The Pac-10 schedule is winding down with just two weeks before March Madness. Last week was yet another series of games that left experts scratching their heads and wondering, "How did that happen?"
UCLA traveled to Arizona and came home with losses to both the Sun Devils and Wildcats.
Almost as if to match their crosstown rivals, USC duplicated the Bruins' results.
Oregon State continues to improve, giving a scare to the Huskies one night and then handing the Cougars an unexpected loss a couple of nights later.
Two things remain unchanged after last week.
Washington is playing outstanding basketball and leads the conference.
Oregon is not.
There will be some great games this week you won't want to miss.
Washington vs. UCLA (Feb. 21, 2009)
Sitting atop the Pac-10, coach Lorenzo Romar's Huskies (19-6, 10-3) control their destiny. The combination of consistency and improvement has separated Washington from the rest of the pack.
If UCLA (19-6, 8-4) is looking for a high seed in the tournament, this game is a "must" win for coach Ben Howland and the Bruins. Their disaster in the desert makes the rest of their season much more challenging.
"This is going to be a gut-check week for us," said Howland.
Let's hope that the officials for this game let the players decide the outcome. The key to this game will be whether or not UCLA can impose their will on the Huskies, playing a deliberate-paced ball game. That's a tall order given the lightning speed of Washington guards Isaiah Thomas and Justin Dentmon, with Venoy Overton coming off the bench.
California vs. Oregon State (Feb. 21, 2009)
Last season you couldn't pay people to watch a game between Cal and OSU.
Oh, what a difference a year can make.
Should Cal (19-6, 8-4) play the way they have much of the season, they will lock in their invitation to the big dance by Saturday night.
But not so fast.
Oregon State (11-13, 5-8) is a team that continues to improve every time they play. Coach Craig Robinson is nobody's brother-in-law. The man is a basketball coach of the first order.
Aside from the fact that this game matches two good teams, there might be an explosion of points in Corvallis, OR. Cal has a team loaded with pure shooters that aren't afraid to put one up from behind the arc. The Beavers not only have their share of pure shooters, they have a big guy running a version of the Princeton offense that can knock down a shot from anywhere on the court...especially behind the arc.
The key to this game will be for Cal to get off to a good start in each half. Don't let fans get into the game. Crowds at OSU weren't an issue early in the season, but the Beaver Bandwagon is loading up as of late.
Arizona vs. Arizona State (Feb. 22, 2009)
Arizona (18-8, 8-5) is the hottest team in the conference right now, riding a seven-game winning streak.
The 'Cats sweep of UCLA and USC has all but assured their invitation to the big dance.
Arizona State (20-5, 9-4) had a pretty good week as well, sweeping UCLA and USC. The Sun Devils were the first conference team this season to notch their 20th victory.
When these two teams met a few weeks back at the McKale Center, ASU squeaked out a 53-47 win. There was so much intensity and testosterone in that game, at one point it didn't appear either team was interested in making a basket. The game was more about establishing who was the toughest guy on the block.
The 'Cats' winning streak has been built on the outstanding basketball play of Nic Wise, Chase Budinger, and Jordan Hill. Arizona will be less about manning up to prove their toughness and more about taking advantage of their skilled players.
For ASU, their season has been built around the best player in the conference, James Harden. Well, that and some of the best zone defense schemes in the Pac-10.
This game will come down to ASU trying to slow down and shake the confidence of Arizona. If the Sun Devils only had to be concerned with one or two players, fine. The 'Cats have three young men playing at an extraordinary level over the past month. Look for them to even the score with their in-state rivals on the hardwood of Wells Fargo Arena.
By this time next week, there might be a new conference leader. The way things have played out this season, who knows what to expect though?
(originally posted on examiner.com)
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