Recapping the week in Pac-12 basketball …
Theme of the week: Separation Saturday (and Thursday)
Weekend sweeps by UCLA, Arizona and USC created a clear upper tier entering the final four weeks. The Bruins have a one-game lead in the loss column over the Wildcats and Trojans, who hold a two-game edge on the next set of teams, Oregon and Utah. Barring significant backslides by the top group, the stretch run will feature tension on two tracks: The race for the regular-season title; and the competition for the fourth seed (and opening round bye) in the Pac-12 tournament.
Theme of the season: March outlook
Arizona and UCLA remain the only locks for the NCAA Tournament as the Trojans’ sweep of the Washington schools didn’t materially change their resume. They remain squarely on the bubble, vulnerable to the impact of a bad loss. Oregon is better positioned than Arizona State and Utah but must add a quality win (or two) this weekend against the L.A. schools. The Sun Devils and Utes are in serious bubble trouble.
Team of the week: Oregon
Four teams registered weekend sweeps (UCLA, USC, Arizona and Colorado), but the Ducks earned the honor for their 75-70 victory at Arizona State, a result essential to their NCAA hopes — and coming against a team that thumped them a month ago in Eugene.
Loss of the week: Arizona State
The Sun Devils have dropped five of their last six games — none more impactful than the 75-70 loss to Oregon, a fellow NCAA bubble-sitter. They are 0-3 against the conference’s top three, have dropped into the mid-60s in the NET rankings and possess a high number of low-quality wins. The path into the NCAA at-large field is shrinking rapidly.
Loss of the season: Utah
Precisely when the Utes must avoid bad results, they stumbled at home against Stanford — a defeat that will undoubtedly be displayed in big, block letters on their March epitaph. The Quadrant III loss marked their fifth defeat in the past nine games and was, by far, the most ignominious. The defense that has fueled Utah’s recovery in coach Craig Smith’s second season was missing in action.
Player of the week: Arizona F Azuolas Tubelis
The frontrunner for Pac-12 Player of the Week strengthened his case with a masterful performance against Oregon (40 points on just 21 shots) and followed up with a game-high 19 points in the blowout of Oregon State. Tubelis’ two-game totals: 69 points on 22-of-31 shooting, plus 17 rebounds and five steals. Not bad for 60 minutes of court time.
Low blow of the week: Washington G Cole Bajema
The Huskies’ second-leading scorer was suspended by the Pac-12 for one game after making “significant contact with the groin area” of a UCLA player (Adem Bona) during the loss in Pauley Pavilion on Thursday night. UW athletic director Jen Cohen called the decision “extremely disappointing.” The Hotline reviewed the video, and while there’s clear contact below the belt as Bona sets a screen on Bajema, we cannot comment on intent. (But who does that intentionally?) Bejema served the suspension in the ensuing loss to USC.
Foul play of the week: Arizona State coach Bobby Hurley
Hurley wasn’t happy with the foul differential Saturday in the five-point loss to Oregon. The Sun Devils were called for 23 fouls, the Ducks for 13. As a result, Oregon shot 16 more free throws and made 10 more. That said, Hurley, although clearly frustrated, held his tongue after the game: “I’m not going to make things worse for me and talk about it. It was a circus out there.”
Double whammy of the season: Washington schools
The Huskies and Cougars were swept in Los Angeles and had identical conference records (5-9) entering their duel Saturday in Pullman. (Washington is 1-7 in true road games this season while the Cougars are 7-3 at home.) One important difference in the twin states-of-play: WSU coach Kyle Smith has significant job security, while the seat under UW’s Mike Hopkins is gaining heat by the week.
Stat of the week I: Blowouts
Only four of the 12 games played from Thursday through Sunday were decided by single digits — and none by a single possession. The tightest finish came in Tempe, where the Ducks rallied from a one-point deficit in the final minute to win by five points.
Stat of the week II: USC
The Trojans fended off Washington’s upset bid despite 2-of-14 shooting from 3-point range (combined) by guards Boogie Ellis and Drew Peterson. The secret sauce: A career-high 22 points from freshman Tre White, who had not scored more than 14 points in a conference game.
Stat of the week III: Colorado
Forward Tristan da Silva led the Buffaloes past Stanford and Cal and has scored 20 points or more in four consecutive games. This, after hitting that mark just five times in the first 20 games of the season.
Stat of the month: Cal
The Bears have scored fewer than 50 points in four consecutive games and managed just 92 combined on their Mountain swing this weekend — one more than Arizona scored in its victory over Oregon. The Bears are one of a handful of teams in Division I averaging fewer than 60 per game. The 1940s called, and they aren’t impressed.
Stat of the season: UCLA
The Bruins own the nation’s longest home winning streak, which reached 21 games after they dispatched Washington State on Saturday. (No other Power Six team is even close.) Their last home loss was in Jan. ’22, to Oregon. Only 77 more, and they’ll tie the school record.
Game of the (upcoming) week: UCLA at Oregon (Saturday)
Anytime the Bruins visit Matthew Knight Arena, it’s appointment viewing. Combine UCLA’s narrow lead in the standings with Oregon’s narrow path into the NCAA Tournament, and the stakes are lofty for both teams. The Bruins won the first meeting, in early December, with a dominant second half, but Oregon’s rotation has changed significantly since then. This should be in doubt with two minutes remaining.
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