With just 6 games left on their regular season schedule, the Arizona Wildcats have opened up a 3.5 game lead over 4th place Washington St., which essentially means that only three teams still have feasible title hopes with three weeks left until the Pac-10 tournament. Those three teams are all in that position after combining to go 5-0 this week. And because Arizona, UCLA and Washington have separated themselves from the pack it sets up three huge games over the next three weeks that will likely decide the conference. This week that game will happen on Saturday at the McKale Center as the Huskies try to prove themselves on the road against the red hot Wildcats.
This turned out to be probably the most uneventful week of the season in the Pac-10. Only one game was in doubt til the final minute, when Jorge Gutierrez's last second game-tying three attempt rattled in and out of the rim against Washington St. And only Stanford's 13 point win over Washington St. could be considered even a mild surprise. Evidently, this week only served to set up the final stretch of the season (and, of course, to torture Cal fans, but that can generally be assumed at this point). I suppose you could make an argument that Oregon winning in the Galen Center over USC is an upset, but considering the divergent paths both teams have taken lately I think you'd have to like the Ducks. Everything else? Boring, double digit wins for favorites.
Around The Pac
UCLA 64, Oregon 54 ; UCLA 69, Oregon St. 61
There's been a certain reticence to acknowledge that UCLA as a title contender, and I understand why. UCLA lost convincingly to both Washington and Arizona and has survived a host of close calls (Beating ASU by one in overtime? Nearly blowing a 14 point lead against the Bears?). That and the inconsistency and mediocre results in their non-conference schedule has left UCLA with a host of doubters. But at a certain point the results speak for themselves: The Bruins have won nine of ten and sit just one game back of Arizona with the Wildcats still coming to Pauly Pavilion.
UCLA's two wins at home over the Oregon schools won't really impress anybody as the Bruins again played down to their opponents. The Ducks stayed within 5 points of UCLA til a late run sealed the game. And against Oregon St. UCLA turned the ball over twenty-six times, but because the Beavers were so hopeless on offense it didn't particularly matter.
So UCLA continues to fly about as far under the radar as UCLA basketball ever can. But the sudden emergence of offensive production from Malcolm Lee to go along with Reeves Nelson and Josh Smith down low bodes well for UCLA's chances going forward. And how sweet would it be if the Bears avenged their earlier loss while simultaneously hurting the southern branch's title chances?
Washington 109, Cal 77 ; Washington 87, Stanford 76
After averaging 70.66 points per game on a 3 game road losing streak, Washington returned to Seattle and just blitzed the Bay Area schools to the tune of a 68% eFG% vs. Cal and 56% vs. Stanford. Both games were effectively over at halftime and again make you wonder how Washington could ever lose to a team that can't match up to them physically and athletically.
It's hard to imagine a team recovering from a three game losing streak in the middle of the conference schedule, but the Huskies still have 3 games left at home where they appear to be nearly unbeatable. That means that if they can win their one tough road game against Arizona a 7-0 run to finish the regular season isn't off the table.
Now that I have complimented Washington and outlined a best case scenario they will lose on the road to Arizona St. It has been preordained. I'd apologize to Washington fans, but since I haven't watched a Cal team beat a Washington team since last February I'm feeling exactly zero guilt.
UCLA, USC at Cal, Stanford
Washington, Washington St. at Arizona, Arizona St.
Oregon St. at Oregon
All eyes will be on Arizona and Washington on Saturday night as the ESPN crew comes in to town for the critical matchup. After sweeping the L.A. schools on the road Washington has lost four of five away from Seattle and will undoubtedly face an amped up crowd in Tucson. The individual match-ups are intriguing as well: Derrick Williams vs. Matthew Bryan-Amaning and a surging Momo Jones against Isaiah Thomas should make for an exciting contest.
Beyond that? Well, the Norcal/Socal rivalry is in full swing, and Cal and UCLA will get a special Sunday night time. How UCLA fairs in the first of two huge road trips will tell us if they are in fact serious Pac-10 title contenders.