The heavyweight showdown between Stanford and Arizona proved that the Wildcats are the conference’s team to beat. Below them, each team still holds a certain tale of unpredictability.
It’s been a month since Pac-12 play began, and a sense of clarity is finally beginning to rise.
Saturday’s matchup between the Stanford Cardinal and the Arizona Wildcats saw the conference’s two hottest teams take the same floor, giving fans a battle that lived all the way up to its anticipated hype.
After both teams came back from double-digit deficits, the game came down to the final minutes, where Arizona’s Rawle Alkins banked in a layup on the left baseline to put the Wildcats ahead by one with just 38 seconds remaining. Moments later, Stanford’s Dorian Pickens failed to get a shot off for the Cardinal at the buzzer, and the Wildcats, finally taking control of their preseason expectations, took sole possession at the top of the conference standings.
Meanwhile, their rivals up north, the Arizona State Sun Devils, fell in the national rankings for the fourth consecutive week. A loss to the same Stanford team was the fourth in six games for ASU, as they continued to struggle matching the physicality and size of their opposition.
In Los Angeles, both teams endured a complete shift in momentum, with USC beginning to deliver on their early season promise while UCLA has fallen into a midseason slump. As for the Colorado Buffaloes and the Oregon schools, split weeks provided some hope but not any ground in terms of climbing the conference standings.
It’s been a month since the Pac-12 season began, and the developments of each team continue to provide both intrigue and skepticism. Let’s take a look at where each team stands with February rapidly approaching.
12. California Golden Bears (7-13, 1-6)
Things couldn’t have gotten more difficult for Cal this week.
The Bears took on the conference’s two ranked teams in Arizona and Arizona State last week, where the team’s offensive struggles proved to be too much to pull off any chance of an upset.
Much like their outings in week three, the Bears relied solely on Justice Sueing for scoring against the Wildcats. Sueing led the team with 19 points, but shot the ball at 35 percent, just under the team’s total of 36 percent in the loss.
Against the Sun Devils, the Bears finally got some of the production they expected out of Kentucky transfer Marcus Lee. He had a season high of 23 points and eight rebounds against the Devils, but seven missed free throws kept his team from capitalizing on a late run in the closing minutes.
With Don Coleman’s struggles now forcing head coach Wyking Jones to bring him off the bench, it’s hard to tell when the Bears will be able to regain the full confidence of their best offensive weapon.
Still holding just one victory in conference play, the Bears will now be on the hunt for a road victory as they travel to Los Angeles to take on USC and UCLA.
11. Washington State Cougars (9-10, 1-6)
After tallying their first conference victory of the season, the Cougars traveled to Utah and Colorado to take on the Mountain schools, looking to build on a stout defensive performance against California.
Instead, the Cougars ran into the same issues that have plagued them since their championship win at the Wooden Legacy tournament. They gave up 82 points in each game, as the Buffaloes and Utes combined to convert on 22 of their free throw attempts while the Cougars only attempted a total of 15.
Unlike their quick start in non-conference play, the Cougars haven’t been able to benefit from their three-point barrage to keep them in games. Despite shooting at an average of 40 percent from beyond the arc last week, Ernie Kent’s squad allowed their opposition to shoot greater than 49 percent from the field, being unable to climb out of early holes and get multiple stops on defense.
This week, the Cougars will prepare for a half-court slugfest as they take on their in-state rivals, the Washington Huskies, on Sunday night.
10. Oregon State Beavers (11-8, 3-4)
It’s been a tough time for Wayne Tinkle’s squad in trying to close out games.
After blowing a double-digit lead on the road against Arizona State, the Beavers held an eight point lead with 11 minutes to go at home against USC. With momentum in their favor, it looked like the Beavers would be on their way to sweeping the Los Angeles schools.
Then, the past emerged.
The Trojans went on a 37-22 run for the remaining 11:56 of the game, as the Beavers couldn’t keep their opposition from getting opportunities at the free throw line. In that span, Chimezie Metu made eight out of 18 Trojan free throws, and the Beavers once again showed the inability to get stops on defense in the closing minutes of a game.
Still holding the Pac-12’s top scoring defense in conference games, the Beavers have found themselves competing in every game they’ve been in. The question is: can they close the deal with a late lead?
The Beavers will travel to Eugene this Saturday where they’ll take on in-state rival Oregon for part two of the Civil War.
9. Colorado Buffaloes (12-8, 4-4)
After upsetting UCLA on the road in week three, the Buffaloes returned home with a lot of confidence prior to their two games against the Washington schools.
Tad Boyle’s team put together a resounding offensive effort against Washington State, as guards McKinley Wright IV, George King and Namon Wright combined for 49 of the 82 points that the team accumulated on Thursday night.
On Saturday night, however, the Buffaloes failed to match that same intensity, as a hungry Washington squad limited them to just 35 percent shooting and 10 assists as a team.
So far this year, the Buffaloes have fallen victim to playing at the tempo of their opposition, a trend that has been their greatest weapon yet also their most prominent weakness.
This week, the Buffaloes will travel back west to take on the Arizona schools, two teams they defeated in Boulder just a few weeks ago.
8. Washington Huskies (14-6, 4-3)
The Huskies showed they can rebound.
After dropping two straight against Stanford and Utah, the Huskies ventured into Boulder, Colorado, home of where dreams had died for both Arizona and Arizona State. Rather than falling victim to the elevation factor, the Huskies put forth one of their best defensive performances of the season, holding the Buffaloes to just 62 points at home.
Guards Jaylen Nowell and Matisse Thybulle combined for 37 of the Huskies’ 72 points on the night, showing the ability to score in key moments down the stretch. David Crisp added 14 points at the forward position, while center Noah Dickerson added his fourth double-double of the season with 10 points and 14 rebounds.
In the four games that Dickerson has posted double-doubles this year, the Huskies are 4-0. Expect his output to continue to be key for a team that now finds itself just two games out of the conference lead.
The Huskies will now prepare for their in-state rivalry game this week, as they take on the Washington State Cougars at home on Sunday.
7. Utah Utes (12-7, 4-4)
Much like their head coach Larry Krystkowiak, the Utah Utes showed their resolve with a home sweep against Washington and Washington State.
In the two victories, the Utes were able to show why they were the Pac-12’s top defense heading into week two of conference play. They held their opponents to just under 66 points a game on an average of just 41 percent shooting from the floor in the two wins, showing much more active rotations compared to their blowout losses against the Los Angeles schools one week earlier.
With two bounceback wins under their belts, the Utes will now prepare for two huge tests on the road, traveling first to Tempe and then Tucson to take on Arizona State and Arizona.
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6. Oregon Ducks (13-7, 3-4)
Two nationally televised games on ESPN brought the Ducks a lot of attention this past week.
In their loss against USC, the Ducks looked like a work in progress. After coming back from a double-digit deficit early in the first half, the Ducks led by four with just under five minutes remaining.
However, in an rapid shift of events, the Trojans went on a 14-5 run to close to game, as senior Jordan McLaughlin buried six free throws down the stretch to stun the Ducks in front of their home crowd.
On Saturday against UCLA, the Ducks managed to flip the script, as their 17-point advantage in the first half dwindled to just one point with 1:11 remaining. However, thanks to four made free throws from Payton Pritchard in the final eight seconds, the Ducks showed poise and resolve when getting another opportunity to close out a tight game at home.
Dana Altman’s team is far from perfect, but they’re on the right track in terms of obtaining an NCAA Tournament berth.
The Ducks will remain in Eugene this week as they get set to encounter phase two of the Civil War against the visiting Oregon State Beavers.
5. UCLA Bruins (13-7, 4-4)
Despite still holding the Pac-12’s best scoring offense in conference games at 84 points per game, the UCLA Bruins have been a shadow of themselves during the last three games.
The Bruins followed up their 59-point effort against Colorado with just 63 points against Oregon State, as star freshmen Kris Wilkes and Jaylen Hands shot a combined 6-for-17 from the floor in Corvallis. Despite totaling 91 points against the Oregon Ducks, the Bruins didn’t play consistent offense until their late run in the last three minutes of the game.
Point guard Aaron Holiday averaged 18 points against the Oregon schools, but failed to shoot at a consistent clip, converting on just 35 percent of his shots in the two losses.
All teams hit slumps at some point during the season, but you’d have to wonder if UCLA’s lack of depth is slowly beginning to creep up on them.
The Bruins will return home this week looking to get back on track with two games against Cal and Stanford.
4. No. 21 Arizona State Sun Devils (15-4, 3-4)
After last week’s split against Stanford and Cal, Arizona State head coach Bobby Hurley has yet to pick up a weekly conference sweep at home or on the road during his three years in Tempe.
In their loss to the Cardinal, the Sun Devils were once again unable to match the size and physical play of their opponent. Reid Travis, the conference’s leading scorer, contributed 18 points and 10 rebounds for Stanford, but the story of the night came from reserve Josh Sharma, who had a breakout game of 14 points on 7-for-7 shooting.
In that game, the Devils had a -14 margin in the rebounding battle, which stemmed from 13 offensive rebounds they gave up to the Cardinal.
Against Cal, coach Hurley elected to go to the starting lineup he used for the majority of the non-conference season, plugging Vitaliy Shibel back into the first five with Mickey Mitchell coming off of the bench. The change worked, as the Sun Devils held a plus-nine margin in the rebounding category while Mitchell helped provide a spark that led to 41 total points off of the bench.
Now 12-0 with Shibel in the starting lineup, it remains to be seen whether the old ways for the Sun Devils will work for the remainder of their conference schedule. They’ll get to experiment it further when they take on Utah and Colorado at home this week.
3. Stanford Cardinal (11-9, 5-2)
For a moment, it appeared that the Cardinal were about to jump Arizona and take sole possession of first place in the conference standings. After Dorian Pickens buried a corner three to put the Cardinal up 11 with 9:29 to go, it appeared that a rout was on in Palo Alto.
Three minutes later, an 11-0 run by the Wildcats returned the scoreboard to even strength, and the Cardinal were unable to edge out a victory in the closing minutes.
Still, the Cardinal shouldn’t keep their heads down after this performance. Reid Travis showed that he’s one of the only players not afraid to challenge DeAndre Ayton at the rim, and a tall, athletic lineup featuring Dorian Pickens and Kezie Okpala will keep Jerod Haase’s squad competing for the remainder of conference play.
For the Cardinal, their NCAA Tournament hopes may rely on how they bounce back from the loss to the Wildcats.
Stanford will now travel for two tough games on the road in Los Angeles against USC and UCLA.
2. USC Trojans (15-6, 6-2)
The Trojans are finally back.
Facing tight deficits in Corvallis and Eugene, the upperclassmen leadership of the roster finally began to break through, as the Trojans got to the free throw line and converted down the stretch to win two impressive games on the road.
Their core of Metu, McLaughlin, Elijah Stewart and Bennie Boatwright showed signs of flow as a unit, as each player contributed at least one double-digit scoring output in their two victories on the road.
Since their opening conference blunder against Washington, the Trojans have responded to win six of their last seven games, all while holding their opposition to just 67 points a game.
If Daejon Davis didn’t hit the prayer at Palo Alto, the Trojans would be a half-game above Arizona for the conference lead.
USC will return home this week, looking to continue their hot streak with a revenge victory against Stanford and another win against California.
1.No. 11 Arizona Wildcats (16-4, 6-1)
This shouldn’t be surprising, except it somewhat is.
Despite all that has transpired off the court for the Arizona Wildcats this season, their on-court efforts have been steadily consistent of late, grabbing sole place of the conference lead and the top spot in this week’s conference power rankings.
As expected, the Wildcats took care of Cal on the road Thursday night, as all eyes waited to see how they would fare in their primetime television battle against the Stanford Cardinal.
After opening up a 12-point lead in the first half, it appeared that the Wildcats would cruise to their sixth conference win. However, the Cardinal fought back, and the Wildcats soon faced further adversity when going down 11 in the second half.
For the first time this season, the Wildcats appeared to rise against such adversity, as Alkins and Allonzo Trier sparked an 11-0 run to tie the game and go on a scoring run of their own. By the time the buzzer sounded, it became known that Arizona had become closer to achieving their championship potential.
This week, the Wildcats will head back to the McKale Center, looking to extend their lead in the conference standings as they take on Utah and Colorado.