Nobody will try to make the argument that the L.A. road trip is easy. Only Washington has won at Pauley Pavilion in conference play this year, and USC is a solid team. But nobody expected the Pac-10 leaders to get swept, and in such a decisive fashion. Nikola Vucevic completely shut down Derrick Williams in a way nobody has managed to duplicate, and the Wildcats came back to lay an absolute egg against a fired-up group of Bruins in the final game before Pauley gets a facelift.
After scoring 26 points and making the decisive block a week earlier against Washington, receiving gobs of national love and having basketball's premier statistician calculate his chances of breaking the record for 3 point shooting percentage in a season, Derrick Williams probably had his worst weekend as a Wildcat. 'Just' 23 combined points on 8-22 shooting, zero assists, and shockingly just 6 total free throw attempts from the nation's leader in that category. Is it just a coincidence that this happened after USC's Kevin O'Neil publicly called Williams, "the most protected dude I've seen since Michael Jordan?" I don't know, but I wish O'Neill had called them out earlier in the season when it might have benefited the Bears. What? No, I'm not still bitter about the 16 free throw attempts Williams got against Cal in Tucson!
Of course, it wasn't just Williams who had a rough trip. Momo Jones was nearly invisible and Arizona stunningly collected just nine assists on the week. That's two against USC and seven against UCLA, a shocking lack of team offense, even considering the solid defense of their opposition.
So will Arizona be the 2nd team to cough away what many believed to be a golden opportunity to win the Pac-10? Unlike Washington, Arizona's mini-slump still leaves them in a tie for first, and they are returning home to face Oregon and Oregon State while UCLA has to travel up to Washington. But if you think it's a sure thing just ask Washington about how things went against the Oregon schools with the conference lead hanging in the balance.
Washington State 80, Washington 69
In a week largely devoid of end game drama, this might have been the most entertaining game for all the wrong reasons. The first half was comical at times, as both teams struggled to run any semblance of offense and Washington missed open shot after open shot. I think Aziz N'Diaye and Matthew Bryan-Amaning combined to miss 10 layups in the first half alone, and turnovers were a problem against WSU's made-special-for-UW zone. The result? A 17 point half, which evidently is by far the lowest scoring half in the Romar era for Washington. It got so bad that even Isaiah Thomas missed five free throws.
After watching UW win their first six conference home games by an average margin of more than 20 points it was bizarre watching them struggle so mightily in front of a pumped up home crowd. They cut a huge deficit all the way down to six by employing a briefly successful 'launch crazy 3's' offense, but DeAngelo Casto and Klay Thompson were too much to overcome after such a futile first half.
Washington's loss means that their title chances are finally dead unless UCLA and Arizona both manage to get swept next weekend. And with another Washington loss perhaps the 'Huskies are on the bubble talk' will intensify with two hot teams coming to Seattle. As for WSU, perhaps another victory over the Huskies has opened up a window to an at-large spot? I'm pretty sure last week's bad loss to Arizona St. killed than chance, but a home sweep of the L.A. schools might force everybody to take a 2nd look.
Pac-10 Tournament Intrigue
There's still a decent amount up in the air, but a few things have been all but decided:
-Arizona and UCLA will be seeded first and second, in some order
-Arizona St., Oregon St. and Stanford will all have to play on the first day of the tournament, and Oregon is the most likely team to join them.
That means that Washington, USC, Cal and Washington St. will jostle for position during the last weekend of the regular season. Oregon does have an outside chance to knock Washington St. into the first day of tourney play, but it would probably require a win over Arizona in Tucson. Believe it or not, USC could conceivably catch Washington to finish 3rd in the conference, a scenario that Cal fans would hate because it might set up the Bears to face the Huskies for the 3rd time this season. I don't know about the rest of you, but two 20-point-plus blowouts are enough for me.
Stanford @ Cal
UCLA, USC @ Washington, Washington St.
Oregon, Oregon St. @ Arizona, Arizona St.
All eyes will be on Washington as the Huskies try to play spoiler against the Bruins and try to stay off the bubble and hold on to 3rd place against the Trojans. Washington St. just shattered Washington's perceived invulnerability in Seattle, so it will be interesting to see how the Huskies respond, especially with a Pac-10 title no longer realistically in play.
And can Oregon or Oregon St. open the door for UCLA by knocking off the Wildcats?