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This Week In The Pac: Cougs Crack Open The Title Race?

Washington St. played Washington, and nothing was as it seemed.  Matthew Bryan-Amaning and Isaiah Thomas combined to go 4-21 from the field.  Klay Thompson and DeAngelo Casto spent 29 combined minutes on the bench with extreme foul trouble.  A Washington team 6th best in the nation in turnover percentage coughed the ball up 24(!) times against a simple 2-3 zone.  The Cougars, not particularly known for drawing fouls, took 30 free throws. 

It all added up to a wild, unpredictable game that ended with a raucous home crowd storming Friel Court because Washington, which looked poised to take over the game so many times, finally ran out of minutes.  (Sidenote:  I know it's probably not going to happen any time soon, but I can't wait until the students get Haas rocking again the way WSU students did last night.)  And in the process the Cougars must force us to reconsider the inevitability of a Pac-10 title for Washington.

Granted, the Huskies are still tied for first in the conference, and they have by far the most favorable end of season schedule in the conference: four road games, three against Oregon, Oregon St. and Arizona St., the three worst teams in the conference by essentially any objective measure.  But looming on February 19th is a visit to Tucson that could end up deciding everything.

(Note:  Twistnhook wrote the following recaps of last week's Pac-10 action.  I extend my thanks for his assistance.  If you love it, please forward all rec's to Nick, Nor Cal.  If you hate it, please forward all flags to Hook, Twist N.)

Oregon 69, Stanford 57

Stanford has been in a bit of a slump recently.  Coming into this week, they had lost 4 games in a row and were reeling.  However, there is usually no illness that the Oregons cant cure.  Or at least it used to be that way.  Stunningly, in a interesting turn of events, Oregon beat Stanford!  The same Oregon team that was so useless last year has started to make a turn around.  We saw that when Cal battled all game long to put away Oregon on Saturday.  

On Thursday, Stanford battled, but was not so lucky.  Thankfully!  Dana Altman's Oregon team used its full court press to win 57-69.

Dwight Powell, Jeremy Green, and Anthony Brown were the only Cardinal players to reach double digits in points.  A Stanford team that used to dominate the Pac10 is now struggling to score 60+ regularly.  The thing is that Oregon didn't even play *that* good.  They turned the ball over 18 times.  However, the key was their 12-13 performance at the line.  They rode thsoe free points to victory over the Cardinal.  Both teams were tied at half and Stanford burst out of the gate there, taking an early second half lead.  

However, Oregon went on a 12-0 run with about 15 minutes left in the game and never looked back.  The simple and unfortunate fact for Stanford is that Oregon was turning the ball over repeatedly and the Cardinal still couldn't take advantage.  Oregon is still not a great team.  However, they are much improved from even last year.  Altman has them playing harder and focused on not giving up. 

However, in college basketball, there is always another opportunity on the horizon.

On Saturday evening, Oregon State and Stanford both had opportunities to make up for rough Thursday defeats.  As you might remember, OSU had been blown out by our beloved California Golden Bears on Thursday night.  Well, Stanford prevailed in their matchup, scoring 70 points.  70 points might not seem like a ridiculous number, but given Stanford's recent struggles to score even 60, it perhaps warmed the heart of the Cardinal supporters (were they to have any!).  Mr. Presidential Brother In Law's preferred defense, the 1-3-1 zone, has given out on him recently.  It used to be a headache to face the Beavers as they ground everything to a halt and made you fight for every basket you could scrounge up.  Well, now teams are having some of their best offensive games against them.  It makes me scratch my head in confusion.  But hey, given all of Cal's struggles with OSU in MBB, I'll take it!!

Even with Stanford hitting 50% of its shots, this game was incredibly close for the first 3/4ths.  With about 10 minutes remaining, Stanford went on a 21-8 run to put the game away.  Freshman Anthony Brown, enjoying his first collegiate start, put up 21 points en route to victory.  OSU ended up shooting less than 40% overall and a freshman bench player led the team in points.  Concern also rests with Stanford's Jeremy Green, who has struggled recently.  May that eternal struggle continue!

Overall, Oregon, OSU, and Stanford had somewhat rough weeks.  OSU got swept in the Bay, which must be rough for them.  Oregon did pull off the win against Stanford, but were sloppy in doing so.  Further, their loss to us was fairly close and they could have swept the weekend, which would reflect the great progress that Dana Altman is making with that Ducks team.  They have too much money up there with Unkie Phil to be at the bottom of the Pac forever.  And, as for Stanford, they were embarrassed by losing to Oregon, even with Oregon playing sloppy, but did manage the victory over a whimpering OSU squad. 

Derrick Williams Derrick Williams Derrick Williams Derrick Williams.  Perhaps the Pac10's best player led the way for the Wildcats as they took on Ben Howland's Bruins.  The Cats ended up winning 85-74 behind Williams' 22 points on the night.  UCLA came in on a 4 game winning streak, but UCLA was held mostly in check, shooting about 40% on the night.  Reeves Nelson did have 24 points, leading all players in the game, but it was insufficient for the Bruins.  

Arizona is shaping up to be the biggest challenger to UW at this time.  

Elsewhere, USC traveled to Tempe to take on ASU.  ASU had a string of 5 losses previous and was hoping to catch a win at home against the Trojans.  Unfortunately (or fortunately), it was not to be for the Sundevils as the Trojans won 63-61.  Nikola Vucevic had a double double with 26 points and 12 boards.  USC was playing sloppy basketball and is generally the better team.  They were helped out by the Sundevils shooting 12-25 on free throws.  OUCH!  The loss stretched ASU to 6th straight.

On Saturday, Arizona downed USC 82-73.  Derrick Williams was injured in Thursday's game, but the wrap on his shooting hand did not seem to slow him down at all.  He scored 20 points on the night, all but 3 in the second half.  The Vucevic and Donte Smith were both in double digits for the Trojans, but it did not matter.  Arizona is simply the better team.  The fact that we were almost able to knock them off in Tucson gives me hope for the game on February 5.  Could Cal pull the upset?

UCLA and ASU went to overtime before UCLA was able to dispatch the reeling Sundevils, 73-72.  Just more evidence that USC>UCLA?  Either way, the Bruins had a balanced offensive attack with 5 players in double digits.  Lazeric Jones hit 7 of 9 shots to lead the team with 18 points.  At one point, UCLA was up 15.  But ASU had a flurry of 3 pointers to tie the game with about 20 seconds left.  Unfortunately, they were not able to sustain their advantage in the extra period.

Next Week:

Arizona, Arizona St. @ Cal, Stanford
Washington, Washington St. @ Oregon, Oregon St.

Perhaps shockingly, the biggest game in the Pac-10 next week is probably . . . Arizona at Cal!  Cal's sudden surge to 4th in the conference means that nobody can underestimate them, particularly in Berkeley.  If Arizona pulls off the road sweep it will legitimize their claim as Washington's biggest challenger.  If Cal wins . . . I don't know what I'll do, but lots of capital letters will be involved.

Also worth watching will be UCLA's interesting home stand with Steve Lavin's St. Johns and USC coming into Pauley.  Win them both and UCLA's tourney chances take a major boost.  Lose them both and Ben Howland may not survive the pitchforks and torches that will storm Westwood.  Either way I'm predicting top-notch entertainment.