Reviewing the week in Pac-12 basketball …
Theme of the week: The race tightens
USC’s victory in the crosstown showdown helped bring conference-leading UCLA back to the pack. The Bruins (8-2 in league play) have a one-game lead in the loss column over Arizona and USC, with Oregon and Utah hovering two games back. (ASU is fading fast.) The scramble for a top-four seed in the conference tournament, which carries an opening-round bye, will be at least as riveting as the race for the regular-season title.
Reminder of the week: UCLA’s schedule
Yes, the Bruins have dropped two in a row (at Arizona, at USC) after opening with eight consecutive conference wins. But they will be heavy favorites in five of their next six games (at home against the Washington and Bay Area schools and at Oregon State), so this might be as close as they come to losing their edge. USC faces the same opponents, and Arizona’s schedule over that multi-week stretch is manageable. But if either slips up, the Bruins could head into March with a two-game lead.
Theme of the season: March outlook
The Pac-12’s prospects for the NCAA Tournament remain gloomy — only Arizona and UCLA are locks — but we’ve seen movement with regard to the at-large bubble. As ASU’s hope fades, USC’s prospects improve; as Utah slips, Oregon surges. The framework remains unchanged, however: Margin-for-error is scarce, parity is prevalent, and the likelihood of placing more than three teams in the field is low.
Game of the week: Washington 69, ASU 66 (OT)
On a weekend that produces few close games, this was the only-one possession affair. The Huskies led by three in the final seconds of regulation, but a foul on veteran forward Keion Brooks with less than one second left sent ASU’s Austin Nunez to the line for three shots. The freshman drained them all, but the Huskies controlled overtime and sealed the victory when ASU missed a 3-pointer with one second remaining.
Team of the week: USC
February arrives with the Trojans (15-6/7-3) as hot as any team in the conference following their sizzling performance against UCLA. Check that: Following their sizzling second half. They outscored the Bruins 52-27 in the final 20 minutes behind guard Boogie Ellis and have climbed to No. 53 in the NET rankings. The season-opening home loss to Florida Gulf Coast, coach Andy Enfield’s former team, continues to weigh on their resume.
Player of the week: USC’s Boogie Ellis
Ellis only played one game but was an easy call for the honor after his sterling performance against UCLA in the most consequential game of the week. He scored 27 points in the second half as the Trojans turned a 12-point halftime deficit into a 13-point victory. Ellis finished with 31 points on 17 shots and added six assists. Oh, and he was 10-of-10 from the line.
Freshman of the week: OSU’s Jordan Pope
The rookie guard (and three-star recruit) scored 17 points in the second half of Oregon State’s victory over Colorado and reminded all observers, including the Hotline, that he warrants strong consideration for Pac-12 Freshman of the Year honors. Pope leads the Beavers in scoring (12.6 points per game) and has been impressively efficient with his shooting percentages and assist-to-turnover ratio.
Sweep of the week: Oregon
Desperate for two wins, the Ducks (13-9/7-4) dispatched Colorado by six points and Utah by 12 to climb onto the top tier of the conference standings. But trouble looms for a team that has set the standard for inconsistency. Oregon visits Arizona this week, then hosts the Los Angeles schools. Win three of four, and the NCAAs come into focus. Anything less, and the path narrows considerably.
Statement of the week II: Arizona
The Wildcats (19-3/8-3) escaped the tricky Washington swing with a sweep that kept them in close range of UCLA, their opponent in the regular-season finale. They won with defense in Pullman and offense in Seattle and received a huge boost in both from point guard Kerr Kriisa, who was 11-of-21 from 3-point range.
Splat of the week: ASU
The Sun Devils (15-7/6-5) began the week with a two-game losing streak and urgent need for at least a split in Washington. They departed the Pacific Northwest with two defeats, a four-game losing streak and rapidly-fading NCAA hopes. One reason for the double stumble: They made just 14-of-47 shots from 3-point range (29.7 percent).
Splat of the month: Colorado
It wasn’t long ago that the Buffaloes (12-11/4-8) were coming off an impressive home sweep of the Oregon schools and solidly on the NCAA bubble. But after five losses in their past six games, including two in Oregon over the weekend, they are closer to last place than fifth place. And their schedule over the final month is grueling.
Stat of the week I: Washington
It’s not often that teams with twice as many turnovers as assists end up in the victory column, but the Huskies did just that against Arizona State. In fact, they had more than twice as many turnovers (22) as assists (10) in the overtime win.
Stat of the week II: Washington State
Had you told us that top scorers TJ Bamba and Mouhamed Gueye would shoot 5-of-22 from the field, we would not have expected the Cougars to beat ASU — and we certainly would not have expected them to beat ASU decisively. Yet WSU turned 42 combined points by Justin Powell and Andrej Jakimovski into a 17-point victory.
Upcoming game of the week: Oregon at ASU (Saturday)
Admittedly, the spotlight will be on Oregon’s date with Arizona on Thursday night, but the matchup in Tempe carries more Selection Sunday significance because both combatants are on the NCAA bubble. ASU’s blowout victory in Eugene a few weeks ago raises the stakes for the Ducks. They cannot afford two losses to a team that also could be fighting for one of the final at-large slots.
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