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Pac-12 basketball roundup: Arizona falls back to 10th place

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The middle of the pack remains crowded, even as Arizona falls away from it

christian-dawkins-sean-miller-deandre-ayton-arizona-wildcats-college-basketball-trial-fbi-bribery Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

With three weeks remaining in the Pac-12 season, almost the entire conference is ready for the season to be over.

Disappointment has been a major theme, except in a few places like Seattle, Corvallis, and recently, Boulder. Still, the season marches on, and there aren’t many chances for teams to distances themselves from the middle of the pack.

After another week of action in the Conference of Champions, here’s our roundup:

1. Washington Huskies (20-5, 11-1)

Kings stay kings. Washington actually had to exert itself against a conference foe this past week, as a suddenly red-hot Washington State team gave the Huskies all they had in Pullman. Wazzu led for the vast majority of the first half, and it looked like Robert Franks and Marvin Cannon were gonna earn the Cougars their third straight win as a big underdog. The second half turned into a rather close battle, but in the end, Jaylen Nowell and the Huskies earned the victory, 72-70. While the narrow margin of victory is mildly alarming, this was a road rivalry game against a rising team, and both teams really played a fine game. UW now has six games remaining, and it’s hard to see it winning any less than four or five of them. First up, a homestand against Utah and Colorado.

2. Oregon State Beavers (16-8, 8-4)

The team that keeps holding onto second place kept that reputation going this past week, with a nice home victory over Oregon. The visiting Ducks raced ahead and looked to have the edge in the first half, but it wasn’t long before the Beavers had regained the lead and were able to put on a show for their home crowd against UO. The Beavers won 72-57 behind a stellar plus-10 turnover margin. Tres Tinkle and Kylor Kelley have gotten most of the headlines for OSU, but the Thompson brothers stepped up this week, with Stephen scoring a team-high 22 and Ethan pitching in 10. It’s not like this is a tournament team, but they’re one of the few teams who’s fun to watch and enjoying themselves this season. Next up is a road trip down to LA, where two wins would put them in excellent position for a first-round bye in Las Vegas.

T-3. Arizona State Sun Devils (17-8, 8-5)

Another week, another split for the consistently inconsistent Sun Devils. Still, ASU actually put up two similar performances in the same week for the first time in a month. Against Colorado, the Devils were just about evenly matched with the suddenly hot Buffs, but home court advantage and a bit of a shooting slump in the second half gave CU the victory 77-73. ASU was able to rebound against Utah though, with a nice, consistent victory by the score of 98-87. The Devils led Utah for 39 minutes in that one, and performed like the team that beat Kansas back in December and was supposed to contend for the Pac-12 title. Five games remain, and just enough look like wins that this team can still make the tournament. A home sweep of the Bay Area schools would make that much more likely.

T-3. Utah Utes (14-11, 8-5)

Speaking of Utah, the Utes also maintained their position in the top four with a split. Arizona and Utah were basically deadlocked for thirty minutes, before a turnover that swung momentum completely changed the game en route to an 83-76 Utes victory that could have had a much larger margin. With the opportunity to take sole possession of second place, though, the Utes just weren’t the better team against Arizona State. The team had a fine performance, but ASU was able to play even better and keep Utah from making a dent in its lead, as the Utes fell 98-87. Despite pretty low expectations well into January, Utah has shown that it has multiple good players, and controls its destiny for a first-round bye in the Pac-12 Tournament. That’ll be tough to maintain with the Washington coming up, but it’s doable.

T-5. Colorado Buffaloes (16-9, 7-6)

As recently as two weeks ago, seeing CU slotted here would have brought about massive confusion. Nevertheless, it’s true: Colorado has become one of the most dangerous teams in the conference. The Buffaloes earned a tough battle between two good teams when they defeated Arizona State 77-73 on Thursday. They followed that up with a pretty thorough whooping of a dismal Arizona squad on Sunday, with the game somehow only being 67-60. McKinley Wright IV and Tyler Bey have blossomed into what their potential dictated in the span of two weeks, and Colorado suddenly has a winning record in Pac-12 play. The battle of the two hottest teams in the West will be Wednesday when Colorado goes to WSU, followed by a true test against Washington in Seattle.

T-5. Stanford Cardinal (14-11, 7-6)

Oh hey, another team that didn’t have any business at fifth place very recently. After being decimated by sputtering USC and UCLA teams in Los Angeles back around New Year’s, Stanford had spent over a month comfortably in about eighth place. Well, winning five of six, including a road domination of Oregon State, and suddenly your fortunes change. Stanford got their revenge on the SoCal schools at home last week, starting with an entertaining matchup against USC, which Stanford won 79-76 despite great deep shooting from the Trojans (58% from 3). Things were easier against UCLA, as KZ Okpala finally got some help from an improved team with the Cardinal winning easily 104-80. Josh Sharma and others are finally giving Stanford a good lineup, and all of the sudden they belong in the upper half of the standings. They’ll get a heat check on the road in Arizona this week, followed by a homestand against the Washington schools.

T-5. USC Trojans (14-12, 7-6)

While Stanford and Colorado have come from below to claim their share of fifth place and have to feel happy about their spot, USC has been stuck in the middle of the standings despite moderate expectations for the entire season. USC had chances to beat Stanford, and could have been in range of a first-round bye with a win. Unfortunately for the Trojans, the Cardinal made just enough shots to win, and USC took the loss. The Men of Troy then got their free victory over Cal, not breaking a sweat on their way to a 89-66 finish. Bennie Boatwright and Nick Rakocevic make a nice dynamic duo, but the Trojans are still sitting squarely at .500, and that probably won’t change with five games left. The first two of those remaining games are this week against Oregon and Oregon State at home.

8. Oregon Ducks (15-10, 6-6)

Despite preseason hype and talent, even with Bol Bol out for the year, the Ducks continue to prove that they belong near the bottom of the crowded middle of the Pac-12. It’s always hard to win in your rival’s building, but Oregon had OSU on the ropes for a decent part of the game. Unfortunately for UO, it didn’t make a shot in the final four minutes of the first half or the first four minutes of a second. That eight-minute drought was more than enough for the Beavers to assert themselves and earn the rare sweep over the Ducks, 72-57. It’s still hard to believe this program went to the Final Four in 2017 and brought in a spectacular recruiting class, only for this to happen. Oregon has probably punted on this season by now, but they still head to Los Angeles this week.

9. UCLA Bruins (13-13, 6-7)

Another team that dominated the conference in the middle of the decade that’s become a lost cause without direction. UCLA continues to look very different from the squads that competed with Arizona and Oregon for the conference title as recently as two years back. This week, the Bruins actually had a decent chance of being Cal’s first victory of the season, as they trailed the Golden Bears for most of the game. Eventually, California just couldn’t make a few shots to close out the game, and the Bruins escaped Berkeley with a 75-67 win in overtime. That set the stage for a likely loss at Stanford, and that proved true, as the Cardinal won 104-80, returning in kind UCLA’s 92-70 win over them in Westwood. UCLA fans will probably be focused on the coaching search for the rest of this season, and it’s hard to blame them for that. The Bruins host the Oregon schools this week.

10. Arizona Wildcats (14-12, 5-8)

For anyone who’s followed the Pac-12 since about 1985, seeing a double-digit number next to Arizona’s name is shocking. Yet, thanks to both off-court issues and on-court malaise, this team is on an incredible seven-game losing streak, and could realistically finish with a losing record. Against Utah, Arizona had a real chance to end the streak, but a few careless mistakes and poor shots led to a massive Utes run that killed the Wildcats’ chances, and Utah won 83-76. Against Colorado, both teams faced massive droughts, but the Buffs looked like the better team, and led most of the way in a 67-60 win. Both seven-point losses could have been worse, and both are reminders of just how far Arizona has fallen. If the ‘Cats lose to Cal this week, all bets are officially off. Their other four remaining games all are potential losses as of now, and that includes Sunady’s matchup with Stanford.

11. Washington State Cougars (10-15, 3-9)

Wazzu’s incredible two-week stretch would have looked a lot cooler if it had upset Washington in Pullman, but the fact remains that this team has turned around out of nowhere. After a dominating and still head-scratching sweep of the Arizona schools, the Cougars returned home to face the powerful Huskies, and had a great chance to win. The Cougs led for a while, but in the end, a few too many turnovers and missed shots late doomed them, and the win over their rival slipped through their fingers in a 72-70 game. After what WSU was putting on the court well into February, it’s hard not to still feel some optimism after that loss. If Robert Franks and crew can beat Colorado and/or Utah at home, the story will keep getting better, even if its spot in the standings isn’t likely to change in the next three weeks.

12. California Golden Bears (5-20, 0-13)

Well, there’s loss number 20. Cal is in serious discussion as the worst major conference team in history, and its schedule looks to have nothing but losses left on it. The Golden Bears had their chance against UCLA, as they led for a long time and, even though they choked their lead away, still forced overtime. UCLA dominated overtime, and 0-11 became 0-12 with a 82-75 final. They just didn’t have anything in the tank for a better USC team, and the Trojans eased their way to a 89-66 win. All there is to say now is, Cal has five chances left. Incredibly, their best shot might be in Tucson against a reeling Arizona team. After that come visits to Tempe, home games against UW and WSU and a trip to Stanford. The quest for 0-18 continues!