Not much has changed at the top of the conference, but a few teams in the middle of the pack strengthened their chances for an NCAA Tournament berth.
Arizona State may have just hit their stride.
After dropping a heartbreaker against Utah Thursday, the Sun Devils responded with a dominant performance against Colorado, as Shannon Evans and Tra Holder combined for eight of 10 three-pointers in the second half of their 80-66 rout of the Colorado Buffaloes.
Down south in Tucson, Arizona took care of business on their home floor, winning two tight games despite Rawle Alkins being out with foot soreness. Since their collapse in the Bahamas, the Wildcats are now 15-1 with a six game winning streak in league play.
Since their two disastrous performances against the Los Angeles schools, Larry Krystkowiak‘s Utah Utes made their case as a sleeper team for the NCAA Tournament. A breakout week from Sedrick Barefield helped his team come back to knock off the Sun Devils in overtime and remain within one shot of knocking off the Wildcats at the McKale Center.
It was a colossal turn of events for Stanford, as they lost their second and third games in a row in Los Angeles thanks to huge deficits in consecutive first halves. Now, Jerod Haase’s team will likely have to turn to the conference tournament to revive their chances of dancing in March.
With the Conference of Champions officially hitting the midway point of league play, let’s take a look at where each team stands in the final day of January.
12. California Golden Bears (7-15, 1-8)
One negative aspect was able to take away from an otherwise encouraging week for California.
Don Coleman, the Bears’ leading scorer at 16.9 points per game, was suspended for his team’s two matchups against USC and UCLA. As a result, the Bears lacked even more depth for a team that lacks consistent scoring off the bench.
Justice Sueing continued his promising freshman season, pouring in an average of 19 points per game in the two losses. After posting a career high of 23 points against Arizona State, Marcus Lee matched that same total against the Trojans, showing an inside presence that many expected him to exhibit since transferring from Kentucky.
However, solid individual performances didn’t save the Bears from their lack of offensive firepower. Without Coleman on the floor, the Bears scored 57 and 59 points, respectively, in the two losses on 37 percent shooting.
The Bears will now return home looking to right the ship with the Oregon schools coming to town this week.
11. Washington State Cougars (9-11, 1-7)
Travelling to Seattle for their rivalry matchup against Washington, the Cougars felt they may have had an advantage shooting the ball against the Huskies’ 2-3 zone.
It didn’t work out that way.
After their 7-for-27 shooting performance from the three-point line in the first matchup, the Cougars felt they would be able to connect on open shots when given the second opportunity. Instead, Ernie Kent‘s team once again failed to make the Huskies pay, shooting 6-for-24 (25 percent) in their second loss of the season against their in-state rival.
Additionally, the Cougars failed to create solid possessions on offense, coughing up the ball 15 times for 20 Washington points off of the turnovers.
Defensive woes have continued to be the story for Washington State this year, and unless they find the same offensive rhythm they had in the non-conference season, it may be difficult to string together some victories.
The Cougars will return home this week to take on the conference’s two ranked teams in Arizona State and Arizona.
10. Colorado Buffaloes (12-10, 4-6)
After knocking off both of the Arizona schools on their home floor, the Buffaloes were unable to duplicate the same outcomes on the road, falling to both schools by an average of 11.5 points.
Despite being tied at halftime during both games, Tad Boyle‘s squad was unable to overcome big second halves from both teams, being outscored by nine against the Wildcats and 14 by the Sun Devils.
Shooting nearly 56 percent against the Wildcats, the Buffaloes were able to remain close throughout the final minutes, with three players scoring in double digits and a plus-two advantage in the rebounding battle.
Against Arizona State, the numbers were similar, but the theme remained the same: huge runs that led to insurmountable deficits.
Likely, the trend can be credited to inexperience, as the Buffaloes hold seven underclassmen in their rotation.
Colorado will now return home this week, looking to make use of their home court advantage against their mountain school rival, the Utah Utes.
9. Oregon State Beavers (11-9, 3-5)
Round two of the Civil War didn’t work out in the same fashion for the Beavers.
Despite holding Oregon to just 44 percent shooting, Oregon State lacked their normal tendencies on defense, as sloppy rotations and inconsistent effort allowed the Ducks to get to the free throw line for a total of 24 times Saturday night.
Tres Tinkle, who totaled 19 points and 12 rebounds against the Ducks in Corvallis, failed to rally his team on offense, scoring just 11 points in Eugene on 4-for-13 shooting.
With the inability to key in on their defensive rotations, it’s been a rough go for the Beavers in league play. The lack of offensive output outside of Tinkle and Ethan and Stephen Thompson has been a huge concern up to this point, and the fact appeared again Saturday, with only 17 points being scored outside of those three players.
Now taking the road, the Beavers will have an opportunity to climb back up the conference standings as they get set to take on both Cal and Stanford.
8. Washington Huskies (15-6, 5-3)
One could consider Mike Hopkins‘ squad to be considered years ahead of schedule. They’ve already knocked off Kansas in non-conference play, and are only two and a half games out for a tie of the conference lead.
But, are they really ahead?
The Huskies dominated their lone game of the week on Sunday against Washington State, shooting 54 percent from the floor with 20 assists as a team to pick up their fifth conference victory.
However, the Huskies’ schedule might require a closer look. Three of their wins have come against Cal and Washington State, the two teams at the bottom of the conference, while their three losses against Stanford, Cal and Utah have come by an average of 13 points per game.
This week, the Huskies will have a chance to prove themselves, as they remain at home to take on Arizona State and Arizona.
7. Oregon Ducks (14-7, 4-4)
The American Civil War didn’t have a rematch, but the Ducks sure took advantage of theirs against the Beavers.
Elijah Brown continued his hot streak of games with another 20-point effort against the Beavers, converting three of his three-point attempts while going 9-for-9 at the free throw line.
On the defensive end, the Ducks keyed in on the three offensive weapons for Oregon State, forcing their in-state rival to just 18 percent shooting from the three-point line and 44 percent total from the field.
With a few more wins in store, the Ducks could control their own destiny in terms of making an NCAA Tournament appearance.
Next up will be two road games for the Ducks, as they’ll get set to face both Cal and Stanford this week.
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6. No. 25 Arizona State Sun Devils (16-5, 4-5)
Is this the turning point for the Sun Devils?
After a sloppy first half performance against Colorado, the ASU team of old burst out of the gates in the second half, with Evans and Holder converting on six consecutive three-pointers for an 18-4 run that rekindled memories of their 12-0 non-conference start.
In two games at home this week, the Sun Devils got the best out of Holder, who averaged 22.5 points, 7.5 rebounds and 4.0 assists, a return to form for a player who has found himself entangled in several midseason All-American lists.
Despite the loss to Utah, the Sun Devils have found themselves in competitive games in all five of their conference losses. Now, they’ll hope to fix the problem of closing those games and shooting at a high percentage in the process.
Still looking for their first sweep in the Bobby Hurley era, the Sun Devils will hit the road for their second-to-last trip away from home against the Washington schools.
5. Stanford Cardinal (11-11, 5-4)
Things have turned around quickly for Stanford, and not in a good way.
After nearly knocking off Arizona at home, the Cardinal have been slumping. A close at USC was followed by a complete collapse in the Pauley Pavilion, where the UCLA Bruins routed them by 16 points.
Going into this week leading the conference in scoring, Reid Travis failed to provide his usual output, averaging just 13.5 points per game in the two losses. Despite additional assistance from Daejon Davis and Dorian Pickens, it wasn’t enough to create a balance, as the Cardinal dealt with both foul trouble and shooting struggles.
Now, with an 11-11 record and only half the conference season left, the Cardinal will have to rely on a strong second half of the season and possibly a conference tournament championship to keep their NCAA Tournament dreams alive.
They’ll look to take the first steps of that process next week, returning home to take on the Oregon schools.
4. Utah Utes (13-8, 5-5)
Hope is not all lost for Utah.
Although they feel they should’ve swept their two road games in Arizona, the Utes showed that they have the makings of a team that could make a surprise run in the NCAA Tournament.
Off the bench, Sedrick Barefield dropped 17 and 26 points, respectively, against the Sun Devils and the Wildcats, showcasing a smooth jumper and a tight handle that made his opposition searching for answers on how to slow him down.
David Collette played a huge role in the low post, giving DeAndre Ayton, Romello White and De’Quon Lake all they could handle both mentally and physically. Justin Bibbins, who struggled with foul trouble in both games, showed an edge in mental toughness that gave his team life down the stretch.
Now finding themselves back toward the top of the conference, their horrendous trip in Los Angeles now seems like it happened all too long ago.
The Utes will now travel to Colorado for their lone game this week, looking to overcome the elevation difficulties when taking on the Buffaloes in Boulder.
3. UCLA Bruins (15-7, 6-4)
Like several other moments this season, the Bruins showed they had the capability to bounce back, putting together a sweep at home last week which included a 16-point victory over Stanford.
In the win, four players contributed 13 points or more, and the Bruins’ high powered offense that stalled in the state of Oregon revved once again back home at the Pauley Pavilion.
Their victory against the Cardinal put them just a half game back of Washington for fourth place in the conference, as rivalry matchups against USC and Arizona now loom on the horizon
The Bruins will hope to take advantage of their first rivalry matchup Saturday, as they’ll take on the Trojans at home.
2. USC Trojans (17-6, 8-2)
It took some time, but USC has found a way to right their wrongs in conference play.
Once criticized for inconsistent effort amidst the De’Anthony Melton investigation, the Trojans have now cracked into their potential they held at the beginning of the season, winning six straight conference games after splitting their first four.
Despite the absence of Bennie Boatwright last week, the Trojans got the revenge on Stanford, winning a five point war that came down to their dominant defensive effort.
After only leading by two at halftime against Cal, the Trojans broke away in the second half, outscoring the Bears 46-30 and putting the game far out of reach.
Now, the Trojans will prepare for possibly their hardest three-game stretch of the season, taking on UCLA, Arizona State and Arizona on the road.
Thankfully, they just may be ready.
1.No. 9 Arizona Wildcats (18-4, 8-1)
That was close.
After holding a double-digit lead at home against Utah, the Wildcats faltered down the stretch, allowing the Utes to take a one-point lead in the closing minutes.
With several teams keying in on DeAndre Ayton, Ristic proved he cannot be unaccounted for, averaging 19 points and 7.5 rebounds in the Wildcats’ two victories. Although he didn’t score, seeing Emmanuel Akot play with high effort in back-to-back games with 10+ minutes has to be a pleasing sight for Sean Miller.
However, Miller was concerned about his team’s defensive efforts, as they allowed Colorado to shoot 56 percent from the floor and were unable to hold late leads in both games. However, his team has jumped back into the top 10 of the AP poll for the first time since November, a positive sign considering all things that went down in the Bahamas.
The Wildcats will look to continue their winning ways this week as they’ll fly out to Pullman and Seattle to take on Washington State and Washington.