The game of the year was played this week and it wasn’t in Seattle (I see you, Russ) and it wasn’t in Tucson (though I see you, Stanley). If on Wednesday I’d written that the GotW was going to be played during #Pac12AfterDark in Pullman, you’d have thought me crazy. But Ernie got his first win over his old team and it was full on crazy. Further, Arizona rolled up on Utah just to remind everyone where the Pac-12 is won. February 28, however. The one thing that delivered on its promise of greatness was Bilas-Walton on Thursday night. They talked about medicine and got into creationism. The duo delivered.
The Trojans have yet to knock off cross-town rival, UCLA, under Andy Enfield. I had thought that this might be the game, too. The Trojans had just knocked off Cal and took Stanford to the brink. UCLA had just come out of a funk but had previously been struggling on the road. It was never quite close. The Bruins are just more talented and their three most talented pieces (Alford + Looney + Powell) combined for many points on great shooting. Of note, the Trojans didn’t once send Kevon Looney (113th highest FT rate in the nation) to the free throw line!
The Bears stink worse than a first floor bathroom. They’ve lost six of seven and four straight while neglecting to invite their defense into conference play. Their defensive efficiency in conference is a debilitating 1.07 ppp. For the season, they were limiting teams to a very competitive 0.95, 60th in the nation. They dropped their third straight at home to Stanford and while the Cardinal got almost whatever they wanted (granted Brown and Randle are great) Ty Wallace got nothing. The dynamic guard was 6-22 afield.
I don’t like this.
CU’s Jaron Hopkins about Arizona: “I think they have a lot of weaknesses on defense, so we exploited those weaknesses.”
— Zack Rosenblatt (@ZackBlatt) January 16, 2015
Not because Jaron Hopkins is saying less-than-flattering things about my favorite team. That has little to do with it. What bugs me is that Hopkins and company, amidst a 9-8 season ripe with disappointment, are neglecting the man in the mirror. At this point – I repeat: A disappointing 9-8 – if things aren’t right in your locker room, then how someone else may or may not defend you really doesn’t matter. It’s gut check time in Boulder.
And why do we love Herb Sendek? Because these were his thoughts on his team’s first win of the conference season:
Sendek: “We made shots. It’s amazing what that does.” — Zac Pacleb (@ZacPacleb) January 17, 2015
They cracked 50% shooting for the first time in conference play while also raining from distance, connecting on half of their 20 threes. Sure it was against a hobbled – if not broken – Colorado team. But a win is a win. Just ask the Packers.
Found themselves on the losing end of the best game this conference has seen this year – a 108-99 overtime thriller in the Palouse. More on it below. For now, I’m curious how Joseph Young had zero touches from 2:43 at 98-98 in overtime until things were all but wrapped at 99-106 with 15 seconds left? Joseph Young, if nothing else, is your quintessential we-need-a-bucket-so-here’s-the-ball-go-get-it guy. Oregon needed a bucket and didn’t involve Joe Young. That is not how I would’ve handled the situation.
7) WASHINGTON STATE
Played in – and won – that best conference game yet. It was bonus ball on a Thursday night and #Pac12AfterDark was in full force. It was a shootathon the Cougars would win by scoring 108 points. They hadn’t exceeded the century mark since overtime in December 2002 against Gonzaga. In fact, I found a stretch of three 2006 games – 120 minutes of Division 1 basketball – where the Cougs scored a cumulative 115 points. Three games: 115 points. One game: 108. Let’s also note that Josh Hawkinson has a man’s game and a baby’s face.
In peeking at scores between Bar Mitzvah festivities this weekend, I saw that the Huskies were down 10 at the break. This was disappointing in that the Dawgs seemingly had a great opportunity against two (seemingly) inferior opponents at home to get things back on track. Whelp, it seems they did, turning up the D in the third quarter and sealing the home sweep. #TakingCareOfBusinessAtHome. And this happened:
— Washington Huskies (@UWAthletics) January 16, 2015
In our third iteration of the Who Plays Faster game, UCLA won. Again. Of course pace has been a fascinating thing to me when it comes to UCLA. Not because of the infamous Enfield quote but because Steve Alford has coached the Bruins to unprecedented paces in his career. It was something I wanted to monitor throughout the season. What we’re seeing is that, once again, the Bruins are making a concerted effort to move quickly. Their adjusted tempo is 69.3 – just a half possession slower than a year ago when the Bruins were forcing far more turnovers. Those turnovers helped lead their transition offense which isn’t quite as common this year (26.5% of 2014 offense in transition, 22% in ’15).
4) OREGON STATE
And what did the Beavs do for an encore to their upset win over Arizona? They road split and I commend that. The rough news out of Corvallis was the announcement of a 10-game suspension for Victor Robbins. Interestingly enough, the suspension of an Oregon State player was probably preemptively considered irrelevant. Suddenly, however, losing their third leading scorer becomes noteworthy. More to watch as we move forward with…the Middle Amoeba.
I saw it first hand and then missed their destruction of Connecticut but let’s get clear on something: Chasson Randle is a Wooden Award contender and Anthony Brown is as good a sidekick as any lead guard has in the country. This week – at the onset of a critical stretch – that Cardinal backcourt combined for 84 points. Because what’s better than one senior guard catching fire? Two! The question is: Can they stay hot against Arizona? An opponent Randle is shooting 28% against for his career.
That was house money. Utah bellied up to the Craps table, put their comped buffet on the pass line and the come-out crapped them out. Hell, the Utes aren’t even going to be off the tables long enough to miss the drink lady. Spencer and I discussed, at length, #TakingCareOfBusinessAtHome. Arizona did that and Utah was just in the way. Because it’s how we react to unfavorable outcomes that can define us (see: Arizona’s loss to OSU). To which I say: Look out Apple State.
The Pac-12 still rolls through Tucson. For weeks there were random mentions of “chemistry” and then a distinct questioning of “effort.” It seemed strange when you watched a team with what we all assumed was a grossly talented team. But things just didn’t feel right. On the matter, after his team’s best effort, Sean Miller:
“In our program we expect and are expected to win every game. There’s nothing wrong with that, that’s where are bar is here. But it can be life or death and every time you lose you die and every time you win, well, that’s what you’re supposed to do. There has to be some joy in the ride.”
The blessing and the curse of wearing the block A is such that winning is business. The joy of the game can be lost. So in hosting Utah, Arizona got back to the basics of just being the good old fantastic basketball team they are. And if I was right, if this game was Arizona’s barometer, then holy hell they can be good. Arizona scored 1.21 points per possession on 57 possession and made just one three pointer. Delon Wright went 3-3 in the first four minutes. In the final 36 minutes he was 1-6. Arizona had one fewer offensive rebound than Utah had total rebounds (40-19).