After two weeks, disastrous non-conference results for the Pac-12 had given way to a generally thrilling conference slate.
While the conference as a whole is still obviously having one of its worst years ever, the amount of teams who look to be in contention for the regular season crown is pretty high. With 14 to 15 games left for everyone, plenty of interesting results are certainly in the future.
Here’s our roundup from last week.
1. Arizona Wildcats (13-4, 4-0)
Sitting alone atop the conference, and looking to contend for yet another Pac-12 crown, is Arizona. After taking a lot of effort to sweep the mountain schools in the first week, Arizona swept the Northern California schools as well, pulling away late from Stanford 75-70 and crushing California, 87-65. Lady Luck has given the Wildcats plenty of bounces in overtime wins over Utah and the very close victory over Stanford.
Still, despite losing their entire starting five, the FBI shadow hovering over Tucson, UA has maintained their consistent place near the top of the Pac-12, thanks to excellent play from the likes of Chase Jeter, Brandon Randolph, and Brandon Williams. Sean Miller will have to deal with a homestand against two tough Oregon schools, but so far he’s proven that this team gets to keep the benefit of the doubt.
T-2. Oregon State Beavers (11-4, 3-0, 0.5 GB)
Heading into January, OSU had a few ugly losses on their resume, including at home to Kent State and against a mediocre Texas A&M team in Portland. Now, they’ve beaten three teams that were assumed to be the Pac-12’s upper crust, and sit just a half game back from Arizona before their trip to the Grand Canyon State. Coach Wayne Tinkle and his star son Tres Tinkle were able to win a close one over USC during the week, 79-74. Then on Sunday, OSU followed that up by beating UCLA handily, 79-66.
Tres Tinkle has been a massive part of this sudden surge, but the Beavers have been sneakily stockpiling talent in the previous years. Stephen Thompson Jr. is an excellent guard, and Kylor Kelley has been dominant down low, emerging as one of the top shot-blockers in college basketball. Pound for pound, the Oregon schools and Arizona schools are probably the two best pairs in the conference, and they’ll both meet for the first time this week. OSU faces the Sun Devils on Thursday then heads to Tucson on Saturday.
T-2. Washington Huskies (12-4, 3-0, 0.5 GB)
Among the three unbeatens in conference, Washington has been the most utterly dominant of the three. After shredding Washington State last week, Washington dispatched both mountain schools on the road, crushing Utah 69-53 and keeping Colorado at arms length for a 77-70 victory.
Washington was assumed to be one of the three or four best teams in the conference this year, and has lived up to their billing so far. No wins jump out on their resume, but they have yet to take a bad loss as well. Jaylen Nowell, David Crisp, and Nahziah Carter are among the names leading Mike Hopkins’ UW squad this season.
If they can beat some fellow top dogs, Washington will prove they’re for real. They’ll have to wait to accomplish this though, as they host the struggling Bay Area schools in Seattle this week.
4. UCLA Bruins (10-7, 3-1, 1 GB)
After one of the single worst months in UCLA’s storied history, interim coach Murray Bartow was tasked with turning the Bruins back into a Pac-12 contender. Despite a loss in Corvallis, early results look promising. Sunday’s loss to the Beavers might have been due to a bit of fatigue after playing in the conference game of the year so far on Thursday.
Down three with two seconds remaining, Jaylen Hands stepped to the line. Making the first, he intentionally missed the second in a desperate last gasp. Incredibly, almost echoing Oregon’s painful loss in the 2017 Final Four, Chris Smith rebounded the ball for UCLA and made a layup as the buzzer sounded to tie the game. It was a competitive overtime, but Oregon went cold near the end of it, and the Bruins pulled out a hard-fought victory.
The loss in Corvallis meant they had to return home with a 1-1 record, but that’s still a strong accomplishment in Oregon. UCLA only faces one game this weekend, in Galen Center against their crosstown rival USC.
T-5. USC Trojans (9-8, 2-2, 2 GB)
Speaking of Los Angeles schools who had rough Decembers, USC has faced almost the exact same season as their hated rival. A promising start for a presumptive conference contender, followed by an ugly four-game skid in December. The only differences are that Andy Enfield remains in charge of the Men of Troy, and USC was unable to pull out a victory on their trip to Oregon.
USC and Oregon State traded blows pretty well in Corvallis, but OSU again showed their late-game prowess and put the Trojans away. The Ducks, who were by now clearly frustrated after two close losses, took their anger out on USC, bludgeoning them 81-60.
USC has faced plenty of turmoil this season, and now probably has to damn-near win out to even sniff March Madness. Jonah Matthews and co. can start with a home win over their resurgent rival UCLA.
Oh yeah, highly-regarded freshman Kevin Porter Jr. was suspended indefinitely, which would be a big loss moving forward.
T-5. Arizona State Sun Devils (11-5, 2-2, 2 GB)
Despite facing the weakest schedule in the Pac-12 thus far (along with undefeated Arizona), and despite emerging as the seemingly clear favorite in December, ASU only managed a spilt of the Bay Area schools, and now looks like they could be in actual danger for the first time.
An atrocious Cal squad was able to outplay Arizona State for the whole first half in Berkeley, before ASU asserted their talent advantage and pulled away for an 80-66 victory. While Stanford had managed to keep pace with Arizona, it basically battled ASU to a draw in the first half before a Sun Devil drought ended the game early in the second half.
ASU fell back to .500 in conference play with their 85-71 loss in Palo Alto, despite having players like Remy Martin and Romello White playing as well as ever. ASU clearly is in a deep slump, and now hosts two tough opponents in Oregon and Oregon State.
T-5. Utah Utes (8-8, 2-2, 2 GB)
Among the teams treading water at-or-above .500 in conference play, Utah is probably the most surprising aside from Oregon State, as they managed to split against the Washington schools this past week. While beating ASU in Tempe was impressive and barely falling in Tucson looked just as enticing, Washington put the hurt on the Utes on Thursday with a 69-53 victory.
Still, a weak Washington State team visited over the weekend, and Utah capitalized on the easy game with an easy win, dominating the Cougars 88-70. Utah simply had too rough of a non-conference schedule to be considered one of the Pac-12 premier teams. Still, 2-2 against three good teams and one bad win isn’t nothing, and now they face a winnable Sunday game when Colorado comes to SLC.
8. Oregon Ducks (10-6, 1-2, 2.5 GB)
Oh, how the mighty fall. Almost unanimously picked to win the Pac-12 in the preseason, Oregon took a couple of tough losses in fall, and then star center Bol Bol was lost for the season in December.
While there is still plenty of talent in Eugene, two close losses have seriously hurt Oregon’s Pac-12 and even NCAA Tournament hopes. Oregon State managed to beat them by making their free throws late in Eugene last week, and then UCLA stole one from the Ducks after an incredible comeback.
Players like Payton Pritchard and Louis King mean Oregon is still a threat, and they proved that by drubbing USC on Sunday 81-60. It’s hard to imagine a Dana Altman team with a top recruiting class stuck at eighth in the Pac-12 for long, but now the Ducks have lost two winnable home games and have to travel to two tough Arizona schools. Oregon’s season might rest on this road trip, and the narrative will shift greatly with any pair of results in the Southwest.
T-9. Colorado Buffaloes (10-6, 1-3, 3 GB)
Nobody mistook Tad Boyle’s Colorado team for a contender this season, even in a weakened Pac-12. So far, they’ve lived up that billing, losing in standard fashion to three solid teams and outclassing a terrible one.
After getting swept by the Arizona schools, and only managing to stay close to Arizona for a half. Colorado licked their wounds and inflicted some wounds of their own on an outmatched Wazzu team 92-60. Next up was a game against a hot UW team, and while they were never straight up outclassed, CU almost performed like Sisyphus, getting close to striking distance before eventually falling back to a 10-point deficit, eventually losing 77-70.
The Buffs do have some good players, namely McKinley Wright IV and Tyler Bey. They have work to do if they want to move up the conference standings, and that will have to start with a suddenly intimidating trip to Huntsman Center to face Utah.
T-9. Stanford Cardinal (8-8, 1-3, 3 GB)
With an inside stud in KZ Okpala and no losses to bad teams entering January, Stanford was hopeful they’d at least tread water in conference play. At first, that looked like a hopeless chore after being swept in LA, but this week must’ve renewed a bit of hope for Cardinal fans.
First, Stanford had lots of chances to beat Arizona, but bad free throw shooting and Arizona’s 3-point prowess ultimately sunk them, 75-70. Still, there was clearly reason to be satisfied despite an ugly game, and Stanford cleaned up their game against ASU.
The Cardinal pounced when the Devils came out flat in the second period, earning a strong home victory against a pretty good ASU team, 85-71. Things don’t get too much easier as Stanford has to face Washington in Seattle this Thursday, but facing Washington State on the Palouse should show whether this team belongs in ninth place or not.
11. Washington State Cougars (7-9, 0-3, 3.5 GB)
One of only two Pac-12 squads currently have a losing record overall, and one of only two seems to have few signs of life. Wazzu took two whoopings in the Rockies this past week, and Ernie Kent’s squad now looks to be a cellar dweller for the rest of the season. After being soundly beaten against Washington in Seattle, the Cougars hoped a road trip to face two average-at-best teams could net them a conference win.
Unfortunately, Colorado absolutely dominated Wazzu from start to finish, beating them by 32 in a 92-60 rout. Then, a newly resurgent Utah was just as merciless, pulling away early and simply holding a 20-point lead for almost thirty minutes in an 88-70 snoozer.
Washington State will get its best chance at a Pac-12 win when Cal comes to Pullman this Thursday, before hoping for a minor upset over Stanford on Sunday.
12. California Golden Bears (5-11, 0-4, 4 GB)
Bringing up the rear in the standings is Cal, who took two more double digit losses this week at home against the Arizona schools. There was at least signs of life against Arizona State, when Cal held multiple leads in the first half and genuinely looked like they had a chance at home.
Then Remy Martin hit the jets, and ASU ran away from the Bears. Hope lasted even shorter against Arizona, as the Wildcats got hot late in the first half to go into halftime up 12, before dismantling Cal in the second half for an 87-65 win.
There isn’t much good to say about Cal as they continue to rebuild under Wyking Jones, except that their upcoming trip to Pullman could pull them out of the slump. After that though, they’ll be heavy underdogs over the weekend in Seattle against UW.