Miller: Week 9 Saturday Men’s Hoops Previews

The cream rises in January, and a bad loss could pigeon-hole a First Round exit

Posted on January 23, 2021

Dane Miller
  By Dane Miller, SportsPac12

The countdown to the announcement of the 68-team NCAA Tournament bracket is on, and for the Pac-12 teams at or near the bubble, there’s no time to lose. As always, the cream begins to rise to the top in January: When a bad loss could keep a team out of the Big Dance or pigeon-hole it into a First Round loss.


But the Saturday slate begins with a nationally broadcast game on Fox.

The wider audience presents a rare moment for UCLA to boost its potential NCAA Tournament seed, while also affording Stanford the possibility of regaining the credibility it has lost over the past two weeks.

Later in the day, Colorado plays on ESPN for a showdown in Pullman that will be on the Selection Committee’s radar.

I preview those games and the remainder on Saturday below, along with the lone matchup on Sunday.

No. 24 UCLA at Stanford

Saturday, January 23rd
2:00 pm PT, Fox

A false-positive caused the postponement of the Cardinal’s game against USC on Thursday, preventing an opportunity for Jerod Haase’s team to claw their way back into the NCAA Tournament picture.

As things stand, the Tree are arguably on the wrong side of the bubble, and have a hill to climb. Injury issues haven’t made things easier, either, with the status of Bryce Wills and Ziaire Williams in question for the battle against UCLA.


In desperate need of a victory, Oscar da Silva may have to carry the team on his back to take down the 8-0 Bruins.

But the loss of Wills and Williams might have an even greater impact on Stanford’s defense. Without Wills, the Cardinal defenders haven’t been able to compensate, resulting in easier buckets and deficits that can’t be overcome.

And against Tyger Campbell and the rest of the Bruin guards, defensive stops will come at a premium. If Haase doesn’t manage the flow of the game with effective timeouts, UCLA could open up an early lead and never look back.

Colorado at Washington State

Saturday, January 23rd
5:00 pm PT, ESPN2

Coming off disappointing losses, the Buffs and Cougs each want nothing more than to salvage the week.

Washington State’s offensive struggles continued against Utah on Thursday, with Isaac Bonton scoring a season-low four points and Andrej Jakimovski going scoreless. That can’t happen again, especially against a Colorado team angry over its embarrassing loss to Washington in Seattle.

But Bonton is unlikely to struggle in back-to-back games, and Kyle Smith should have his team focused on putting the Utah disaster behind them.


Even that may not be enough, though, with CU motivated to bounce back from its resume-damaging loss to UW. Tad Boyle described the defeat as one of the most disappointing of his career, and his players know what’s on the line.

The Pac-12’s national reputation has taken several hits over the last two weeks, with Stanford dropping out of most bracket predictions and UCLA struggling against the perceived bottom-of-the-barrel teams in the Conference.

A second defeat in the Apple State would be a body-blow to CU’s expectations, potentially relegating it as low as a 12-seed in some projected brackets. To avoid that possibility, Jabari Walker must play better.

The true freshman is an integral prong of the Buffs’ offense, and his six points in the Emerald City was a far cry from the 16.3 he averaged over the previous three games. Look for a better game from him and the entire Colorado roster, starting with stronger defense.

USC at California

Saturday, January 23rd
5:00 pm PT, Pac-12 Network

usc logoDo you hear that? That’s the changing of the winds in Berkeley.

After the loss of Matt Bradley, due of an ankle injury, most thought the Bears would roll over and give up on the season. Instead, Mark Fox’s transfer-laden roster adapted to the change and have arguably improved.

Grant Anticevich has emerged as the go-to threat to score, while Jarred Hyder has capitalized on his opportunity for more playing time. At the same time, Makale Foreman has solidified his role as the leader at point guard and Andre Kelly has become more of a focal point.


The result is a reborn group that believes in itself.

That’s not to say Bradley’s absence is addition by subtraction. But at times, the All-Conference guard ignores his teammates and tries to do it all himself. His talent allows him to get away with it, but it arguably hurts the players around him who are capable of scoring.

And with a recent road victory in Salt Lake City to go along with the down-to-the-wire game against the first-place Bruins, there’s warranted optimism in the ability of Cal to pull off the upset against the Trojans.

Keeping the pace slow, generating turnovers, and hitting threes could be the key to beating USC.

Oregon State at No. 21 Oregon

Saturday, January 23rd
7:30 pm PT, Pac-12 Network

Playing for the first time since January 9th, the Ducks take on rival Oregon State in Eugene. Normally, the anticipation of a packed stadium and the unavoidable reminder of Oregon’s recent 2-4 record against the Beavers would dominate the build-up to this game.

But with a mostly rebuilt OSU roster and the absence of fans, the rivalry between the two schools loses some of its shine. And on the Pac-12 Network, large portions of the rest of the nation won’t have the opportunity to partake in one of the better feuds the Conference has to offer.

Be that as it may, the Ducks could be without Chris Duarte, due to COVID protocols, and LJ Figueroa, due to an ankle injury.


And still without Will Richardson, Dana Altman might be forced to go deep into his bench on Saturday night.

That could be spell trouble against an Oregon State team fresh off a surprise upset over USC and a confidence-building last-second victory over Arizona State.

Wayne Tinkle is no rookie when it comes to taking down Oregon, and the confidence he coaches with will undoubtedly carry over to his players. In that sense, this matchup has the makings of a potential upset.

Either way, you won’t want to miss this one.

Utah at Washington

Sunday, January 24th
1:00 pm PT, ESPNU

It’s unfortunate that one of these teams has to lose this game.

The Dawgs have finally put it together after starting the season worse than anyone predicted, and Utah has figured out how to win on the road.

The victor will arguably turn its season around, while the loser will be forced to keep its head high and move on to the next one.

Prior to Thursday, the Utes hadn’t won a conference road game since February of 2019, but now have the opportunity to secure just their second road sweep since the 2017-18 season. And in Pullman, Larry Krystkowiak knows his team didn’t play that well, yet still emerged with the win.


That should build plenty of confidence heading into Alaska Airlines Arena, even if the Huskies have found their mojo.

But that mojo could turn out to be the difference on Sunday afternoon. Through the first two months of the season, Quade Green was the only scoring threat on the Huskies’ roster. That has changed with the emergence of Erik Stevenson and Marcus Tsohonis.

The three guards make UW a different team when they are playing well, but the defensive issues remain. Washington has given up 80 points or more in an astounding seven-straight games, preventing the Huskies from winning even as their offense has put up 75 points or more in four of their last five contests.

If Mike Hopkins can get his defense under control, there’s a distinct possibility of a better-than-expected finish to the season in Seattle.


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