UCLA had plenty of reason to smile after an impressive win over Cal. (Harry How/Getty Images)
A recap of Sunday's college hoops action.
UCLA 76, Cal 64
The best team in the Pac-12 is No. 1 Arizona. UCLA might be the second best.
It played that way for most of Sunday’s win over Cal at Pauley Pavilion. The Bruins let a 19-point lead early in the second half dwindle to three, but sophomore Kyle Anderson and freshman Bryce Alford did enough down the stretch to keep the Bears at bay. Anderson had eight points in the final seven minutes, while Alford had nine and an assist. Freshman guard Jordan Mathews paced Cal with 18 points on 6-of-12 shooting, and forward Richard Solomon added nine points and 13 rebounds.
There are two categories of teams in the Pac-12: Arizona and everybody else. After Sunday’s win, the Bruins seem the best of the latter, but can they validate that title over the next two weeks by taking advantage of a relatively easy set of games? UCLA’s next five opponents are as follows: Oregon, Oregon State, USC, Colorado, Utah. The Bruins are capable of winning all of those games, but three of them (Oregon, Oregon State and USC) will take place on the road, where they have won just once – against Spencer Dinwiddie-less Colorado on January 16 – this season.
Anderson and guard Jordan Adams comprise a terrific offensive tandem, and if David Wear, who scored a career-high 18 points Sunday, can be a more consistent offensive threat, UCLA has the ability to create some separation in the Pac 12 standings between itself and the host of three-loss teams (Washington, Arizona State and Stanford) nipping at its and Cal’s heels.
The Bears could have won this game, but they can make up for the loss by playing well over the next week and a half, when they host Arizona State, Arizona and Stanford. This is a young team with a talented group of guards. Its thin frontcourt could be problematic against big teams like the Wildcats and Cardinal, who rank 15th and 27th in Ken Pomeroy’s effective height statistic, respectively, but in Justin Cobbs, Tyrone Wallace, Jordan Mathews and Jabari Bird (who broke out of a recent slump by scoring 12 points), the Bears have a backcourt that matches up favorably with any other Pac-12 team’s.
Both of these teams should be able to earn NCAA Tournament at-large berths. They can improve their seeding between now and March, but unless No. 1 Arizona unexpectedly falls off, UCLA and Cal are playing for second place in the Pac-12.
(1) Arizona 65, Utah 56
This game was much closer than most probably expected it would be. Utah has not won away from home all season, but it wasn’t daunted by the raucous environment inside the McKale Center. A three from Kenneth Ogbe put Utah up two around the 11-minute mark in the second half, but Arizona didn’t panic and got key plays from junior Nick Johnson, sophomore Brandon Ashley and freshman Aaron Gordon to seal its program record-tying 20th consecutive win. Guard Delon Wright scored 19 points, grabbed six rebounds and handed off four assists for the Utes, but was outdueled by Wildcats junior Nick Johnson, who had a game-high 22 points. Kenpom.com lists Arizona’s chances of finishing the regular season without a loss at 11.7 percent. If the Wildcats can survive their next two games, at Stanford and at Cal, the possibility will warrant deeper consideration.
North Carolina 80, Clemson 61
The streak lives on.Forward James Michael McAdoo scored 22 points and grabbed seven rebounds to extend the Tar Heels' unbeaten streak over Clemson in Chapel Hill and earn just their second win in ACC conference play. The Tigers, made just 31.6 percent of their two-point field goal attempts. Clemson entered Sunday with a defense ranked No. 7 in the country in points allowed per possession, but yielded 1.31 PPP to the Tar Heels. North Carolina should be able to pick up a few wins over the next two weeks; games at Georgia Tech and Notre Dame bookend home dates with NC State and Maryland. No. 18 Duke will visit the Dean Dome on Feb. 12.
Minnesota 82, Nebraska 78
This is probably not the way Minnesota hoped to follow up its win over No. 9 Wisconsin last week. Nebraska sophomore guard Terran Petteway shot 10-of-15 from the field for a career-high 35 points as the Huskers won their second consecutive game at Pinnacle Bank Arena. Tim Miles' team took down No. 17 Ohio State there on Monday, lost at Penn State three days later, then bounced back Sunday to topple the Gophers. This is a bad loss for Minnesota, the kind of result that could come back to haunt them on selection sunday. The good news is, their next three opponents are all beatable: Northwestern, Purdue and Indiana. Leading scorer Andre Hollins, who suffered an ankle injury in Minnesota's win over Wisconsin, did not play on Sunday. The Gophers are still very much in contention to earn an at-large bid.
(23) Memphis 80, South Florida 58
Since falling at home to UConn on Jan. 16, the Tigers have won three consecutive games. Sophomore forward Shaq Goodwin scored 13 points and snared 10 rebounds in Sunday’s win over the Bulls, who fell to 1-6 in American Athletic Conference play. Memphis is 5-2 in league games and sits two and a half games back of first place No. 15 Cincinnati in the conference standings. Trips to UCF and Southern Methodist come next for the Tigers, followed by home meetings with Rutgers and Gonzaga.
SMU 75, Houston 68
Speaking of AAC teams on winning streaks … SMU has won five straight since losing at No. 12 Louisville on January 12. None of those five wins (vs. USF, at UCF, vs. Hofstra, vs. Rutgers, at Houston) are particularly impressive, but SMU has proven it is one of the best five teams in its league. Sophomore guard Nic Moore scored a career-high 28 points in Sunday’s win at Hofheinz Pavilion.
Indiana 56, Illinois 46
It's looking like Illinois, who started the season 13-2, could lose eight consecutive games. The Illini fell at Indiana Sunday to move to 2-6 in Big Ten play and face upcoming games against No. 10 Iowa and No. 9 Wisconsin. Indiana deserves credit for holding serve at home, but a more important game comes on February 2, when No. 21 Michigan visits Assembly Hall. The Hoosiers' have a lot of work to do to put themselves in the conversation for an at-large bid.
(15) Cincinnati 80, Temple 76
blew a 19-point second half lead but held off the Owls
to remain undefeated in AAC play. Senior forward Justin Jackson
after injuring his ankle six minutes into the game.