Recapping the week in Pac-12 basketball …
Theme of the week: Arizona saves the season
The Wildcats became the first team to topple UCLA in conference play with a 58-52 victory played at the visitor’s tempo. Had the Bruins (8-1) swept their desert swing, everyone would have been playing for second place. That could be the case eventually, but for the moment, UCLA can’t run and hide: The Bruins have a two-game lead in the loss column over Arizona, ASU, USC and Utah with several difficult road games remaining.
Theme of the week II: The muddled masses
Remember how the Pac-12’s top football teams kept winning and eventually created clear separation from the pack? We’re witnessing the opposite on the hardwood as inconsistency is defining the season — and the indisputable mark of a mediocre conference. Currently, eight teams are within three games of each other.
Theme of the season: March outlook
The Pac-12 has two locks for the NCAA Tournament in UCLA and Arizona, plus a load of teams on varying sides of the bubble: Utah, ASU, USC, Colorado, Oregon and Washington State. From here, it doesn’t appear that any of them are capable of breaking away from the pack and cementing their position in the NCAA at-large pool. Every week that parity reigns, the Pac-12 moves one step closer to becoming a two-bid conference.
Theme of the century: End of an era
UCLA’s appearance in McKale Center on Saturday was its last scheduled game in Tucson as a member of the Pac-12. The intra-conference rotation calls for the teams to meet only once next season, in Pauley Pavilion. After that, UCLA will be in the Big Ten and any matchups would require a contractual arrangement. Here’s hoping the programs find a way to make that happen. It has been the best basketball rivalry in the West for decades.
Team of the week: Arizona
The Wildcats were one of three teams to register weekend sweeps, along with Stanford and Utah, and their task — against the L.A. schools — was substantially more difficult. The wins were particularly important when cast against the poor showings against WSU (home) and Oregon (road) in prior weeks. And, of course, the sweep kept Arizona within range of the regular-season title.
Player of the week: Utah’s Branden Carlson
The 7-foot junior produced a superb weekend as the Utes walloped Washington and WSU. He scored 53 points, grabbed 16 rebounds, blocked five shots, made a handful of 3-pointers and reminded everyone why he’s one of the top players in the conference — and a strong contender for Player of the Year.
Performance of the week: Colorado’s Tristan da Silva
While KJ Simpson hit the game-winning shot Sunday over Washington State, we felt obligated to make note of da Silva’s performance: He made 11-of-13 field goals and scored 27 points — or 47 percent of CU’s total in the 58-55 victory.
Missed chance of the week: Arizona State
The Sun Devils entered the week with just one league loss, four consecutive wins and a sterling opportunity to bolster their NCAA resume. Instead, they were swept by the L.A. schools — the loss to USC is particularly impactful — and are now 0-3 against teams on the top tier of the standings. The losses to Arizona, USC and UCLA were by an average of 9.7 points.
Damaging loss of the week: Oregon
The Ducks (11-9 overall) have a narrow path into the NCAAs and cannot afford ghastly losses. But they reverted to bad habits and stumbled at Stanford in what counts as a Quadrant II loss but could easily finish as a Quad III defeat. There is still time for the Ducks to make a legitimate run at the NCAAs, but that door is closing quickly and coach Dana Altman might need supplemental oxygen by March.
Rebound of the week: Utah
The Utes (7-3 in conference) ended a three-game losing streak with a sweep of the Washington schools, enabling them to maintain position on the top shelf. We aren’t convinced of their staying power, but credit Utah for handling its business against the lesser teams. The three league losses have come to USC, UCLA and Oregon.
Rebirth of the week: Stanford
The Cardinal beat Oregon State on Thursday for its first conference win, then completed the sweep with a victory over Oregon. One of the most offensively-challenged teams in the Pac-12 — in this conference, that’s saying something — made 47.2 percent of its shots from the field and offered a reminder that it possesses the talent to beat anyone, especially at home.
Breakthrough of the season: Washington
The Huskies escaped the Boulder altitude with a 75-72 victory for their first road win of the season (and first since Feb. 3 of last season). The key: Forward Keion Brooks scored 25 points on 9-of-12 shooting from the field, accounting for one-third of UW’s total.
Statement game of the week: USC
Arizona’s win over UCLA understandably garnered the most attention, but don’t sleep on USC’s victory at ASU. The Trojans led by 20 points with four minutes remaining, then rebuffed a late rally. With Drew Petersen and Boogie Ellis forming one of the Pac-12’s best backcourts, USC is positioned to play a major role in the conference race.
Stat of the week: NET rankings
As of Sunday morning, the Pac-12 had two teams (UCLA and Arizona) in the top 40 of the NET, a threshold that tracks with teams on the right side of the NCAA Tournament bubble. The Mountain West had five.
Comedic relief of the week: Transitive property
It doesn’t take much for Cal (No. 260 in the NET rankings) to “beat” UCLA (No. 5). After all, the Bears handled Stanford, which defeated Oregon, which thumped Arizona, which toppled the Bruins. Of course, we can draw definitive conclusions in a few weeks when UCLA hosts the Bears. (As if there’s really any doubt.)
Game of the upcoming week I: UCLA at USC (Thursday)
The first meeting was riveting, as UCLA nearly blew an 18-point halftime lead. We expect another taut affair in the Galen Center, with the home team in must-win mode. The Trojans (6-3 in conference) cannot afford to fall three games behind the Bruins (8-1), especially if the ledger includes two head-to-head losses.
Game of the upcoming week II: Utah at Oregon
An important game for both bubble teams and a psychological test for Utah, which lost to Oregon by 10 points a few weeks ago and has dropped 10 in a row to Oregon. Since joining the conference, the Utes are 1-19 against the Ducks.
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