A natural topic for discussion is defense following the continuous, undulating slog that the Pacific-12 Conference men’s basketball season has become.
A conference long known for scoring and up-and-down West Coast play is telling middle America bruisers the Big Ten, “We can do that, too.”
Cal and Oregon, two of the top teams in the conference, played a game in the 40s last week. We checked, and they played the full 40 minutes in Cal’s 48-46 win.
According to Kenpom.com, UCLA plays at the fastest tempo in the conference, yet are 174th nationally in that category.
Which provides a chance to look at the top defenders in the league.
Much like the player of the year award, the defensive player of the year award doesn’t seem to have a runaway leader. Unless you ask Arizona coach Sean Miller.
“The best defensive player in our conference, and I think the best defensive player in the country, is Andre Roberson,” Miller said Tuesday on the Pac-12 conference call.
Colorado’s Roberson, a forward, leads college basketball in rebounds (11.8) despite often guarding opponents who play on the perimeter, such as Cal’s Allen Crabbe or Arizona’s Solomon Hill.
“I think it’s remarkable when you consider how agile he is,” Miller said. “And yet, for him to be that prolific as a defensive rebounder, it really doesn’t happen that often. He may be the most versatile of anyone I’ve ever seen because he can guard someone on the dribble, a longer player, more physical players, he can guard shooters ...”
The 6-foot-7 Roberson reminds many of Dennis Rodman, minus the lunacy.
Arizona State’s Carrick Felix may have hurt his chances at the award Saturday when Washington’s Scott Suggs scored 10 first-half points on him and 16 for the game.
Washington center Aziz N’Diaye will be in the discussion, too, along with Arizona’s Nick Johnson and Stanford’s Josh Huestis.
ARTIS MAY BE BACK
When Oregon lost freshman point guard Dominic Artis to a foot injury, it started throwing the ball all over the place.
When Oregon hosted Washington in Eugene, the Ducks committed 23 turnovers without Artis. Once point guards Johnathan Loyd and Willie Moore got into foul trouble in that game, senior forward E.J. Singler had to bring the ball up the floor.
After being coy about Artis’ injury that caused him to miss the past nine games, Oregon coach Dana Altman said Tuesday that Artis will play “some minutes” against Oregon State on Thursday.
Altman said he will ease Artis back into the rotation with the hope he is healthy when the Pac-12 tournament starts. Assuming Oregon, tied for the conference lead, remains among the top four seeds for the conference tournament, that would give Altman and Artis until March 14 to get the freshman back in the mix since the top four seeds receive a first-round bye.
CAL IS HOT, HOT, HOT
The Golden Bears continue to move up in the conference standings after winning five in a row – and seven of eight – and have an outside shot at the Pac-12 title.
Cal point guard Justin Cobbs is the reigning Pac-12 player of the week. Crabbe is among the candidates for conference player of the year. Having 6-foot guard Brandon Smith back has also helped the Bears, who are a game out of first place.
“I think the kids believe in one another,” Cal coach Mike Montgomery said. “Peaking? I don’t know. It just seems guys have figured out what their roles are, who’s going to do what, who has to do what and who needs to be responsible.”
Montgomery is also one of the most entertaining coaches in the league. He was asked, in general, when UCLA or Arizona struggle, if the league is viewed as down no matter what else is going on. Montgomery was succinct with his answer.
WILL WEAR PLAY?
UCLA coach Ben Howland said he wasn’t sure about senior Travis Wear’s availability for this week because of a sprained ankle.
Wear, who averages 11.6 points and 5.4 rebounds, missed the Bruins’ 75-59 win at USC on Sunday. UCLA hosts the Arizona schools this firstname.lastname@example.org blog.thenewstribune.com/uwsports @Todd_Dybas