Posted on January 5, 2021
After the opening salvo of traditional conference play, the two Pac-12 programs with the longest home winning streaks continued their dominance.
Below I review last week’s action and preview this week’s lone Wednesday game.
At Matthew Knight Arena, the No. 17 Oregon Ducks took down California with a late-second half run, and repeated the feat against Stanford two days later. UO trailed in both games, but put it together on the back of Chris Duarte’s 21 points per game and 9-for-19 shooting from three. The victories extended Oregon’s home winning streak to 28 games.
Down in LA, the Bruins gutted out wins over Utah and Colorado to extend their streak to 13-straight at Pauley Pavilion. But it came at a cost. Star guard Chris Smith tore his ACL against the Utes and is out for the remainder of the season. Considered a front-runner for the Pac-12 Player of the Year Award, Smith’s absence the rest of the year could significantly alter the trajectory of UCLA’s season.
In the first road sweep of conference play, the Arizona Wildcats took care of business against Washington and Washington State. The 27-point blowout win in Seattle was the largest UA victory in the Emerald City since 1987, but the Cats needed double overtime to defeat the Cougars in Pullman. Seattle native Tyrell Brown Jr. banked in the game-winning three with 13 seconds remaining, and true freshman Bennedict Mathurin led the way with 24 points on 8-for-12 from the field.
Road sweeps aren’t the expectation in the Conference of Champions, and Stanford’s split in the Beaver State keeps it in the hunt for a conference championship. Still without Daejon Davis, due to a leg injury suffered in December, the Tree salvaged the weekend with a 10-point win over OSU after going cold in the final eight minutes against the Ducks at MKA. Sitting at 2-1, Jerod Haase’s team is positioned for a run at the Regular Season title, but must hold sway at home over the next two months.
Colorado continued its dominance of USC at the Galen Center, but dropped the opportunity to sweep on Saturday. Since Andy Enfield took over the helm in LA, Tad Boyle and the Buffs are 4-2 on their trips to play the Trojans in Southern California. With three-straight victories at the Galen Center, the sweep of the Los Angeles schools is there for the taking. But the Buffs lost their second-straight game at Pauley Pavilion, and were forced to settle for a respectable split.
The Trojans bounced back after their defeat to Colorado by crushing Utah in an 18-point shellacking. Surprisingly, Evan Mobley didn’t attempt a field goal against the Utes, but USC still ran away with the game. Enfield must make up for the home loss with a road sweep if the Men of Troy are to stay within striking distance of first place.
Needing a win to garner national respect, the Cougars nearly got it done. Down four players due to COVID protocols, WSU still forced Arizona into double overtime, in part due to Isaac Bonton’s 25 points. Had Efe Abogidi and Dishon Jackson not fouled out, Kyle Smith may have emerged with the win. But an NCAA Tournament birth is still within reach for Washington State, though the upcoming stretch against Stanford, UCLA, and USC is as difficult as they come in the Pac-12.
Managing to preserve a split at home, Oregon State took down California, but lost to Stanford on Monday. The come-from-behind victory over the Bears was a character-defining win that may help spark continued success at Gill Coliseum. However, the injury to Matt Bradley was arguably the reason OSU was able to come back, and Wayne Tinkle needs more consistent shooting from Ethan Thompson.
There arguably isn’t another player in the Conference of Champions as vital to his team’s success as Matt Bradley to Cal. The All-Conference guard was sidelined in the latter stages of the first half against the Beavers due to an apparent ankle injury, throwing his status for the remainder of the season into question. Fortunately, Fresno State transfer Jarred Hyder may have the firepower to make up for some of Bradley’s scoring, especially if he can hit his threes with consistency.
The Utah Utes haven’t won a conference road game since February 2019, despite having a last-second chance to force overtime against UCLA on Thursday. True freshman Pelle Larsson held the ball for too long, and time ran out at Pauley Pavilion. The close defeat would have been somewhat of a moral victory if UU had managed to play USC close on Saturday, but the 18-point loss to the Trojans did nothing but put an exclamation mark on Utah’s road struggles over the past two seasons.
In Seattle, the Dawgs suffered their worst defeat to Arizona at Alaska Airlines Arena in more than three decades. Other than Quade Green, Mike Hopkins doesn’t have a scoring threat and his players are hesitant to take shots in an effort to give Green the opportunity. At this point of the year, keeping the team’s morale above water and focused on game-by-game improvement is Hopkins’ primary task.
Down in the desert, Bobby Hurley and the Sun Devils were once again sidelined by COVID. Arizona State hasn’t played a game since December 16th, and is at serious risk of missing out on the NCAA Tournament. There’s still nine weeks left in the season, but ASU needs a big win to make a splash on the national stage.
The Pac-12’s Big Dance expectations are slowly beginning to wane.
The self-imposed postseason ban Arizona implemented has arguably relegated the conference to five bids, at best, with Arizona State and Washington State currently on the outside looking in.
If the Selection Show were held today, only Oregon, UCLA, Stanford, and Colorado would feel comfortable, with USC squarely on the bubble.
There are still plenty of opportunities to change the narrative, but there’s no margin for error.
I’ll preview Thursday’s games in an upcoming story, but here’s a preview of the Pac-12’s lone Wednesday Game.
Oregon State at Utah
UPDATE: THIS GAME HAS BEEN POSTPONED DUE TO COVID-19 ISSUES
Wednesday, January 6th
8:00 pm PT, ESPNU
The Beavers travel to the Huntsman Center for a mid-week battle with Utah. The Beavs are 2-5 in the arena since the Conference expanded, with three of those defeats coming by double digits. Wayne Tinkle must game-plan to slow down Alfonzo Plummer’s outside shooting while also limiting Timmy Allen.
The two Utah stars are the only Utes averaging double figures and combine for 29 points a game. To pull off the upset, the hot hand of Jarod Lucas could be the difference, especially if the guard is able to repeat his Monday matinee performance of 5-for-10 shooting from beyond the ark.
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