With a beleaguered Pac-12 finally entering conference play, along with the football season coming to a close, excitement is centered around basketball again. After one week, plenty of storylines are beginning to form, and it’s looking like another exciting year despite the very weak season most teams are having.
Here’s our roundup of the first week of Pac-12 conference basketball.
T-1. Arizona Wildcats (11-4, 2-0)
The Wildcats may be facing a very rare rebuilding year this season, but their season started where they’re accustomed to: the top of the Pac-12. Hosting the mountain schools, Arizona fought their way to two tough wins. On Thursday, a slow start couldn’t stop UA from simply outpacing Colorado on their way to a 64-56 victory. Saturday featured another slow start, but quickly morphed into a dogfight against the Utes. In the end, Arizona was able to pull away in overtime for a hard-fought 84-81 victory. Arizona now sits at 2-0 in conference, and they’ll travel to the Bay Area this week looking to entrench themselves at the top of the standings.
T-1. UCLA Bruins (9-6, 2-0)
After one of the most tumultuous Decembers in program history, UCLA and interim coach Murray Bartow were able to get back on track with a sweep of the Bay Area schools this weekend. Both Cal and Stanford left Pauley Pavilion beaten down, with the Bruins winning 92-70 against Stanford and 98-83 over Cal. UCLA’s offense has always been explosive this season, especially thanks to star center Moses Brown, but had faced a serious slump during Steve Alford’s last games. While Cal and Stanford aren’t quality opponents, there’s no doubt that Bartow’s tenure is off to a good start, and the Bruins are yet again a threat in the Pac-12. They travel to the Oregon schools next week.
T-1. USC Trojans (9-6, 2-0)
Joining their crosstown rivals in sweeping the Bay Area schools, the Trojans also recovered nicely from a disastrous December, and start the conference season right with two wins. USC wasn’t quite as dominant in Galen Center as the Bruins were in Westwood, but both victories were by around 10 points and USC looked like a solid team doing it. Again, it’s not like Stanford and Cal are top-50 wins, but starting the season off with momentum in the form of two home victories could seriously help down the line. Next up comes a visit to Corvallis and Eugene as USC will try to proof they belong in this upper echelon.
T-4. Washington Huskies (10-4, 1-0, .5 GB)
The Pacific Northwest schools started the conference season by playing their in-state rivals, and as expected, the Huskies were able to run away from Wazzu in Seattle. Thanks to solid performances by David Crisp and Jaylen Nowell, UW were able to pull away after a surprising tie early in the second half. Washington came into the season as one of the contenders in the Pac-12, and look to be sticking to that role thus far. Their collection of losses are easily the best in the conference, and with a few wins over fellow contenders during conference play Washington appears to be a March Madness threat. Washington will visit the mountain schools this coming week.
T-4. Oregon State Beavers (9-4, 1-0, .5 GB)
While the result in Seattle may have been expected, he result in Eugene was quite the surprise, as the already surprising Beavers managed to beat their hated rivals in Knight Arena. The star of the game was easily coach’s son Tres Tinkle, with 28 points and 8 rebounds. After opening up a massive lead in the first half, it looked like OSU was in for more Civil War heartbreak, as Oregon stormed back to take the lead late. Without Bol Bol though, Oregon State was able to close out Oregon, and leave Eugene with a well-earned victory for the first time since 2012.
The Beavers are likely a year away from being truly great (who isn’t in the Pac-12?), but this year has started off amazingly in Corvallis. Their home opener will be against USC, before hosting UCLA next weekend.
T-6. Utah Utes (7-7, 1-1, 1 GB)
Utah was assumed to be one of the weakest schools entering conference play, but proved everyone wrong with a near-miss of a sweep on a road trip to Arizona. After going down early to what many considered the conference favorite in Arizona State, Utah took the lead early in the second half and never looked back, upsetting the Devils. On Saturday in Tucson, the Utes stuck with Arizona for 45 minutes, but simply couldn’t overcome the Wildcats in overtime. If Utah can keep their field goal percentage in the high 50s, and players like Sedrick Barefield can keep up their play, there’s no reason to believe Utah and consistently uderrated coach Larry Krystkowiak can finish in the upper half of the conference standings. Utah plays host to the Washington schools now.
T-6. Arizona State Sun Devils (10-4, 1-1, 1 GB)
Two weeks ago, ASU was coming off an upset of Kansas and seemed to be the only Pac-12 school with any of their act together. Now, Arizona State has fallen back into the pile of medicority, and finishes week one a disappointing 1-1. Coming off a stunning upset loss to Princeton, ASU looked strong in the first half against Utah, but let the Utes run all over them in the second period. To be fair, Colorado was utterly crushed by ASU and their stingy defense, and there’s still plenty of talent in Tempe. Still, one cold night against Princeton and one bad half against Utah has stuck the Devils in the middle of the pack just weeks after they’d seemed to separate themselves. ASU travels to Northern California for their next two games.
T-8. Oregon Ducks (9-5, 0-1, 1.5 GB)
In November, the Ducks were seemingly the only Pac-12 program not rebuilding this season. But after injuries to Bol Bol and Kenny Wooten and a couple of upsets, Oregon is now in serious trouble of missing the tournament, and seems far away from Pac-12 contention. It’s not fair to draw conclusions off one rivalry game, but UO’s loss at home to Oregon State was ugly. Despite a late comeback in front of their home crowd, Oregon couldn’t get the job done, and dropped their conference opener. Oregon still has players like Payton Pritchard and Louis King, and Dana Altman prowling the sideline. Still, this team needs work, and it needs it now before they host the LA schools.
T-8. Washington State Cougars (7-7, 0-1, 1.5 GB)
Wazzu has been one of the conference’s weakest schools for a decade now, and that trend looks to continue after a mediocre non-conference schedule and a tough loss to rival Washington to start Pac-12 play. Despite keeping it close well into the second half, Mike Hopkins’ Huskies simply outclassed Ernie Kent’s Cougars late, and Washington State fell to .500 on the year. If there’s a bright side, it’s that freshman CJ Elleby has maintained dominance all season, including a double-double in Seattle. Washington State will need more than Elleby if they want to turn their season around, and that will have to start next week against Colorado and Utah.
T-10. Stanford Cardinal (7-7, 0-2, 2 GB)
The Cardinal had yet to take a truly bad loss entering the new year. While USC and UCLA aren;t necessarily bad losses, the sheer quantity of them is starting to catch up to Stanford. The Bruins simply outclassed Stanford on the court, and fellow California private school USC had a strong lead over the Cardinal for 30 of 40 minutes. There’s still hope for Stanford, as players like KZ Okpala have done their best to keep Stanford chugging along. Now though, Stanford really needs to string together a lot of wins for any hope of the tournament, and things aren’t promising with the Arizona schools coming up to Maples this week.
T-10. Colorado Buffaloes (9-5, 0-2, 2 GB)
Colorado’s suspect strength of schedule inflated their record in non-conference play, but a road trip to face the Arizona schools seemed to show the Buffs as one of the weaker schools in a weak conference. In McKale Center, Colorado managed to stay within a few possessions, but could never string together a run and fell to the Wildcats. In Wells Fargo Center, the Buffaloes were simply dominated from start to finish, and gave Arizona State their first Pac-12 victory. The best thing that happened to Colorado this weekend was New Mexico’s upset of Nevada, which barely strengthened their victory in Albuquerque while slightly weakening USC’s, ASU’s, and Utah’s losses to Nevada. Colorado desperately needs to bounce back, and could do so with a home game against Washington State upcoming.
T-10. California Golden Bears (5-9, 0-2, 2 GB)
Almost unequivocally thought of as the doormat of the 2019 Pac-12, Cal did nothing to dispel that notion with a pair of losses in Los Angeles. Against USC, the Bears at least kept pace for most of the game, but stayed a few steps behind for a 82-73 loss. In Westwood though, Cal looked lost in the UC Bowl, just a week after UCLA had been stuck in the wilderness. Moses Brown dominated UC Berkeley, and the Bears limped home with a 98-83 defeat. While they now get to defend Haas Pavilion, Cal now has to face probably the strongest pair of schools in the conference, with Arizona State and Arizona traveling to Berkeley.