Pac-12 Notebook: Arizona State, UCLA on Top? What Happened?
The four big issues of this past weekend:
1. The meek shall inherent the Pac-12: Back on Jan. 17, UCLA was 1-3 in the Pac-12, having lost two in a row at home by double-digit margins, to USC and Stanford. That same day Arizona State was also 1-3, including a 28-point loss to Arizona. They were tied for last place and left for dead. Now they are the hottest teams in the conference, with Arizona State sitting on top of the standings and riding a seven-game winning streak, and UCLA tied for second, a half-game back, with its only loss in the past eight games coming against Arizona State. Who would have guessed that, with just three or four games left, Thursday’s ASU-UCLA game at Pauley Pavilion would be for first place?
2. Payton Pritchard is making four-pointers: Outside of Steph Curry or Damian Lillard, no one takes – and makes – three-pointers from a greater distance than Pritchard. (Check out the video highlights.) Some of the three-pointers he made against Arizona while scoring 38 points were from so far out they should have been worth four points. (I guess I shouldn’t give the NCAA rules-makers any ideas.)
3. The Mosh Pit that is the Pac-12: Each week we expect the upcoming games to provide some separation at the top of the standings, and each week things get more jumbled than they were before. Four teams (Arizona State, UCLA, Oregon, Colorado) are virtually tied atop the standings with 10 wins apiece, and none of them is more than a half-game out of first place. Five teams are within a game of the conference lead, and none of the other 31 conferences has more than three teams within a game of first place.
4. The dreaded bubble: Stanford, USC and UCLA are on shaky ground when it comes to making the NCAA tournament. ESPN’s Joe Lunardi has five Pac-12 teams in the NCAA field in his Monday bracketology – Arizona State, Arizona, Colorado, Oregon and USC. But USC is among his “last four in” while Stanford and UCLA are among his “first four out.” USA Today also has USC in the field, but not Stanford and UCLA, and Jerry Palm at CBS Sports has both Stanford and USC in the NCAA field, but does not even have UCLA in his “first four out.” That’s interesting since UCLA is currently 2 ½ games ahead of the Cardinal in the conference standings.
And we forge ahead with our weekly categories:
Top Five Teams (at the Moment)
---1. Arizona State (19-8, 10-4) -- The Sun Devils are great in close games. Eight of their last nine wins have been by five points or fewer. The Sun Devils scored just two points in the final 6:16 against Oregon State (1-for-6 from the field, 0-for-2 from the line, three turnovers), but still won the game
---2. UCLA (17-11, 10-5) – Against everyone else Colorado and Utah are a combined 22-3 at home. But the Bruins went 2-0 against them on the road this last week,
---3. Oregon (21-7, 10-5) – The Ducks were just 4-5 in conference road games before that critical win at Arizona.
---4. Colorado (21-7, 10-5) – The Buffaloes seemed headed for a title before that home loss to UCLA, which beat Colorado twice this season.
---5. Arizona (19-8, 9-5) – Arizona still looks as dangerous as anybody.
---1. Payton Pritchard, Oregon (20.1 points, 5.5 assists, 4.4 rebounds) – He had 38 points in the win over Arizona, but his value was more evident against Arizona State. When he fouled out of that game, Oregon seemed lost.
---2. Remy Martin, Arizona State (19.1 points, 4.0 assists, 3.3 rebounds) – He had only 11 points against Oregon, but did a decent job guarding Pritchard.
---3. McKinley Wright IV, Colorado (13.9 points, 5.4 rebounds, 5.2 assists) – He did all he could against UCLA (20 points, seven rebounds, four assists), but it wasn’t enough.
---4. Zeke Nnaji, Arizona, Arizona (16.3 points, 8.7 rebounds) – He was not great against Oregon State or Oregon.
---5. Chris Smith, UCLA (13.2 points, 5.4 rebounds) – He’s getting his numbers while averaging just 27.6 minutes. And we need someone from UCLA on this list.
Pac-12 freshman-of-the-year standings
---1. Zeke Nnaji, Arizona (16.3 points, 8.7 rebounds) – Nnaji holds this spot because Arizona is still in the title chase.
---2. Onyeka Okongwu, USC (16.7 points, 8.9 rebounds, 2.8 blocks) – The Trojans won twice without him two weeks ago, but lost both with him this past week.
---3. Isaiah Stewart, Washington (16.9 points, 8.5 rebounds, 2.2 blocks) – I like his efficiency, but defenses are ganging up on him and his stats are suffering a bit.
---4. Tyrell Terry, Stanford (15.0 points, 4.6 rebounds, 3.2 assists) – Two solid games in the road sweep of Washington and Washington State.
---5. Nico Mannion, Arizona (13.7 points, 5.4 assists) – Still shooting under 40 percent from the field, though.
Pac-12 Player of the Week
Four players deserve consideration – Oregon’s Payton Pritchard, UCLA’s Tyger Campbell, Stanford’s Oscar da Silva and Arizona State’s Alonzo Verge Jr. Pritchard certainly had the game of the week, but we are reluctant to bestow this honor on a player whose team did not win both games over the weekend even though Pitchard was the official Pac-12 player of the week.
--- Winner: Alonzo Verge Jr., Arizona State – We don’t like the fact that Verge almost never gives up the ball, but the numbers don’t lie for this valuable sixth man. He had 26 points and three assists in the win over Oregon and added 17 points and an assist in 26 minutes against Oregon State. Granted, he took 34 shots in the two games combined, so he is pretty much a one-man show, but when he’s hot . . .
---Runnerup: Tyger Campbell, UCLA: Balance has been the Bruins’ strength in their recent surge, but the freshman point guard with the great hair stood out in UCLA’s road sweep of Utah and Colorado. Campbell had 13 points and four assists in the win over Utah and had 15 points, 11 assists and just one turnover in the upset of Colorado in Boulder.
Teams on the Rise
---Arizona State (19-8, 10-4) – The Sun Devils have won seven in a row. Only Kansas, New Mexico State, Dayton, Radford, Stephen F. Austin, South Dakota State, BYU and Hofstra have longer active winning streaks.
---UCLA (17-11, 10-5) – The Bruins have won seven of their last eight games, the only loss being to Arizona State on the road.
Team on the Skids
---Washington State (14-14, 5-10) – The Cougars looked competitive at 5-6 in the Pac-12, but they have since lost four in a row. The losing streak has coincided with the absence of injured point guard Isaac Bonton.
Team on a Mystery Tour
---USC (19-9, 8-7) – The Trojans looked like a shoo-in for an NCAA tournament berth when they were 17-4 overall and 6-2 in the conference. Now they are on the bubble after losing five of their last seven games. Their three remaining games are against Arizona, Arizona State and UCLA, but all three are at home. So who knows?
Team Stats of the Week
--- Stanford shot 57.1 percent from the field in the first half of its win over Washington State and 55.6 percent in the second half.
Ugly Team Stats of the Week
---With eight minutes left in its loss to Washington, Cal had made just six field goals.
---Washington State shot 29.8 percent at home in its loss to Cal.
Player Stats of the Week
.---Oregon’s Payton Pritchard scored a career-high 38 points on the road in the win over Arizona. (He took 27 shots to do it.)
---UCLA’s Tyger Campbell had 11 assists with just one turnover in the road win over Colorado.
Ugly Player Stat of the Week
---Utah’s Both Gach is 0-for-18 on three-pointers over the past six games and 2-for-33 over the past nine games.
Quotes of the Week
---"This isn’t Thanksgiving anymore.” – Arizona coach Sean Miller, to the Arizona Daily Star, on the progress his young team should have made by this point of the season.
---“It’s a mess. We dropped some games we felt like we should’ve won – I think everybody in the league probably does. We’ve also won four overtimes now in the conference. We’ve won five overtimes games in a row and we lost our first one (to) Gonzaga by one on free throws missed. You got to consider yourself a little lucky when you win five overtime games because you need some breaks like we got (Saturday).” – Oregon coach Dana Altman, to the Oregonian, after Saturday’s overtime win over Arizona.
---“I think we are getting better as a team and we have not peaked yet. That's a good feeling to have this time of year. . . . Where we were at one point, and we've kind of transformed ourselves and really have found an identity. Having a lot of guys playing well at the right time of the year. You have a team you have to rip their heart out to beat them.” – Arizona State coach Bobby Hurley, to the Oregonian, after Saturday’s one-point win at Oregon State.
---“They’re just ultra-physical. You see them trying to blow up handoffs and get into your space. You beat your guy, there’s a secondary defender there, and they’re gonna get up into you, and they’re going to be physical.” – Colorado coach Tad Boyle, to the Los Angeles Times, on UCLA.
Top Upcoming Games This Week
---Thursday, February 27, 8 p.m. – Arizona State (19-8, 10-4) at UCLA (17-11, 10-5) – The Pac-12’s two hottest teams meet at Pauley Pavilion.
---Saturday, February 29, 7 p.m. – Arizona (19-8, 9-5) at UCLA (17-11, 10-5) – The Bruins handled the Wildcats easily in Tucson, but Arizona still might be the most talented team.
Cal High Point of the Week
Cal won a road game, beating Washington State in Pullman.