What a difference a week makes. After a rather embarrassing loss to Stanford last week, Cal rallied for two victories and find themselves back in the top six teams in the conference. For the first time all year, we are finally starting to see some real separation between the top tier teams and the bottom of the conference. The middle of the conference is as close as ever and eight teams have a record of .500 or better. Let's take a look at the standings, declare our Pac-12 game of the week and highlight the most surprising outcomes from the weekend.
Pac-12 Conference Standings (1/25):
Pac-12 Game of the Week: Cal vs Arizona
You know we had to. What an incredible game at Haas this past Saturday between Arizona and Cal. Ever since the Justin Cobbs game winner in 2014, it feels as though their is a budding basketball rivalry between the Bears and the Wildcats. Add in that Ivan Rabb chose Cal over Arizona this past offseason and it's fair to say there was a lot on the line Saturday night. Cal and Arizona played tight the entire game and traded baskets for most of the first half. Jordan Matthews hit a three pointer before the half closed to bring the score to 37-35, Arizona leading the Bears.
The second half would be a different story. Cal, despite not playing their best, would work themselves into a comfortable lead but were unable to pull away. The inability of the Bears to build big leads and close games has been an issue all season long and this game was no different. With only a minute to play, Sam Singer made one of the worst passes you'll ever see and Arizona tied the game at 73. Jaylen Brown drove the court to the amazement of Bill Walton, and was fouled on a layup which put him on the charity stripe with the game on the line. Jaylen missed his first free throw, yet would hit the second attempt giving Cal a one point lead with only a few ticks left on the clock. Arizona drove the court and Gabe York would settle for a pull up jumper that hit front iron. Cal came away with the statement win that many fans were looking for from Cuonzo Martin and the Bears topped off an excellent week at home.
Best conference victories-
Utah over Washington:
What a game this was. This win was particularly impressive from Utah as they were on the road playing against arguably the conference's hottest player, Andrew Andrews. This win was big for two reasons: First, Utah is finally playing the caliber of basketball many expected of them early in the year. Taking to the road and sweeping both Washington schools is a big accomplishment. Secondly, they padded an already solid tournament resume which puts less pressure on them to win the Pac-12 in order to make the final 64. Back to the game, the two teams played tight all evening long. The first half had over ten lead changes and neither team could separate.
In the second half the teams opened up their three point games and as the half came to a close Washington found themselves down three. David Crisp got the ball with roughly 18 seconds left, did a sweet little step back and hit the game tying three pointer as the contest pushed into overtime. The Ute's dominated the overtime period as the Huskies relied too much on their perimeter shooting and eventually succumbed to the Ute's post play. The win knocks Washington out of the top spot in the conference and Utah has postseason life once more.
Oregon State over USC:
Is there anyone more fun to watch in college basketball than Gary Payton II? He dominated this game and finished with an almost unbelievable stat line. Payton had 22 points, 15 rebounds, 8 assists AND four steals. Those are Draymond Green numbers. We mentioned earlier this year that the Beavers path to ending their NCAA tournament drought is in Payton's hands, and Saturday the fate of the game truly was left to him. If you enjoy the art of shooting the basketball (and doing it well), this wasn't the game to watch. Both teams struggled from the floor and particularly from three point territory, however Payton provided all of the highlights necessary. Another clear demonstration of how close the middle of the Pac-12 is, Oregon State is one win away from third place but currently sits in eighth.
Stanford over Arizona State:
In a matchup that most of the conference fans slept on, Stanford met Arizona State at home Saturday night for what would be a thrilling ending. Arizona State made several of the same mistakes they made against Cal earlier in the week, falling behind early and taking a while to warm up. However, Arizona State closed a double digit lead and setup a phenomenal finish. Rosco Allen, would take the ball the from near mid-court, put on a quick stutter move at the top of the key and drive hard to the paint with four seconds left. He kissed the ball off the glass and put Stanford up two with what would end up as the game winning basket. Rosco himself has been a surprise all season long and continues to play very well for a team that few expected to seriously compete in the conference this year.