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Pac-12 basketball roundup: USC gets two huge wins, Washington comfortably in first

NCAA Basketball: UCLA at Southern California Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

January is coming to a close, and the Pac-12 season will be at the halfway mark after the coming week. It’s clear that the conference is a mess this season, both in terms of overall quality and the amount of teams that look to be contending for the regular season crown.

After another week full of impactful matchups, here’s our Pac-12 roundup.

1. Washington Huskies (16-4, 7-0)

If there was any doubt about Washington being the favorite entering this week, that has likely gone away. Thanks to two impressive road wins in Oregon, Washington is still undefeated, and is making a serious push to be the first Pac-12 team to make the AP Poll since Arizona State in December. Against Oregon, Washington nearly choked the game away, failing to score a point for over six minutes in the second half. The Huskies clinched the game with free throws late, and left Knight Arena with a key 61-56 victory. In Corvallis, UW kept control throughout the game, and while both teams looked good, the Huskies were the better team and won 79-69. Jaylen Nowell continues to be a star, and is on a fast track to Pac-12 MVP this year. His team is also on track for the one-seed in the Pac-12 Tournament, and will face USC and UCLA this week in Seattle with a chance to extend their lead to three games.

T-2. USC Trojans (12-8, 5-2, 2 GB)

While the Trojans still probably need to win the conference to make the NCAA Tourament, no team had a better week than USC, sweeping the Arizona schools and claiming second place in the standings. Without Chase Jeter, USC thoroughly outclassed Arizona, and shocked everybody by blowing them out 80-57. The Sun Devils put up much more of a fight, and it took a clutch Bennie Boatwright three to clinch the game for USC, 69-67.

Coming into the week, Arizona and Arizona State were assumed to be right in the top tier with Washington. USC just beat those two, and now has assumed their spot in second place. It’s very hard to stratify most of the teams in the middle of the conference right now, but at least for the moment, USC has differentiated themselves with two massive home victories. They now have to head on the road to conference leader Washington, along with a trip to Pullman. Sweeping them would convince a lot of people that USC is for real in the Pac-12 race.

T-2. Utah Utes (11-8, 5-2, 2 GB)

If USC had the most surprising single week in the Pac-12, Utah has had the most unexpected conference season thus far. Nobody could have predicted a struggling Utes squad would be in the upper echelon of the conference heading into February, but Utah is tied for second and has two home games coming up.

Utah was able to get two wins last mostly because they were playing the struggling Bay Area schools, but road wins are still impressive. It took an amazing shooting night to get Utah past Stanford 70-66, and then Utah simply outplayed Cal over the weekend 82-64.

Sedrick Barefield is the real deal, and while Utah isn’t a tourney team in this incredibly weak conference, it seems like they could be headed for a top-half finish. They’ll need to beat the Oregon schools in Salt Lake City this week to help ensure that happens.

T-4. Arizona State Sun Devils (14-6, 5-3, 2.5 GB)

ASU has been very uneven in January. While they weren’t able to pull out a sweep in Los Angeles to keep a hold on second place, the Sun Devils did get one win and tread water in a very chaotic middle of the pack. In Westwood, the two teams traded blows for about 25 minutes, before ASU took control, partially due to Zylan Cheatham’s 20 rebounds. The Sun Devils defeated the Bruins 84-73.

Arizona State absolutely could have beaten USC for the sweep, but the Trojans handled the game better late in the fourth quarter, leading to a brutal 69-67 defeat. The loss likely kept ASU out of most bracket predictions for another week, but it doesn’t mean they’re down for the count. Cheatham, Romello White, and Remy Martin are the closest thing to a big three in this conference, and the Sun Devils host the Wildcats this Thursday in a game with massive stakes.

T-4. Arizona Wildcats (14-7, 5-3, 2.5 GB)

What a disastrous week for the Wildcats. Star center Chase Jeter rested with a back injury, and the result was two blowout losses to teams UA should have at least competed with. USC simply outmuscled Arizona from the tip, and with no Jeter, Arizona had no inside presence. The Trojans went on to crush Arizona 80-57.

Against UCLA, Arizona at least managed to stay close for part of the first half. Still, the game was on its way to being over by halftime, and the Bruins ran the ‘Cats out of Pauley Pavilion 90-69. Losing by 44 combined points on a road trip is just about as bad a week as you can have in the Pac-12, and Arizona better hope Jeter is back and healthy for the remainder of the season if they want to stay on the bubble.

A win in Tempe would be massive towards that effort, and we’ll see if the Wildcats can keep Bobby Hurley winless against Arizona.

T-6. Oregon State Beavers (12-7, 4-3, 3 GB)

Oregon State is just 1-3 since their promising 3-0 start to conference play, but thanks to a talented starting lineup and an easy upcoming schedule, the Beavers aren’t quite dead in the water yet. OSU did what they were supposed to against a weak Washington State squad, holding them off for a 90-77 win. The Beavers had a huge opportunity to beat Washington and keep themselves at the Huskies’ heels. Oregon State just couldn’t get within striking distance despite another strong performance, and Washington left Gill Coliseum with a 79-69 victory. That hurts, and it likely means OSU is going to need to win the conference tournament if they want to make March Madness.

Thanks to the Thompson brothers, Kylor Kelley, and Tres Tinkle, that seems doable, especially with games against Colorado, Cal, and Stanford in the next two weeks. The Beavers will also need to beat the Utes in Salt Lake City this weekend, and that should prove to be a litmus test for how much to expect from this up-and-down OSU squad.

T-6. UCLA Bruins (11-9, 4-3, 3 GB)

Despite a disappointing loss to USC the following week, the Bruins pounced on an opportunity and split the Arizona schools, keeping them on the fringes of conference contention. The Bruins matched up well with ASU on Thursday, but simply couldn’t keep up for 40 minutes, eventually falling 84-73.

With Arizona’s only true big man injured, Moses Brown took complete control against Arizona, with 11 points and 15 rebounds. Kris Wilkes went off for 34 points as well, and the Bruins took out their frustrations on the Wildcats with a 90-69 drubbing. That game may have come at an opportune time, but it still counts as a win over one of the better teams in the conference, and it means that UCLA gets to stay in the crowded middle of the Pac-12 for now. If UCLA can beat Washington in Seattle this week, we’ll know they’ve turned a corner. Anything less than a sweep in the Evergreen State, and UCLA could find themselves stuck around sixth place.

8. Oregon Ducks (12-8, 3-4, 4 GB)

With each passing week, it gets harder and harder to talk yourself into Oregon overcoming Bol Bol’s injury. While UO did put the hurt on a much weaker Washington State team, another late collapse doomed them against hated rival Washington, and Oregon remained under .500 in conference play. After trailing for the whole game, Oregon took the lead with a few minutes left. The two were within a possession of each other for most of the endgame, but thanks to Washington sinking three free throws late, the Ducks lost another brutal game in Eugene.

Despite great play from Louis King and Payton Pritchard, Oregon just seems to be snakebit this season. UO is almost assuredly not getting an at-large bid to the tournament, and unless this team can turn the luck arund and start sinking shots, Oregon will remain in limbo. We’ll see how they do in the Rockies this week, and a sweep would give them a foot in the door for the pack of teams following Washington.

9. Stanford Cardinal (10-10, 3-5, 4.5 GB)

These bottom four teams are probably the only ones who have almost no chance to win the conference. Stanford has separated themselves as the best of these four with a split of the mountain schools, but it still means this team has issues. Stanford had an excellent shot to knock off Utah and rise in the standings, but Sedrick Barefield hitting late free throws meant Utah left Palo Alto with a win.

Stanford looked lost for a while against a mediocre Colorado team, but the Buffaloes couldn’t keep up the fight and the Cardinal pulled away late en route to a 75-62 win. Despite stellar play continuing from KZ Okpala, Stanford just can’t keep up with teams due to some rough backcourt play, and it doesn’t look like that will be fixed soon. Stanford heads to the East Bay this week to face Cal in Berkeley. If Stanford doesn’t win, it’ll be hard to find any silver lining for this season.

10. Colorado Buffaloes (11-8, 2-5, 5 GB)

Colorado has turned a 8-1 start (admittedly with their best win against New Mexico) into a 3-7 winter, and it doesn’t look like their fortunes will improve anytime soon. Against Cal, neither team looked great, but Colorado almost choked away a huge lead late, before reasserting control over the inferior Golden Bears. It seemed to foreshadow what would happen later in the week between CU and Stanford, as Colorado led for the first 30 minutes before their offense tailed off and the Cardinal ended up with a 13-point victory.

It seems like the Buffs have a stamina problem, which is quite ironic for a team that plays at one of the highest elevations in the NCAA. If Colorado can put together 40 minutes of play at the same caliber as their first halves in NorCal, then they have a shot at upsetting either Oregon or Oregon State. If not, a sweep is likely in store, and CU fans can officially start looking forward to next season.

11. Washington State Cougars (8-12, 1-6, 6 GB)

Wazzu wasn’t expected to do much this season, even with the rest of the Pac-12 struggling. They’ve fit the bill so far, and while a road trip to Oregon isn’t likely to be healthy for any teams record, another sweep put an end to any optimism a win over Cal could’ve produced. Washington State just couldn’t quite keep up with Oregon State in Corvallis, eventually losing 90-77. In Eugene, a similar situation played out, except Oregon added a couple more buckets to the final margin in a 78-58 loss.

WSU hasn’t beaten a team with a winning record since Dec. 17, and that team was Rider. Washington State is definitely on track for a bottom two finish, but hey that’s still better than a bottom one finish! They host the Southern California schools this upcoming week.

12. California Golden Bears (5-15, 0-8, 7.5 GB)

One of Cal’s three realistic chances for a conference win was lost over the week, as Colorado took over late to keep the Bears winless. Add in a mostly expected loss to Utah, and Cal now sits at 0-8 in Pac-12 play. It’s hard to say much nice about this California team, especially after that gutting loss to Colorado. They managed to crawl back from a consistent double-digit deficit with only a few minutes left, thinking there was a real chance for a win.

Unfortunately, Colorado went on a short run immediately after that, and Cal was forced to stomach another loss. The first leg of their rivalry against Stanford is this weekend, and since it’s in Berkeley, the Golden Bears at least have a shot. If this opportunity escapes them, it might come down to the last two games of the season (vs WSU, at Stanford) if Cal wanst to avoid going 0-18.