WSU Upsets UCLA (AP B. Kvartuc)
What a wild and wacky week it was in the Pac-10. It begs the question, "Will there be more of the same in the final two weeks of the regular season?"
Who would have predicted Oregon State sweeping the Northern California schools?
After being stifled by USC, did anyone really expect Washington State to beat UCLA?
Arizona has been one of the hottest teams in the nation this month. Most thought that the Wildcats would ride into Tempe and leave with a victory over Arizona State. That was the wrong thinking.
Conventional wisdom predicted Oregon losing every game left on their schedule. Instead, they finally broke through with a victory over Stanford.
When the dust settled Sunday night, a look around the Pac-10 revealed the top two teams, Washington and Arizona State, with four conference losses.
With so many unexpected results last week, what should you expect in the coming week?
If you mumbled under your breath, "expect the unexpected," you'd be right.
This is the time of the year where the precious few games left are tremendously important for each and every basketball program.
Here are a few Pac-10 games this coming week you won't want to miss:
Arizona State at Washington: Thursday 8pm, Seattle, WA
Coach Lorenzo Romar's Washington (20-7, 11-4) team flew down to Los Angeles alone atop the conference. They caught the first flight back after losing to UCLA and toughing out a win over USC with a razor thin half game lead in the Pac-10 standings.
Arizona State (21-5, 10-4) managed to defend their house Sunday night while The Oscar spectacle was playing out. The Sun Devils had a comfortable 10 point lead at halftime, then let things get out of hand. No matter. When the final buzzer sounded Coach Herb Sendek's team found themselves just a half a game behind first place Washington.
This game will be a classic coaching match-up between two opposite philosophies. Coach Romar will expect his team to run ASU off the court in front of their raucous fans. Coach Sendek will counter with a defense that challenges all over the court.
Arizona State is coming off an excellent shooting performance of 53% from the floor, including 13-30 from behind the arc. In other words, ASU wasn't shy about taking shots on Arizona.
On the other hand, Washington is coming off a miserable shooting performance. Their guards were 6-23 against USC, a team not known for shutting down offenses. Jon Brockman had 14 rebounds, but only six points. That's history.
When teams are as well matched as these two, it comes down to intangibles. Playing in front of fanatic fans will be a big advantage for the Huskies. The bigger advantage for Washington is confidence. They found a way to win an ugly game against the men of Troy. And that is the mark of an excellent team.
UCLA at Cal: Saturday 6pm, Berkeley, CA
Both UCLA (20-7, 9-5) and Cal (20-7, 9-5) have identical records. That's where the similarities end.
UCLA is one of the best defensive ball clubs in the Pac-10. That's been the case since the arrival of Coach Ben Howland in Westwood. They will have their hands full trying to slow down the pure shooters on Coach Mike Montgomery's team.
Cal is at their best when they are playing an up-tempo game. The Oregon State game got away from them last Saturday when they weren't running and pressing the Beavers.
This game will give everyone a better idea of whether Coach Montgomery has his Bears doing with mirrors or they are actually a solid team.
There's little reason to expect UCLA to waver from the play that earned them a decisive win over Cal a few weeks back. Coach Howland's team dominated virtually every aspect of the game. Strangely enough, the Bruins were coming off a loss back then. That won't be the case this time around. UCLA should have no trouble handling Stanford if they learned a lesson from their loss to Washington State.
Key to this game will be the play of Jerome Randle for Cal. If he takes it to UCLA the way Taylor Rochestie did, it's anyone's game. Randle is just the man for that job, too.
Oregon State at Oregon: Sunday 7pm, Eugene, OR
This game features two of the most surprising teams of the season.
Oregon State (13-13, 7-8) has continued their climb back to respectability. With three games left on their schedule, their sights are set on a finish in to upper half of the conference and an NIT invitation. Coach Craig Robinson should get serious consideration for Coach of the Year after what his team has already accomplished.
Oregon (7-20, 1-14) may have slowed down their free fall from a year ago. Coach Ernie Kent has a full week of practice to prepare his team for just their second win in a couple of months.
The intrigue in this game is centered around the in-state rivalry. Beaver fans would love to see their team exact more woes for the Ducks. Duck fans not only want to see their team return to winning ways, slowing down the resurgence of Oregon State basketball would please them as well.
If Oregon can take away the Princeton offense Coach Robinson loves to run, this game will be a real battle.
Arizona at Washington State: Thursday 6pm, Pullman, WA
Coach Russ Pennell had his team playing some of the best basketball in the nation going into the ASU game last Sunday. Arizona (18-9, 8-6) will need to finish strong to assure their invitation to the big dance. In Tucson, that's what is expected year in, year out. Will they rebound from their loss to ASU?
This has been a year dominated by growing pains for Coach Tony Bennett and his Washington State (14-13, 6-9) Cougars. His roster is filled with freshman playing in a conference that is loaded with experienced talent. Based on their performance against UCLA last Saturday, the young guns of WSU have matured dramatically. The Cougs only have quality teams left. Should they win out, there's an outside chance they might get an at-large invitation to the NCAA tournament. Those lofty hopes begin with this game.
As uncomfortable as he was, last Saturday Coach Bennett discovered his team could win even when they give up 80+ points. But don't expect WSU to get into a fast paced game with Arizona. That's how the game got away from them down in Tucson when they gave up 43 points in the second half to the 'Cats. The five point lead WSU had at the half was reversed for a 66-56 Arizona win.
The key to this game will be who can slow down at least one of the opponents offensive weapons. Chase Budinger, Nic Wise and Jordan Hill are formidable players on both ends of the court. WSU has a trio that does most of their scoring in Klay Thompson, Taylor Rochestie and Aron Baynes. Should the big three of both teams cancel each other, the edge must go to WSU with their Zzu Cru maniacs thundering their vocal support.
When it comes to the final two weeks of Pac-10 regular season play, one prediction is easy to make. Every game will be filled with great basketball for fans to enjoy.
(Originally posted on examiner.com)
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