3. To finish off the trifecta of top teams losing in conference this week, Arizona fell to Arizona State on Sunday in one of the more surprising results of the conference season. Not only was ASU’s 87 points its highest total on the year, it was only the tenth time all season that the Sun Devils had scored more than one point per possession in a game; in fact they averaged 1.27 points per possession, an excellent number. What changed for the Devils? A lot of things, but first and foremost, let’s look at the point guard play: Chris Colvin, who has averaged a turnover more than once every three possessions used, played 34 minutes and had just two turnovers compared with nine assists. Secondly, junior wing Trent Lockett is now, perhaps for the first time, clearly back near full strength after his midseason ankle injury; he had 21 points, seven boards and chipped in five assists of his own compared with just three turnovers. As a whole, ASU only turned it over 10 times on the day, their lowest total of the season, and their turnover percentage (the percentage of possessions on which the team commits a turnover) of 14.7% is almost half of their season average. The Sun Devils go into the conference tournament on a two-game winning streak (their first such streak of the year) and playing arguably their best ball of the season. Meanwhile, for the Wildcats, this was a devastating loss to their NCAA Tournament hopes. Already sitting firmly on the bubble (and possibly on the wrong side of it), Sean Miller’s club has to figure the only way for the team to make its 27th tournament in 28 years is to win the Pac-12 automatic bid next weekend.
  4. The other major story line going into the final weekend was the race for the four opening round byes in the conference tournament. Oregon took care of its business this weekend by throttling Utah on Saturday. The Ducks scored 34 of the game’s first 36 points, and sent seniors Devoe Joseph, Garrett Sim, Olu Ashaolu, Tyrone Nared and Jeremy Jacob out in style, securing the #3 seed in next week’s conference tournament. Colorado, however, floundered at Oregon State, losing by 14 and not only played itself out of contention for one of those byes, but dropped all the way to the #6 seed. The Buffaloes will host Utah on Wednesday as they are still looking for their 20th win on the year.
  5. Lastly, USC’s disaster of a season is now apparently just one game away from being mercifully over. The Trojans fought hard in their final regular season game, holding Washington State scoreless for the final nine minutes and nine seconds on Saturday and rallied back from a 17-point deficit to as close as three late, but once again came up short, wrapping up the conference schedule with a 1-17 record and a school-record 25 losses on the year.
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Pac-12 Morning Five 03.02.12 Edition

Posted by AMurawa on March 2nd, 2012

  1. Washington wrapped up at least a piece of the conference title on Thursday night, blowing out USC at the Galen Center by 22 points. The Trojans actually shot the ball pretty well, limited Washington’s field goal percentage and turned the ball over less than the Huskies, but Washington absolutely dominated on the glass on both ends of the floor, grabbing 51.4% of their misses and 90.6% of USC’s. Five different Huskies had seven rebounds or more while no Trojan had more than five. If Washington can take care of UCLA on Saturday, they will win the Pac-12 outright, and they can also back their way into the championship with a loss and a Stanford win over California on Sunday. Tony Wroten’s chances for the conference Player of the Year award took a hit with a two-for-13 shooting performance that also included four more turnovers, while Terrence Ross bounced back from a weak performance last weekend with 18 points and seven rebounds. USC’s Byron Wesley continued his strong play in defeat, setting a new career-high for the third straight game, with 23 points.
  2. Meanwhile, in Eugene, Oregon went a long way towards clinching a first-round bye in the Pac-12 Tournament by pouring on 54 second-half points in a come-from-behind victory over Colorado. The Ducks used a 35-18 run to open the second half to pull away from the Buffaloes, as seemingly everybody on the team got in on the act. E.J. Singler kick-started the run with six straight points, Carlos Emory chipped in a three-point play and a three-pointer later, Garrett Sim knocked down threes with abandon, and Devoe Joseph did a little of everything, including knocking down a key jumper after the final media timeout to staunch a Colorado run. With Utah coming up on Saturday, the Ducks are very much in the driver’s seat for a first-round bye, while the Buffaloes will need to win at Oregon State and get some help to avoid having to play on the opening day of the conference tourney.
  3. In the wake of the controversy surrounding the UCLA program and Ben Howland, the current Bruin team weighed in pretty heavily last night, throttling Washington State early and often on the way to a 32-point victory. While the players downplayed the effect of Wednesday’s Sports Illustrated article (senior guard Lazeric Jones, for one, said he didn’t ever read it), their performance sure seemed like a statement. UCLA led by 19 at the half, then ran that lead out to 30 early in the second half. While nobody on the team thought the performance had anything to do with the article, David Wear said the team “stood together as a team and a family” and Joshua Smith said “We had to show we were the same guys who have worked hard, gone to class and done what Coach Howland told us.” The Bruins will get another chance to make a statement on Saturday, when they can play the spoiler in Washington’s bid for a conference title.
  4. The final game on Thursday night was Oregon State’s ten-point win over Utah, the Beavers’ first win after five straight losses. Oregon State came out on fire in the first half, limiting the Utes to just 21.7% from the field on the way to a 36-15 lead at the break, but let off the gas a bit in the second half. Conference POY candidate Jared Cunningham had a fine, if understated, game, going for 17 points and six assists. If Oregon State can add another win on Saturday against Colorado, they could be on their way towards putting together some momentum for a possible conference tournament run.
  5. Back to Westwood briefly, for another look at the aftermath of the George Dohrmann piece, as Thursday a couple very important Bruins came to the defense of Howland. Former National Player of the Year Marques Johnson, father of Josiah Johnson, who played under Howland, noted that while he had some frustrations with the way the coach handled his son, in the end he things he “did the right things”, while Johnson also brought a dose of perspective to the issue of college kids experimenting with drugs, noting that it is part of the “college atmosphere. Meanwhile, UCLA’s all-time leading scorer Don MacLean chipped in, noting that the head coach can’t always be around to police the players and that those guys need to show discipline and not let their social life get in the way of practice and performance in games.
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Pac-12 Morning Five: 02.24.12 Edition

Posted by AMurawa on February 24th, 2012

  1. And then there were two. After skating through its first seven home conference games, Colorado turned in a stinker on Thursday night, getting thoroughly dominated by Stanford in front of their home crowd. The Buffaloes shot just a 33.3% eFG and got badly outrebounded (Stanford grabbed 81.4% of their defensive rebound opportunities and 40% on the offensive end), as sophomore forward Andre Roberson got no help on the boards. CU still has a chance to have a significant impact on the eventual winner of the conference, since they host league-leading California on Sunday afternoon, but barring a wild swing down the stretch, the Buffs are out of the title race. Worse yet, given their tough three-game stretch the rest of the way, they could be well on their way to losing the opening-round bye in the Pac-12 Tournament. Chasson Randle led the Cardinal with 20 points, and was one of three players to knock down three three-pointers on the game.
  2. Meanwhile, California did what they needed to do, handling Utah in order to set up a battle with the aforementioned Buffaloes on Sunday. Leading scorer Allen Crabbe was held without a point from the field and Justin Cobbs was limited to just five points, but the Golden Bears forced 17 Ute turnovers, took care of the ball on their own end and gutted out a win. The win temporarily puts the Bears alone in first place, with Washington off tonight in advance of their Apple Cup rivalry with Washington State on Saturday.
  3. While the race for the conference title is rapidly clearing up, we’ve still got some gridlock among the next tier of teams, of which Colorado is now one, as the teams vie to avoid the #5 seed in the Pac-12 Tournament and miss out on the four byes through the opening round. Arizona did its homework on Thursday night, putting in a workmanlike effort in a 70-54 win over USC. Freshman point guard Josiah Turner did not start the game, but came off the bench strong and turned in the best game of his career, scoring a career-high 15 points and adding six assists – one shy of his career high – with no turnovers in 31 minutes of action. Senior guard Kyle Fogg also excelled, posting his first career double-double in his second-to-last home game, with 16 points and a career-high 12 rebounds. Prior to the game, head coach Sean Miller announced the suspension junior center Kyryl Natyazkho, who had only earned a total of five minutes in the last nine games, for a violation of unspecified team rules.
  4. A bit up the road in Tempe, Lazeric Jones showed he takes instruction well after head coach Ben Howland encouraged him during the week to shoot more. Jones did just that against Arizona State, shooting 15 times on his way to 20 points and taking over down the stretch as UCLA pulled away from the short-handed Sun Devils. Jones scored 13 of his points in the second half as his team turned a one-point halftime lead into a lead as big as 17. ASU played without junior wing Carrick Felix due to an illness.
  5. Interesting take from Bud Withers of the Seattle Times on a possible reason why the Pac-12 is down this year, and why it may not get better in the future: demographics. In short, the idea is that because success in basketball is largely dependent on African-Americans, and because the western United States has a lower proportion of African-Americans than other regions, the schools in the Pac-12 may be at a bit of a competitive disadvantage to schools in other regions. At best, this is probably just one of the drops in an otherwise large bucket, as Withers rightly points out that allowing high school recruits from their own backyard to matriculate elsewhere certainly doesn’t help their cause. But, there could be something to look at here going forward.
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Pac-12 Morning Five: 2.10.12 Edition

Posted by AMurawa on February 10th, 2012

  1. It seems like I have spent the last couple days talking and writing about how if Washington could just string together a patch of wins here down the stretch, they could earn themselves an at-large bid regardless of the holes in their résumé. And, typical of what we have come to expect of the Huskies over the past several years, just when you start buying what they are selling in the regular season, they go out and get punked on the road, just like they did Thursday night, losing at Oregon by 25 in a game that was never in doubt. The Ducks scored the first eight points of the game, shot 64.3% from the field in the first half and then coasted in the second half. No Husky who played more than ten minutes in the game shot better than 50% from the field, their top three scorers–Tony Wroten, Terrence Ross, and C.J. Wilcox–combined for 32 points on 12-of-35 shooting, with a ten turnovers between them, and the entire team shot just two-for-16 from deep. The loss drops Washington back into a first place tie while Oregon moves to within a game of first place.
  2. In the other big game of the night, Arizona continued its hot streak, taking care of Colorado by 14 in their third consecutive strong performance. While the Wildcats have struggled to find consistency in the first three months of the season, now they are playing like a cohesive unit, even as they are limited to just a seven-man rotation. Thursday night, the veteran trio of Jesse Perry, Solomon Hill, and Kyle Fogg did the heavy lifting, scoring 17, 16, and 15 points respectively, while guys like Nick Johnson, Josiah Turner, Brendon Lavender, and Angelo Chol slid comfortably into their roles and took care of business. Combined with the other results in the conference, the Wildcats now find themselves within a game of first and rolling at just the right time. Colorado is also a game back of first place, but their struggles on the road will need to be mended if they hope to seriously challenge for the title; they are now 1-4 in Pac-12 road games with the sole win coming against 1-11 USC.
  3. Speaking of USC, they got to 1-11 by getting taken apart in the second half by California last night. After a hard-fought first half that saw the Trojans down by just six going into the locker room, the Golden Bears rode Harper Kamp’s hot streak after the break (he hit his first seven shots of the second half), while freshman forward David Kravish dominated the undermanned Trojan squad on the glass, grabbing a career-high 18 boards. Coupled with the Washington loss, the Golden Bears again find themselves tied at the top of the conference.
  4. UCLA will be Cal’s next opponent on Saturday, and Thursday night the Bruins took care of business against Stanford, using a late 10-0 to finally put away a pesky Cardinal team in a game that saw both teams put together a variety of runs. It was a sloppy affair, with the teams combining for 41 turnovers, but in the end it was the Bruins’ ability to turn Stanford’s turnovers into points that decided the game, as UCLA scored 28 points off of their 22 forced turnovers. Lazeric Jones had 21 points, six assists and six steals, while freshman Chasson Randle was the only Stanford player to score in double figures, with 16.
  5. At the bottom of the conference, Arizona State welcomed back junior guard Trent Lockett with a win over Utah. Lockett had 12 points and six boards in his return, but it was the combination of Jordan Bachynski (11 points, 12 rebounds) and Carrick Felix (15 points, eight rebounds) that put the Sun Devils over the top. Meanwhile, in Corvallis, the maddening Oregon State conference season continued with a ten-point home loss to Washington State, despite Jared Cunningham filling the stat sheet in a big way. The player of the year candidate had 33 points, including five three-pointers, six rebounds, a couple of assists, three steals, two blocks, and even four turnovers for good measure. Teammate Ahmad Starks struggled, however, hoisting 13 threes and only making two on a miserable night. On the other end of the court, however, Washington State’s own POTY candidate, Brock Motum, continued his hot streak, scoring 24 points and adding nine rebounds. Since Faisal Aden’s season ending injury, Motum has averaged 27.3 points and nine rebounds over four games.
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Pac-12 Morning Five: 1.10.12 Edition

Posted by AMurawa on January 10th, 2012

  1. Utah did something this weekend that they had given no indication they were capable of doing this year: not only did they win a game in conference play, they were extremely competitive in both of their games. The difference between the Ute team this past weekend and the team that lost by 31 to Cal State Fullerton (just to pick one lowlight from the non-conference schedule)? This Utah team has been playing their hearts out defensively. Give credit to head coach Larry Krystkowiak for keeping his team’s attention and give credit to the players for buying in.
  2. Utah’s new conference-designated rival, Colorado, is also experiencing good things in their first year in their new conference. The Buffaloes sit atop the Pac-12 standings with a 3-0 record and head coach Tad Boyle sees his team coming together as the season progresses. However, last year the Buffaloes started play in the Big 12 with a 3-0 record and then proceeded to lose four straight and six out of seven games on its way toward missing the NCAA Tournament. In other words, good work Buffs; now get back to work. Elsewhere in Boulder, CU had a little milestone Monday as Carlon Brown became the first Buffalo to win a Pac-12 Player of the Week award. His 23-point average and nine-of-15 shooting from deep made his selection more or less a no-brainer.
  3. Lorenzo Romar got a mid-season present yesterday when Austin Seferian-Jenkins, a tight end on the Washington football team, announced he would be playing basketball for the Huskies this season. Seferian-Jenkins is a 6’6” 258-pound physical specimen who averaged 19 points and eight rebounds per game as a senior in high school. Seferian-Jenkins began practice with the team yesterday, but there is no current timetable for when he will actually play for the Huskies, and his role on the team when he does get some minutes remains to be seen.
  4. UCLA got back to .500 in the conference this past weekend, in no small part due to the play of senior guard Lazeric Jones. Jones averaged 10.5 points, seven assists and four rebounds per game this weekend, and is the Bruins leading scorer and assist-man this year. Jones has always played the point in his basketball career, but in recent games has given up his primary ballhandling role in order to play on the wing and be more of a scorer for UCLA.
  5. Lastly, after stealing a win in Spokane to become the sole Pac-12 team to win on the road in the opening weekend of conference play, Oregon had its serve broken on Sunday night by California, falling back to .500. That makes successive weekends where the Ducks came out on Thursday night and played well, only to mail it in on the weekend and fall by double digits. Head coach Dana Altman knows that the Ducks will need to work on improving the consistency of the effort they put out.
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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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Pac-12 Game of the Week: UCLA at Stanford

Posted by AMurawa on December 29th, 2011

A couple of weeks ago, there was no way we would have picked this game to be the most interesting game of the first week of Pac-12 play. While Stanford has been a pleasant surprise through their non-conference schedule, UCLA was on the very short list of the least enjoyable teams in the conference to watch. However, the Bruins have quietly strung together five straight wins albeit against abominable competition and the Cardinal, coming off a tough home loss to Butler, have to prove that they are capable of contending for the regular season title. In short, while both of these teams have plenty of doubters, and rightfully so, each has a chance to earn a modicum of respect by taking care of business on opening weekend.

Stanford’s loss to Butler last week could be explained away in a variety of ways: it was their first game against significant competition in two and a half weeks; the home crowd was absent most of the students and provided little boost to a sleepwalking team; the Bulldogs got plenty of fortunate bounces; and really, it’s a loss to a fast-improving team that has been the national runner-up the past two seasons. Regardless of the excuses, it serves as a reminder that the Cardinal have largely built their status as one of the conference favorites on a loss – a hard-fought six-point defeat against Syracuse in the NIT Season Tip-Off championship game. They have a win over North Carolina State (in which they had to fight back from a 12-point second half deficit) and a win over Oklahoma State, but neither of those teams look like future recipients of an NCAA Tournament invite. So, there is little so far in the positive results category to indicate that this Stanford vintage is significantly better than last year’s 15-16 team that won seven conference games.

Josh Owens, Stanford

Josh Owens Has Been Stanford's Emotional Leader & Go-To Scorer (Credit: Zach Sanderson)

However, if you dig deeper into the metrics, you see a Cardinal team that is winning games because of excellent defense (only twice this season – in the loss to Butler and the uneven win over NC State – have they allowed more than a point per possession), while doing almost all the things that you want to see an efficient offensive team do (they shoot it well, they hit the offensive glass and they get to the free throw line). Only their turnovers on nearly 22% of their offensive possessions present cause for alarm, and that should be a number that sinks as their primary ballhandlers (sophomore Aaron Bright and freshman Chasson Randle) get more comfortable. And if you trust only the eye test, you see a team that appears to run a lot more smoothly than they did last year, when deep into the season the Cardinal appeared to be out of sync on both ends of the court. Bright has taken over as an extension of head coach Johnny Dawkins on the floor, senior center Josh Owens is the team’s emotional leader and go-to scorer, Randle is a steadily improving freshman, and there are a handful of other nice pieces elsewhere on this roster (Anthony Brown, Josh Huestis, Dwight Powell) ready to make positive contributions on both ends. This is an improved Stanford team, but they’ve still got to prove it and they’ll have plenty of chances, starting tonight.

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Pac-12 Morning Five: Conference Tip-Off Edition

Posted by AMurawa on December 29th, 2011

  1. Picking up where we left off yesterday, we’re continuing to look ahead to tonight and the start of conference play (completely ignoring Colorado’s 92-34 demolition of New Orleans last night). We’ve got CBS’ Matt Norlander picking California and Stanford as the teams to beat (and give him credit for not putting the entire league under his “Still Unproven” category), while Mike DeCourcy of The Sporting News also throws his support behind Mike Montgomery’s team. After browsing through all the Pac-12 picks coming from elsewhere and devising our own (which you’ll see later today), it is clear Cal, despite all its flaws, is the clear favorite in the conference.
  2. It’s the first year of unbalanced scheduling in the conference, as the beautiful home-and-away round robin of years’ past is no longer. And, taking into account that California is the favorite in the conference while Stanford and Oregon State are popular choices to challenge for the title, Arizona seems to be sitting in the (wild) catbird seat with regard to scheduling, skipping a trip to the Oregon schools while missing a visit from the Bay Area schools. The Washington schools also seem to be a little fortunate, as they get to skip the trip to the Bay Area, but miss out on a second chance at Utah and Colorado at home.
  3. USC has struggled to a 5-8 start to the season, they’ve got the 248th ranked offense in Division I (according to Ken Pomeroy) and their top five players have played 73.8% of their total minutes. But not to worry, Trojan fans, your intrepid head coach has a plan: try harder! Brilliant! Rather than install any type of coherent offense, Kevin O’Neill says “let’s just do a few more wind sprints.” Certainly USC’s got some incredibly raw parts offensively, but if I were to make a list of the Trojans top five problems in their first 13 games of the season, I’m quite sure effort would not be among them. For instance, tonight when USC travels to California to face the Human Floor Burn, Jorge Gutierrez, it’s a good bet that even he won’t outwork USC. Expect the conference opener between these two teams to be low-scoring, ugly and, well, won by the Golden Bears.
  4. Looking around the rest of the conference, let’s get a quick injury update in advance of opening night. Oregon senior forward Tyrone Nared is not quite ready to return to play after tearing an MCL a little more than two weeks ago, leaving the Ducks with just nine scholarship players for their trip to the Washington schools this weekend. Aziz N’Diaye is back for Washington, having played in their last game against Cal State Northridge, but his return to the starting lineup remains questionable. Richard Solomon still has not practiced for Cal following a stress fracture in his foot two weeks ago, and as a result, is unlikely tonight.  And UCLA’s Lazeric Jones and Norman Powell are expected to play tonight at Stanford after each sprained their ankles during Monday’s practice. Both have been able to practice the last two days and should be good to go.
  5. When Oregon State kicks off conference play tonight with a trip to Washington, they will do so with the most optimism surrounding their program since the days of Gary Payton a couple of decades ago. Their 10-2 record in non-conference play is their best start to a season since 1989-90, Payton’s senior season, and what’s more, this team is fun to watch: They lead the conference in scoring, assists, steals and shooting. The Beavers have never led the conference in scoring (with statistics going back more than 50 years), but with some highly efficient offensive play and a defensive game plan built around forcing turnovers through pressure, this could be their year to do so.
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