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PAC-10 ROUNDUP: UCLA picks up huge early win

Posted by Jeff Nusser on January 4, 2008

Welcome to our newest feature at WSU HOOPS: The Pac-10 Roundup, a twice-a-week feature, on Friday and Sunday. Given that the Cougs have their eyes rightfully set on a Pac-10 title, we’ll keep an eye on what’s going on around the league and give you a little perspective on each outcome.

So, with the first night of Pac-10 play in the books, here goes:

No. 5 UCLA 76, No. 20 Stanford 67 — I was one of the people before this year who thought UCLA was a lock for the Final Four and certainly head and shoulders above the rest of the Pac-10. But then Darren Collison got hurt, and the Bruins missed Arron Afflalo’s outside shooting a lot more than most of us thought they would, and UCLA suddenly looked vulnerable.

Well, last night is the kind of game that ought to scare the crap out of any team that had designs on winning the conference. UCLA’s one discernible weakness this year has been its 3-point shooting. No so last night, after a 9-for-16 performance from beyond the arc was more than enough to handle the Cardinal. The Bruins have been surprisingly average on defense against quality opponents — Michigan State, Texas and Stanford all posted offensive efficiency ratings of over 100 — but last night was the first time they were able to easily overcome that with long-range shooting. If the Bruins can keep that up, they might yet run away with the conference, as I thought they might.

As for the Cardinal? They shouldn’t feel too bad about this loss. They put up an offensive efficiency rating of 107.4 and posted their lowest turnover percentage in a month. This loss does nothing in my mind to change my perception of the Cardinal as a Top 25 team. Sure, it’s a little questionable that they lost at home, but UCLA is darn good. Now they’ve got to stave off a USC team tomorrow that might be a little desperate.

No. 21 Arizona 76, Oregon State 63 — Obviously no surprise here. The Wildcats played well at home against a far inferior opponent. Arizona fans have to feel good about two things in this win: 1) Nic Wise played well in the ongoing absence of injured point guard Jarryd Bayless; 2) Forward Jordan Hill is looking more and more like a legitimate inside presence. He more or less disappeared against Memphis, but has now posted double-digit rebounds in four of his last six games. He’s still pretty much just feeds off his teammates offensively, but he is providing an ingredient that was sorely lacking for UA last year.

As for the Beavs, they stuck around for a while in this game, but just couldn’t hang. They are by far the worst team in the conference, as C.J. Giles hasn’t even remotely been the savior they hoped. Jay John will be fired at the end of this year, and it’s not implausible to think they might only win a couple of games in conference. There just isn’t a lot of talent there.

Cal 92, No. 22 USC 82 — Raise your hand if you knew the Bears had the No. 14 offense in the country, in terms of offensive efficiency. That’s what I thought. Cal absolutely destroyed what had been a very good Trojan defense, posting a 121.2 efficiency rating — USC hadn’t allowed a team to top 100 since South Carolina did it in mid-November. It was only the fourth time all year a team exceeded 90 against the Trojans. Teams will have to figure out a way to slow down the Bears, who, after a doughboy soft nonconference schedule finally have a win to hang their hat on.

This game showed how much the Trojans are going to struggle when they lose sight of who they are, which can happen with teams that have a freshman at the point. Since Nov. 22, only three times have the Trojans played a game with a tempo over 70 possessions — all three losses. Against Memphis, they had a win in their pockets with their slow-down tempo and stingy defense until the Tigers figured out a way to quicken the pace and induce USC into an up-and-down affair that resulted in a plethora of turnovers and missed shots down the stretch. Cal was successful with the same formula last night. O.J. Mayo scored 34 points, but he needed 21 shots to do it and also only made 3-of-10 from long range. USC must get focused, steady play from him at the point and always remember what their team is.

Arizona State 62, Oregon 54 — I had my doubts about Oregon from the beginning of the year, and those are definitely looking founded at this point. Arizona State might prove to be this year’s WSU, but for now this just looks like another not very good loss for the Ducks, who clearly miss Aaron Brooks deeply. Tajuan Porter was 0-for-7 from 3-point range. Ouch.

James Harden is the real deal for the Sun Devils, who already appear to have the early leader for coach of the year in Herb Sendek.

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