Posted on January 9, 2021
In other words, the NET rankings place the most emphasis on the matchups in Tucson, Tempe, and Santa Cruz, yet none of the three games are designated as Quad 1 showdowns for both teams involved.
Still, Kyle Smith’s Cougars may have the most to gain. At 9-1, WSU could secure a coveted spot on the Bubble with a road victory against Stanford.
But in the context of the Regular Season Championship race, UCLA’s rivalry matchup with Arizona carries the most impact. The Bruins sit atop the Conference standings with a 4-0 record, and could maintain their one-game cushion with a win.
Outcomes aside, with a full slate of games spaced evenly over the day, it’s like Christmas morning for die-hard Pac-12 basketball fans.
Washington at California
Saturday, January 9th
Noon PT, Pac-12 Network
The two remaining winless teams in the Conference face off in the first of a quadruple header on the Pac-12 Network. The programs are a combined 0-9 in Pac-12 play, but the Bears have at least been competitive in their matchups. The Dawgs, on the other hand, have a 16-point average margin of defeat, with the lone respectable outcome a three-point loss to Oregon in December. But you can throw all the stats out the window, because both coaches view this matchup as winnable, and their players should leave it all on the floor.
In that sense, this high-noon showdown has the potential to turn into a fantastic battle that could come down to the last minute. Cal’s Grant Anticevich returned to the court on Thursday after missing several games, providing another offensive threat as Mark Fox works to replace Matt Bradley’s production.
The Bear guards are tasked with distributing the ball against Mike Hopkins’ zone, requiring an emphasis on ball-handling and decision-making on the perimeter. The Husky 2-3 defense should provide plenty of opportunities from three, which could result in a field-day for Ryan Betley, Makale Forman, or Anticivich.
Washington State at Stanford
Saturday, January 9th
2:00 pm PT, Pac-12 Network
It may be early January, but the Big Dance hopes of both the Cardinal and Cougars may be on the line in Santa Cruz. Despite blowing out a respected Alabama team in nonconference play, some national pundits view the Tree as a team hovering on the bubble. At the same time, not many east of the Colorado Rockies view Washington State as a program capable of securing an at-large bid this season.
The motivation, and consequences of losing, is high for both teams. There are many games left to be played, but the winner of this matchup will begin to separate itself from the middle of the Pac-12, and put itself into a more comfortable position heading into March.
The Cougars are playing with a chip on their shoulder and feel slighted by the lack of respect from their 9-1 start. But Stanford is arguably the best roster they have faced this year. Even without Daejon Davis, the Tree have a well-rounded and veteran-laden unit that hangs their hat on hard-nosed defense. And Oscar da Silva is a scoring machine, averaging 19.1 points per game on 64% field goal shooting.
A WSU victory would force the remaining doubters to recognize what’s being built on the Palouse.
USC at Arizona State
Saturday, January 9th
4:00pm PT, Pac-12 Network
Looking to sweep the desert schools for the first time since 1985, the Trojans enter Desert Financial Arena with at-large bid aspirations on their minds.
The length of the USC defense frustrated Sean Miller’s team in Tucson, but Bobby Hurley’s squad arguably has more threats to score. Josh Christopher and Alonzo Verge Jr. won’t be as easy to slow down, and even if the Trojan zone frustrates them, Marcus Bagley and potentially Remy Martin (who missed the UCLA game while attending his grandfather’s funeral) have plenty of firepower to make up for it.
And the Trojans haven’t won at the Bank since the Conference expanded, though the last three games have been decided by two points or less.
With an elite defense, Andy Enfield has the opportunity to do something USC basketball hasn’t accomplished in three and a half decades. Moments like these happen once or twice in a coach’s entire tenure, if he’s lucky.
A win would be an announcement to the rest of the nation that the Trojans are legit, silencing Enfield’s doubters.
UCLA at Arizona
Saturday, January 9th
6:00 pm PT, ESPN
The Bruins haven’t swept the Arizona programs since 2017, but are the holders of three-straight wins at McKale Center. To make it a fourth, Mick Cronin must deal with a Wildcat team reeling from a rare loss to USC in Tucson.
Arizona true freshman Azuolas Tubelis is coming off a 31-point night, and should be motivated to repeat his performance for the second time in as many days. The worldwide nature of the ESPN broadcast may have extra meaning to the Lithuanian, as many of his friends, family, and former teammates may not have been able to watch him play on the Pac-12 Networks, which carried UA’s first ten games.
Similar to Tyrell Terry’s explosion on the national scene at the Hall of Fame Classic last year, Tubelis can seize the opportunity to make his presence known to NBA scouts with back-to-back head-turning nights.
But Sean Miller must get better play out of his guards. James Akinjo and Jemarl Baker Jr., the Wildcats’ leading scorers, combined for just three points on Thursday against the Trojan zone.
If the Bruins are able to hold the two guards in check, Arizona could be swept at home by the LA schools for the first time since 2008.
Oregon at Utah
Saturday, January 9th
6:30 pm PT, Pac-12 Network
There’s just something about Boulder and the Oregon Ducks that doesn’t quite jive.
But all that is to be forgotten as UO enters the Huntsman Center where it enjoys a conference-leading 6-1 record since 2011-12.
Chris Duarte had a monster afternoon in the mountains of Colorado, and is capable of doing it again in Salt Lake City, while Eugene Omoruyi has similar potential. The duo’s offensive firepower should challenge Utah, who hasn’t played since its 18-point drumming to USC in LA a week ago.
Dana Altman’s press-zone may frustrate Rylan Jones and make things difficult for Alfonzo Plummer, but Larry Krystkowiak’s squad takes care of the ball better than any team in the Conference. In fact, the Utes rank fifth in the nation in turnovers per game, averaging just 9.4 per matchup.
To pull out just the second win at home against the Ducks since joining the Pac-12, Krystkowiak needs his players to limit their turnovers and make UO pay for over-committing when pressing.
In the end, if UU limits transition buckets and shoots well from outside, it could be enough to win the game.
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