UCLA fans were rightly critical of the effort their team made against USC at the Galen Center nine days ago. With their rivalry win the Trojans were 6-2 in their last eight games, with those two losses coming in overtime against Washington and by two points to undefeated Kansas. You could have made a convincing argument that USC was a conference title challenger as much as Arizona.
And then USC failed to get a win on the easiest road weekend of the season, giving Oregon their first conference win on the season despite missing their leading scorer and rebounder in Joevan Catron.
What happened?!? Conquest Chronicles identifies zone defenses as USC's kryptonite:
But where I have a serious problem with Kevin O'Neill and this USC basketball team is their absolute incompetence against the zone defense. O'Neill has been coaching basketball in college and the professional ranks for the betterment of twenty years, yet once again, this team is entirely useless against the zone. They looked lost, confused and show no resemblance of offensive structure or an inside-outside game.
And that was written before USC lost to Oregon St. and Craig Robinson's 1-3-1 zone! Though interestingly, it wasn't USC's offense that lost the game to the Beavers - it was allowing OSU to shoot 56% from the field and attempt 39 free throws. With stats like that it's a wonder USC even kept it close!
Around The Pac
In which we take a look at a few of the more interesting and/or important games that happened last week
UCLA 62, Oregon St. 57 ; UCLA 67, Oregon 59
While USC seemed poised to go on a real winning streak, UCLA came into Corvallis in a bit of a slump. Granted, a sweep of the Oregon schools isn't a season defining swing of fortunes, but it's also the type of thing good, NCAA tournament type teams should be able to do. USC couldn't even get a split, so credit to UCLA for overcoming Oregon St.'s goofy defenses and Oregon's brand-new monument to excess. The offense was ugly at times, but at least the Bruins won the game with classic Ben Howland defense and contributions from guards Lazeric Jones and Malcolm Lee. If UCLA can build with winnable games at home against Cal and Stanford they could still have something to play for in March.
Stanford 58, Washington 56
Washington wasn't going to go undefeated in the Pac-10, so I suppose a road loss to a quickly improving Stanford team was as reasonable a first loss as any. The Cardinal did it by slowing the game down and playing spectacular defense against one of the most efficient offenses in the nation. Washington only scored 10 points in the last 13 minutes of the game as Stanford overcame an 11 point deficit and a greater than 90% win probability for the Huskies. Interestingly, this loss seems to confirm UW as title favorites - they played poorly on the road, couldn't shoot the ball and played at Stanford's style and pace . . . and were two made free throws away from overtime.
Player of the Week: Klay Thompson
My goodness. After watching Cal outlast WSU in part because Monty got desperate enough to throw a box-and-one in overtime, I can't help but wonder if Thompson is this year's Landry Fields - an NBA caliber player saddled with an inconsistent and/or undertalented supporting caste. Granted I'm pretty sure the Cougs have a stronger collection than last year's Stanford outfit, but watching everybody stand around while Thompson nearly willed WSU to victory makes me wonder. 57 points on 42 shots, when teams are throwing every defender and every defense at you . . . yikes.
Cal, Stanford at UCLA, USC
Arizona, Arizona St. at Washington, Washington St.
Oregon at Oregon St.
Everybody should tune in to Seattle on Thursday night when Washington and Arizona face off in easily the most important game in the first half of the Pac-10 schedule. The winner will earn first place alone in the conference and one game lead over their biggest presumptive rival. If Washington plays anything like they did in Berkeley it's hard to see Arizona winning on the road, but I think Derrick Williams might be able to foul out the entire UW front court by himself.
Watching Williams go up against Thompson should be worth tuning in for as well, and whenever the Bay Area schools take on the L.A. schools drama follows. It's about as good a slate of basketball as you can get, so find a spot on the couch, ignore your family and catch some high quality hoops! (note: CGB is absolved of all blame in resultant marital discord)