Conference readies for scintillating 2nd half

todd.dybas@thenewstribune.comFebruary 6, 2013 

At the midway point of Pacific-12 Conference men’s basketball schedule, here’s a look back and a look ahead:

1. Oregon (7-2 PAC-12, 18-4 overall)

What happened: In a surprise, the Ducks sit on top of the conference. Oregon has won 20 consecutive games at home, but was swept last week in the Bay Area, a trip Washington swept earlier this season. Coach Dana Altman likely has the inside track to coach of the year, at this point.

What’s next: Like Altman’s line on the top-coach award, the Ducks have a nice route toward the regular-season title. Oregon needs freshman point guard Dominic Artis (foot) to return and E.J. Singler (13 total points in two Bay Area games) to get back on track. Oregon plays five of the remaining nine at home and has two road challenges: At Washington and at Colorado.

2. Arizona (7-2, 19-2)

What happened: The Wildcats got through several tight games to get to 7-2. Washington had a good chance to beat them, as did Colorado and Utah. Arizona’s Nick Johnson is probably the best wing defender in the conference. Mark Lyons has proven to be a bit overrated. He’s shooting 42.6 percent from the field and is averaging more turnovers (3.0) than assists (2.9).

What’s next: Five of the final nine are at home, including a game in Tucson, Ariz., against the Huskies. Arizona does go to Colorado and closes the season by playing at UCLA and then at home against Arizona State. It also needs more consistent play from its young big guys.

3. Arizona State (6-3, 17-5)

What happened: Freshman point guard Jahii Carson happened, that’s what. In the past seven games Carson is averaging 21.7 points, 5.0 assists, 3.4 rebounds and 2.5 turnovers. During the second halves of the past six games, he is averaging 15.0 points and shooting 33 of 58 (56.9 percent) from the floor and 6 of 11 (54.5) from behind the 3-point stripe. Carrick Felix has played well, too. “We have a number of things that have come together for us,” Sun Devils coach Herb Sendek said.

What’s next: After being picked 11th in the media poll, Arizona State is now projected as an NCAA tournament team. Five road games remain for the Sun Devils, including the regular-season close at Arizona. That’s part of three in a row on the road for ASU to finish the regular season.

4. UCLA (6-3, 16-6)

What happened: An out-of-shape Shabazz Muhammad rounded into the killer freshman everyone expected. Travis Wear has been excellent, and UCLA is considered part of the upper crust of the conference. The Bruins still have defensive problems, especially in the paint. And, they lost at home to rival USC last week. Not a good look for them.

What’s next: Five on the road remain for UCLA, including the regular-season finale to be played in Hec Ed. The Bruins also get another chance to beat Arizona, which it handled, 84-73, in Tucson the first time the teams played this season.

5. Stanford (5-4, 14-8)

What happened: A terrible start prefaced a recent rejuvenation. Washington went to Stanford, Calif., and handled the Cardinal early in Pac-12 play, leaving it at 1-3 to open the conference. Stanford was the one of the poorest-shooting teams in the conference and still is.

What’s next: Stanford is 229th in the country in assists. It is 274th in field-goal percentage. The offense has been woeful because of disappointing seasons for guards Aaron Bright (32.8 percent from the field) and Chasson Randle (39.3). The Cardinal has won three consecutive and goes into Arizona tonight for a test of legitimacy. Five of its final nine are on the road, including at Oregon.

6. California (5-4, 13-8)

What happened: Like Stanford, Cal was off to a poor start. After Washington smacked the Bears in Berkeley, Calif., in the second week of Pac-12 play, Cal’s leaders, Allen Crabbe and David Kravish, said the Bears played with no heart. Cal coach Mike Montgomery showed up very late for the postgame press conference and joked to a room full of reporters, “I was hoping you guys wouldn’t still be here.”

What’s next: Like Stanford, Cal appears to be getting it together. The Bears have won three of four and have five home games remaining, including the last three. Crabbe is finally getting some help from his teammates. Three of them — Kravish, Justin Cobbs and Richard Solomon — scored in double figures the last game. But, the Bears are down to a seven-man rotation, which is likely to wear them down by the end of the season.

7. Washington (5-4, 13-9).

See main story, B1.

8. Colorado (4-5, 14-7)

What happened: A clunky conference start during which the Buffs lost four of five, including a controversial overtime loss to Arizona. Since losing to Washington, Colorado is 3-1 and back into the NCAA tournament discussion. Though, the one loss was to Utah, which reflects poorly.

What’s next: Colorado is at Oregon on Thursday to open its second half. The Buffaloes also play host to Arizona and Oregon in the final week of Pac-12 play. Guard Askia Booker is shooting just 39.9 percent. When he was good earlier in the season, so was Colorado. Five home games for Colorado should be a benefit.

9. USC (4-5, 9-13)

What happened: The Trojans fired coach Kevin O’Neill and replaced him with Bob Cantu for the interim. The Trojans are 2-3 in conference play since Cantu took over but are much more competitive. Cantu has turned guard J.T. Terrell loose, and he has responded by scoring in double figures in four of five games — including 20 or more points twice. The Trojans also upset UCLA at Pauley Pavilion.

What’s next: More Terrell, more up-tempo, more challenges to teams that think they can just walk over USC. The Trojans have just four road games remaining but their home crowds at the Galen Center aren’t exactly like Indiana’s Assembly Hall. Arizona blew them out since Cantu took over, but the other two losses were by a total of seven points. Be warned.

10. Washington State (2-7, 11-11)

What happened: Everyone locked in on last year’s leading Pac-12 scorer, Brock Motum, and he’s received little help. After shooting 55.4 percent last season, Motum is down to 46.1 percent. Mike Ladd (11.5 ppg) is his only teammate averaging in double figures.

What’s next: Washington State has five road games to go and plays host to Oregon. Things are not looking good for the Cougars, and a stern assessment of the program likely awaits in the offseason.

11. Utah (2-7, 10-11)

What happened: Coach Larry Krystkowiak moved his crew from overwhelmed to competitive. Utah has wins against Washington and Colorado. It also has three losses by four or fewer points. The Utes may have found something in small guard Brandon Taylor.

What’s next: Utah could well be a contributor to deciding the conference race. The Utes play host to Arizona and Oregon, plus go to Colorado. Their defense typically gives them a shot, even if it’s a distant one.

12. Oregon State (1-8, 11-11)

What happened: The Beavers’ only conference win came against Washington at home, and that almost didn’t happen. Oregon State led the game by 20 points in the first half before that lead shrank to just a point. But, the Beavers held on. Only three other conference games have been close. Oregon State is last in the conference in field-goal percentage defense.

What’s next: The Beavers have five road games remaining, including three consecutive away from home to close the regular season. The upshot for the Beavers is they get only Oregon out of the three upper-crust teams in the league. @Todd_Dybas

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