Posted on February 13, 2021
Thursday night saw the Bruins go down in Pullman, while the Buffs posted a statement victory over Stanford. The two results could be felt on Selection Sunday, but there is still a month remaining in the season to make up for the defeats.
Yet, there’s no denying UCLA is trending in the wrong direction and Stanford is playing with fire.
Fortunately, Saturday is a new day with fresh opportunities, starting with a midday rivalry between Oregon and Arizona.
I preview that game below, along with the remaining matchups over the next three days. My picks and those of Nick Bartlett appear at the bottom of the page.
Oregon at Arizona
Saturday, February 13
11:00 am PT, ESPN2
Sean Miller is 1-5 against Oregon since the start of the 2017-18 season, and 6-11 against the Ducks during the Pac-12 Era. Other than UCLA, no Conference team has been as successful against the Cats, even as three of the five defeats over the past three seasons have come in overtime.
Slowing down Chris Duarte is Priority Number One, but Arizona likely needs an efficient game from James Akinjo to secure its first win against UO in Tucson since 2018. Limiting turnovers figures to be the most important aspect of the junior point guard’s day, putting the emphasis on effectively distributing the ball to shooters such as Bennedict Mathurin and big-man Azuolas Tubelis.
But Dana Altman’s system appears to be tailor-made for frustrating Miller’s offensive game-plan, taking the ball out of the hands of guards and creating steals from wings and forwards who are forced to catch the ball in the backcourt just to advance the ball past mid-court.
Yet, this season has been filled with unexpected results and this may finally be the game Arizona gets it done against Oregon.
UCLA at Washington
Saturday, February 13
4:30 pm PT, Pac-12 Network
Looking to salvage the road swing to the Evergreen State, the Bruins can’t afford a loss to the Huskies.
Mick Cronin’s team isn’t at risk of missing the tournament at this point in February, but a defeat in Seattle would move the needle closer to the bubble, while sinking UCLA’s potential seed.
The absence of Jalen Hill has thrown a wrench into Cronin’s system, with the Bruins 0-2 since the talented interior presence stepped away from the team for personal reasons. The pandemic has caused problems for every roster, but having just a single win since January 23rd is not a good sign as March rapidly approaches.
Jaime Jaquez Jr. has struggled in the defeats, scoring in double-digits just once over the past five games. Finding a way to jumpstart his production could be enough to solve UCLA’s issues, and the porous UW defense presents an electrified jumper-cable to get him going.
No. 20 USC at Washington State
Saturday, February 13
5:00 pm PT, ESPNU
On paper, the only advantage the Cougars have over the Trojans is free throw percentage and three-point shooting.
For WSU fans, the advantage at the line is eye-opening, considering the struggles Kyle Smith’s team has had from the charity stripe at times, but it creates a hole to exploit. Contesting every shot on defense and not giving up anything easy in the paint figures to force Andy Enfield’s squad to get it done at the free throw line.
If Washington State makes things difficult on defense, the game could come down to its shooting beyond the arc. In that sense, DJ Rodman could be the difference if he continues his hot-streak from deep.
And timely contributions from role players such as Aljaz Kunc, Ryan Rapp, and TJ Bamba could be just enough to take down the ranked Trojans.
Yet, Enfield and his players can almost taste a Regular Season Championship after UCLA lost in Beasley Coliseum on Thursday. Entering this game, USC is in sole possession of first place and can extend its hold by completing the sweep of the Washington programs.
Colorado at California
Saturday, February 13
7:00 pm PT, ESPNU
The win over Stanford on Thursday was impressive and it significantly boosted Colorado’s perception back east. But that could all be given back with a stumble in Berkeley.
In January, the Buffs blew the Bears out of the water in a 29-point victory in Boulder. Matt Bradley didn’t play, but CU got whatever it wanted as freshman Jabari Walker posted a career-high 23 points and D’Shawn Schwartz added 18.
Walker likely won’t be available at Haas Pavilion and Bradley certainly adds much needed firepower for Cal, but Tad Boyle’s team is arguably playing better than anyone in the Pac-12, even the Trojans, who Colorado already beat.
But overconfidence is a basketball sin that can end with a shocking result, and the responsibility of avoiding another UW disaster lays squarely at the feet of McKinley Wright IV.
Still, with a chance to challenge USC for the regular season title, look for the Buffs to come out motivated to secure the Bay Area sweep.
Utah at Stanford
Saturday, February 13
7:00 pm PT, Pac-12 Network
There’s no sugarcoating it: This is a must-win for the Cardinal.
After getting blown out by the Buffs at Maples Pavilion, the Tree can’t afford a loss to Utah. A defeat would open the door for the Utes to take Stanford’s spot in the NCAA Tournament, or it could potentially end the Conference’s hopes of putting five teams into the Big Dance.
And the Utes are hot.
On a three-game winning streak, Larry Krystkowiak’s squad already has a 14-point victory over the Tree this season. That doesn’t bode well for Jerod Haase, who hasn’t quite nailed down his lineups after the return of Bryce Wills and Ziaire Williams.
But there’s no room for error, and Alfonzo Plummer, Timmy Allen, and Pelle Larsson present a difficult trio to contain.
Oregon State at Arizona State
Sunday, February 14
4:00 pm PT, ESPN2
Despite Remy Martin’s 30 points on Thursday, the Sun Devils still lost by double-digits to the Ducks at the Bank.
And down in Tucson, the Beavs lost by nine to Arizona even after a late second half push by Ethan Thompson to bring it within a few possessions.
With two programs reeling from defeats, the motivation to emerge with a victory on Sunday outweighs any lingering injuries, frustration with COVID testing, and dissatisfaction with the trajectory of the season.
The result could be a tightly contested game with emotions boiling over between both coaches. The refereeing in Conference play has been atrocious at times, with Warith Alatishe handicapped all game at McKale Center and Kimani Lawrence fouling out against the Ducks.
It’s anyone’s guess how the refs call this one, but it’s in everyone’s best interest to let the players settle it without the men in stripes defining the game.
And with injuries depleting ASU’s roster, it could fall entirely on Remy Martin to will his team to victory once again.
Washington at Washington State
Monday, February 15
5:00 pm PT, Pac-12 Network
On Monday night, the basketball version of the Apple Cup returns.
Regardless of what happens on Saturday, this rivalry is personal for Noah Williams. The native of Seattle has yet to lose to the Dawgs, and it’s clear that he turns it up for the battles against UW.
The confidence the WSU starters have been playing with over the past few games is tangible, spilling over to Kyle Smith’s role-players off the bench. And against a Husky program in the midst of an historically poor season, it wouldn’t be surprising if this game turned into a blowout at Beasley Coliseum.
That doesn’t mean Quade Green and Company can’t get it done, but it’s an uphill struggle for a team that sometimes appears to have checked out and wants nothing more than for the year to mercifully end.
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