We present three questions this week:
---1. Is Bobby Hurley the kind of fiery, passionate leader you want as your coach, or is he a whining, over-the-top problem?
The Pac-12 spotlight that should be on Tuesday’s UCLA-Arizona game has been diverted to Arizona State head coach Bobby Hurley and his continued displeasure with Pac-12 officiating.
On Sunday, the Pac-12 suspended Hurley for one game and fined him $20,000 for confronting officials after his team’s 79-76 loss to Stanford on Saturday. Perhaps more concerning is that Sun Devils forward Jay Heath was also suspended for a game and forward Jalen Graham was reprimanded by the Pac-12 for also confronting officials.
This is not the first time the Pac-12 has reprimanded Hurley for his comments about officials. Last Jan. 21, he complained about a call not made in a loss to Arizona.
This time, the complaint no doubt had to do with the foul disparity. Stanford attempted 41 free throws, making 32, while ASU attempted nine foul shots and made seven.
That’s an extraordinary disparity, as indicated by this note:
You might want to claim that the Sun Devils got “homered,” with officials being influenced by boisterous home-team fans. But there were no fans in Maples Pavilion for that game. The most intimidating influence might have been Hurley.
ASU’s officiating concerns were probably heightened by the fact that the winning points were scored when Brandon Angel made all three free throws after getting fouled on a three-point attempt with 1.1 seconds left.
Here is that play:
That was followed by the confrontation of Hurley and ASU players with the officials:
Perhaps the biggest concern is that Hurley did nothing to prevent his players from being involved in the confrontation, leaving that to staff members.
Here are the highlights of the game, with the disputed three-point shot foul appearing 23:30 into the video, and the confrontation with officials coming 24:00 into the video.
Leadership involves a tricky balance. Players want their coach to be passionate about their games and have their backs when decisions go against them. But there is a fine line between showing support and overt demonstrations of disdain for officials while allowing players to act similarly.
---2. Is the UCLA-Arizona game Tuesday a case of bad timing?
The three nationally ranked kingpins of the Pac-12 – Arizona, UCLA and USC – have yet to face each other this season. But that will change Tuesday night when No. 3 Arizona and No. 7 UCLA meet at Pauley Pavilion.
It’s really the first Pac-12 conference game of national interest, with the fact that fans will be allowed to attend a UCLA home game for the first time since Dec. 1 adding to the drama.
No team in the country can match the Wildcats’ statistics.
They are No. 1 in the NET rankings, No. 2 in the nation in scoring offense (88.7 points), No. 1 in the country in scoring margin (24.3), No. 1 in the country in assists per game (21.3), fifth in the nation in field-goal percentage (50.1%), second in the nation in field-goal percentage defense (36.2%), third in the country in blocked shots per game (6.7), seventh in the nation in assist-to-turnover ratio (1.58), sixth in the nation in rebounding margin (9.7).
No team in the country had higher expectations this season than the Bruins.
They return all five starters from last season’s Final Four team that lost to Gonzaga in the NCAA semifinals on Jalen Suggs’ 40-footer and were ranked No. 2 in the AP preseason poll. And they are excellent in late-game situations.
The game is on ESPN, and Bill Walton will be the “analyst,” which needs to be in quotes when Walton is doing the “analysis” while mesmerizing audiences with comments that shoot off on all tangents.
The Pac-12 is finally the focus of the college basketball world. The game could be a humdinger as Dennis Hopper's "Hoosiers" character Wilbur "Shooter" Flatch might say.
Or it would be if people on the East Coast could see it. The game starts at 8 p.m. Pacific time, which means it begins at 11 p.m. in the East. It won’t be over until about 1 a.m. on the other coast, and not many people want to stay up that late on a weekday.
Reading about it the next day just ain’t the same.
---3. Is USC really that good?
Only one Pac-12 team has yet to face a ranked opponent this season, and that team is USC.
The Trojans are ranked 15th in the country, and their 16-2 record is their best 18-game start since the USC’s 1970-71 team began 17-1 on their way to a 24-2 season and a No. 5 final ranking. (Both losses were to Lew Alcindor-lead UCLA.)
But who have the Trojans beaten this season? Their best win was last week’s 61-58 road victory over Colorado, but that’s not going to earn national attention.
Questions were raised in their three previous games when they lost to Stanford and Oregon, the latter at home, and struggled to win at home against an Oregon State team that is 3-14 (the Beavers led with less than four minutes left).
USC will not face a ranked team until Feb. 5, when it meets Arizona in Tucson. The Trojans are 0-1 against Pac-12 title contenders, the 10-point home loss to the Ducks being the only such test so far.
Top Five Pac-12 Teams (at the moment)
---1. Arizona (16-1, 6-0 Pac-12) – The Wildcats are impressive to watch. They have won every Pac-12 game by at least 16 points.
---2. UCLA (13-2, 5-1) -- The Bruins didn’t dominate Colorado or Utah last week, but they did win those games on the road.
---3. Oregon (12-6, 5-2) – The Ducks have won five straight and their dismantling of Washington suggests they’re getting better.
---4. USC (16-2, 6-2) – Fifth in the nation in field-goal percentage defense (37.0%), the Trojans make it difficult to score against them inside.
---5. Colorado (12-6, 4-4) – Their four conference losses were to UCLA (twice), Arizona and USC.
Pac-12 Player of the Year Standings (The Magnificent Seven):
---1. Bennedict Mathurin, Arizona -- He's fun to watch because he can do so many things and do them with a flair. And, oh yeah, he’s averaging 17.5 points and 6.1 rebounds for the best Pac-12 team.
---2. Johnny Juzang, UCLA – He wasn’t even in our top five last week, but he jumped up with his impressive showing in the road sweep of Colorado and Utah.
---3. Isaiah Mobley, USC – Mobley dropped down a notch after a so-so week in which he averaged 11.5 points, 6.0 rebounds and 1-for-7 three-point shooting in two games.
---4. Will Richardson, Oregon -- The leader of the Ducks' surge, Richardson averaged 14.8 points while hitting 55.2% of his three-point shots over the last five games. He had 14 assists and five turnovers in that stretch.
---5. Terrell Brown Jr., Washington – He’s the conference’s leading scorer (20.9 points), and with the Huskies now a factor in the Pac-12 race (4-3 conference record), Brown deserves a place on this list.
---6. Azuolas Tubelis, Arizona – The Wildcats showed in their lopsided road win over Cal that they can survive nicely without Tubelis, but 15.1 points and 6.1 rebounds for the best team can’t be ignored.
---7. Tyger Campbell, UCLA – He has dropped in the rankings after totaling just nine points and five assists in two games combined last week, but he is still an indispensable player.
Player of the Week:
Johnny Juzang, UCLA:
He averaged 25.5 points on 58 percent shooting, including 57 percent on three-pointers, in the Bruins’ road sweep of Colorado and Utah.
Team on the Rise
---Washington (9-8, 4-3) – The Huskies had won three in a row before Sunday’s loss to Oregon, and they played Arizona tough for 24 minutes.
Team on the Skids
---Utah (8-12, 1-9) -- The Utes have lost eight in a row, but the last five have been without leading scorer Will Carlson, who should be back soon after recovering from appendicitis.
Team on a Mystery Tour
---Oregon State (3-14, 1-6) – Picked to finish fourth in the Pac-12 after reaching the NCAA tournament Elite Eight last season, the Beavers seemed to be turning the corner when they beat Utah decisively and lost to Oregon by just two points. But they have lost three straight since then, all by double-digit margins.
Numbers of Note:
1-1 – Will Conroy’s career record as a head coach. He was impressive in Washington’s win over Oregon State, taking over at the last minute for Mike Hopkins, who was sidelined by COVID protocols. But he received a dose of reality when the Huskies got creamed by Oregon.
0-for-7 – What Tyger Campbell was shooting from the field when he made a three-point shot with 1:36 left to extend a one-point lead to four points against Colorado.
13 – Points Washington scored in the first half of Sunday’s loss to Oregon.
14 – Turnovers Washington committed in the first half of Sunday’s loss to Oregon.
25.1 – Cal’s shooting percentage in the first half of Sunday’s loss to Arizona.
Quote of the Week
"The official decided, like in third grade, to instigate a staring contest, and, like in third grade, I took the bait." -- Cal coach Mark Fox, on getting his second technical foul and being ejected from Sunday's game against Arizona.
Cover photo of Bobby Hurley by Stan Szeto, USA TODAY