Consecutive losses derailed the recent momentum of Washington, USC and Stanford while an impressive surge from ASU basketball shrunk the difference in the conference standings.
In the words of the great Jon Rothstein, college basketball is where the unexpected becomes the ordinary.
Just weeks removed from surges that placed them at the top of the conference standings, the Washington Huskies, USC Trojans and Stanford Cardinal all dropped consecutive games last week, showing that no team in the conference is safe from being the “hunted.”
Meanwhile, in a week that would define their NCAA Tournament hopes, the Arizona State Sun Devils pulled off the first conference sweep in the Bobby Hurley era, defeating USC and UCLA to pull above .500 in the conference. Suddenly, ASU is now one game out of second place.
Like ASU, the Utah Utes put together a solid week, knocking off both Stanford and Cal after dropping their rivalry matchup to Colorado last week. The Utes also sit one game back of the second spot with a trip to Washington in this week’s sights.
Arizona had quite the tumultuous week, falling to UCLA at home before pounding USC two nights later. The loss to the Bruins marked the first time in 77 games that the Wildcats had lost to an unranked opponent at home.
It was a big week for the teams on the bubble. Let’s take a look at how last week’s action shaped this week’s conference standings.
12. Washington State Cougars (9-15, 1-11)
It was another tough week for the Cougars amounting to just 59.5 points per game in two blowout losses to Oregon State and Oregon.
The Cougars lacked rhythm in their offensive flow after the injury of Robert Franks, who didn’t play against the Ducks due to a knee injury he suffered against the Beavers.
Without Franks, the Cougars lack a go-to scorer on offense, a threat that holds one of their few chances to take down another conference opponent in an offensive shootout.
With Franks’ status uncertain, the Cougars will hit the road this week to take on Colorado and Utah.
11. California Golden Bears (8-18, 2-11)
The Bears nearly survived the rocky mountain terrain in Boulder last week, falling by four points on the road against the Colorado Buffaloes.
After holding an early lead in the first half, the Bears failed to string consecutive defensive stops in the second half, allowing the Buffaloes to shoot 50 percent from the field and convert 19 free throw attempts.
The Bears traveled to Utah two nights later, looking to avenge a defeat against a team that also had struggles against the Buffaloes. Instead, Wyking Jones’ young team got ran off the floor at the Jon M. Huntsman Center, shooting just 30 percent in a 77-43 loss to Utah.
With a long season winding down, Jones will have to look to commit his team to small improvements and keeping their effort levels’ up in order to eliminate such shortcomings.
The Bears will return home this Sunday to host their rivalry game against Stanford.
10. Oregon State Beavers (13-11, 5-7)
What a way to bounce back.
The Beavers, who lacked any offensive consistency in losses to Cal and Stanford, completely flipped the script this week, scoring an average of 95.5 points per game in two wins over the Washington schools.
In the two wins, Tres Tinkle put on a show, averaging 24.5 points, 8.0 rebounds and 6.5 assists on 53.1 percent shooting. Against the Huskies, who have the conference’s fourth best scoring defense, Tinkle dominated the half-court pace, helping his team overcome a double-digit deficit in the second half to win a double overtime classic at home.
Although it won’t move them up much in the standings, the Beavers proved they can’t be taken lightly when they come up on the schedule.
Next week, the Beavers will hit the road to take on two bubble teams in UCLA and USC.
9. Stanford Cardinal (13-13, 7-6)
Last week was exactly what Stanford didn’t need.
After unleashing a 35-point drubbing on the Oregon Ducks, the Cardinal struggled when getting back on the road, dropping two crucial games against Utah and Colorado.
In those two games, the Cardinal struggled with inconsistency, as Reid Travis and Dorian Pickens traded poor offensive performances in the losses. With Michael Humphrey only able to record three points and five points, respectively, against Colorado and Utah, the production didn’t pick up from anywhere else.
Now, as they slowly fall out of the top half of the conference, a promising return from a core group of players is in the midst of breaking down. If they want to hold on to any chance of the NCAA Tournament, the Cardinal will have to get rolling before the conference tournament.
This week holds that first step, as they’ll hit the road to take on Cal in a rivalry matchup Sunday.
8. Colorado Buffaloes (15-10, 7-6)
That elevation is brutal.
Returning home, the Buffaloes put together another impressive conference sweep, improving their record in Boulder to 11-2 on the year with wins over Cal and Stanford.
With the home floor, the Buffaloes have often tried to grind down their opponents, putting them in a position where they fall to the conditioning necessary to beat the the altitude.
Against the Bears and the Beavers, they did the same, limiting each team to 64 and 56 points, respectively, forcing poor performances out of offensive weapons Justice Sueing and Dorian Pickens.
Once considered one of the bottom tier teams in the conference, the Buffaloes now find themselves within one game of jumping in the top half of the conference.
They’ll look to continue their winning ways this week as they hit the road to take on the Washington schools.
7. Utah Utes (15-9, 7-6)
Was it too little, too late?
After dropping their rivalry game to Colorado, the Utes responded at home, posting two double-digit victories over Stanford and Cal.
Against the Cardinal, the Utes saw David Collette, Sedrick Barefield and Justin Bibbins all score in double figures, combining a sound defensive effort with solid offensive production.
Two nights later, the Utes clamped down on Washington, forcing a season low of 43 points from their opposition. Clean rotations from the Utes held Cal offensive weapons Justice Sueing and Don Coleman to just 4-for-15 shooting from the field.
However, their solid week might not have been enough. The Utes aren’t projected to make the NCAA Tournament field, and with nine losses, they’ll likely have to win out in order to re-enter.
They’ll look to take the first steps in that process as they travel this week to take on the Washington schools.
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6. Washington Huskies (17-8, 7-5)
What happened to the Huskies?
A week after gaining national attention from beating Arizona State and Arizona at home, Mike Hopkins’ team responded with two of their worst performances of the season against the Oregon schools.
On Thursday against Oregon, the Huskies found themselves unable to keep up with the fast-paced offense led by Payton Pritchard and Troy Brown. The Ducks got out for 15 points in transition during that game, looking to push Hopkins’ 2-3 zone into a full court affair.
Against Oregon State, the theme looked very similar, as the Huskies were unable to stop the impact of Tres Tinkle. The Huskies led by 13 late in the second half, but a late surge from Tinkle’s playmaking allowed the Beavers to push the game to double overtime, where Stephen Thompson Jr. hit a walk-off three for the win.
However, not all is bad for the Huskies. Four of their six remaining games are at home, where they’re 13-2 on the season.
The Huskies will look to further their NCAA Tournament hopes as they get set to take on Utah and Colorado.
5. Oregon Ducks (17-8, 7-5)
That’s the Troy Brown the nation has been waiting to see.
Brown, who put together a solid week against the California schools, followed up his breakout week with two more dominant performances. Against the Washington schools, Brown averaged 18.5 points and 7.5 rebounds per game, showing flashes of the athleticism that could elevate him to a first round pick in the NBA Draft.
Payton Pritchard did his job at the point guard position, averaging nine assists on the week to give the Ducks a solid offensive attack.
Now, with games to play against USC, UCLA, Arizona State and Arizona, the Ducks may still be able to play themselves into the big dance with some quality wins.
They’ll get set to take on USC and UCLA on the road this week.
4. USC Trojans (17-9, 8-5)
It was an inopportune time for USC to break down.
Since their six-game win streak, the Trojans have lost three straight, with the latest two coming last week on the road against Arizona State and Arizona.
Up seven with two minutes to go, it looked like the Trojans would be able to take the first win of the week from ASU. Then, Shannon Evans and Tra Holder sparked a late run for the Sun Devils, where the Trojans were unable to hold off a 9-0 run capped off by a game winner from Holder.
Two nights later in Tucson, the Trojans were routed, as they allowed four Arizona starters to score in double figures and the Wildcat team to shoot 56 percent from the floor.
In Bleacher Report’s latest edition of bracketology, the Trojans were listed as part of the “First Four Out.” Now, by losing three must-win games against UCLA, Arizona State and Arizona, the Trojans have few chances left to sneak into the tournament.
Andy Enfield and his team will look to save their hopes this week as they take on the Oregon schools at home.
3. No. 25 Arizona State Sun Devils (19-6, 7-6)
The Sun Devils are back.
With two victories over UCLA and USC last week, ASU showed they’ve found lineups that work defensively and offensively. Bobby Hurley found ways to experiment Mickey Mitchell with De’Quon Lake and Romello White in the frontcourt while also using more of the “Guard U” lineup of Holder, Evans, Kodi Justice and Remy Martin down the stretch.
Although the Sun Devils have only shot above 50 percent one time in conference play, they’ve begun to mirror their nonconference successes by using spurt runs to jump ahead. Against USC, it was a 9-0 run in the final two minutes. Against UCLA, it was a 18-4 run in the first half.
Now, the Sun Devils will look to further their bid for a bye in the conference tournament this week with the Arizona Wildcats coming to town Thursday.
2. UCLA Bruins (17-8, 8-5)
In the same week, the Bruins experienced the highest of highs and the lowest of lows.
On Thursday, their league-leading offense was clicking on all cylinders, with all their starters scoring in double figures in a huge win at the McKale Center. Once on the bubble, it looked like the Bruins had conquered the biggest test of the week by dethroning Arizona.
However, they hadn’t quite yet.
After taking a quick lead against Arizona State, the Bruins collapsed, allowing the Sun Devils to take a double-digit advantage by the end of the first half. They would never retake the lead.
Star guards Aaron Holiday and Jaylen Hands failed to make a huge impact, as Hands was held to nine points and Holiday with only five until the last two minutes of play.
Now, the Bruins are right back on the bubble, and they only have a few weeks left to prove they should be in. Still, at second place in the conference, they can make the stand necessary.
The Bruins will return home this week to take on the Oregon schools.
1. No.17 Arizona Wildcats (20-6, 10-3)
A McKale Center tradition was broken.
The Arizona Wildcats, who are rarely defeated at the McKale Center, lost Thursday night to UCLA, a shocking turn of events that has allowed UCLA to become a school that can say they’ve won in McKale Center in consecutive seasons.
Playing furious, the Wildcats responded on Saturday, as strong performances from Alkins, Ayton, Allonzo Trier and Dusan Ristic powered Arizona to one of their best conference victories against USC.
However, they have Arizona State looming on their tails. As the Wildcats enter Tempe this week to face the Sun Devils, they’ll now get ready for a team that is back in the rankings and winners of three straight.
Needless to say, the matchup will be fantastic.