I don't want to write about UCLA every week. I've complained in the past about how west coast basketball is marginalized by the fact that national media can't talk about anything other than how good/bad/embarrassing UCLA is at any given moment. But UCLA probably does have the most interesting team in the Pac-12 this year considering the talent and the transfers and the scandals and the Gucci purses and the hypothetical hot seats.
Ben Howland, who only exists to prove whatever opinion I have about UCLA wrong, led his team to an impressive win over Arizona. I didn't think the Bruins would win that game, let alone win by 11 points. But behind another sterling offensive outburst (seriously, Larry Drew is the best point guard in the conference?) it really wasn't ever much in doubt. Howland started to look like a great coach again - managing a shallow roster, playing to his team's offensive strength, mustering just enough defense out of a team that isn't really built to get stops.
And then they lost to Arizona State by 18.
To be fair, it's time for us to consider the idea that Arizona State is an above-average Pac-12 team. Last year they spent the season in no-point-guard-purgatory, but Herb Sendek usually puts together a pretty decent team. This year they already upset Colorado and sit at 5-2 in conference and actually held a lead against Oregon with about 2:00 to go. So it's not like this is an awful loss for UCLA on the road.
Still, the no-doubt nature of the defeat was pretty surprising. Jordan Bachynski and Carrick Felix exposed UCLA's lack of interior presence by combining for 45 points, 26 rebounds and 8 blocks, so UCLA settled for a bunch of missed 3s without having the ability to get inside. You would think a few other teams (Arizona, for one) would be able to exploit this weakness, but so far only the Sun Devils and to a certain extent, Oregon, were able to do so. All more fuel for the Fire Howland campaign. Though if UCLA's hiring/firing pattern is any indication, Howland has plenty of leash left.
This Week In The Pac-12
Team Of The Week: Arizona State
Colorado, Oregon and Arizona State all earned road sweeps, but ASU's was certainly the most unexpected. I already talked a little bit about what they did to beat UCLA, but how has Arizona State gotten so much better this year? As is often the case, there isn't any one reason. The return of point guard Jahii Carson to eligibility has played a major role in seeing ASU's turnover percentage fall from 25.7% to 18.3%, which is almost 300 national ranking spots. But another reason is the growth of Jordan Bachynski from inconsistent and foul prone to defensively dominating. He's currently 4th in the nation in block percentage, yet gets called for fewer than 3 fouls/40 minutes. As a result ASU's defense has taken a quantum leap and they very well may continue to impact the title race.
Game of the Week: Arizona State 98, USC 93
It's amazing that USC actually came back to tie this game. ASU led by 9 inside three minutes to play and by 6 with less than a minute to go. Kenpom had ASU's win probability in the vicinity of 99% multiple times. But USC hit three 3 pointers in the last 22 seconds to send in into OT, including Gio Fontan's final buzzer beater. Overtime wasn't quite as dramatic, but ASU didn't clinch it until Eric Gordon hit a couple of free throws with 4 seconds left. It was a thrilling, well-played, back-and-forth high scoring thriller. Between USC and ASU. Send that bit of trivia to 2012 and see how we'd all react.
Disappointment of the Week: Washington
Perhaps UW's impressive early Pac-12 run had more to do with what's wrong with Cal and Stanford. The Huskies have now lost three in a row, and two of those losses still stand as the only wins for their opponent in Pac-12 play. Perhaps more concerning is that none of the three losses were really all that close. C.J. Wilcox has still been scoring and Aziz N'Diaye has still been rebounding, but Washington's defense has fallen off badly. With the resurgent Arizona schools visiting and then a trip to L.A., things could get worse for UW.
Next Week In The Pac-12
USC at UCLA
Oregon at Stanford
Arizona at Washington
Oregon State at California
Arizona State at Washington
Colorado at Utah
Oregon at California
Arizona State at Washington
Arizona at Washington State
Oregon State at Stanford
Honestly, there's not a ton to get excited about this week. The biggest storylines probably concern what teams like Oregon, Arizona and Arizona State can do with seemingly manageable road trips. Will ASU keep UW and WSU reeling? Can Oregon plunge the Bay Area further into misery? Will Cal beat Oregon State and Oregon for their 4th split of the year? Will we all be overwhelmed with ennui? I'll go with: probably, yes, probably, guaranteed.
Also, if USC could beat UCLA, that would be hilarious. Make it happen, random USC coach who will never replace Kevin O'Neill in my heart.