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Columnists | Message Board  | Daily Dribble

By Michael Dugan

mdevildugan@yahoo.com

January 11th

 

Pac-10 Basketball Report

 

Maybe this is why everyone said the conference is downIt's early, but the conference appears to be everything we thought—and less. Puzzling home losses by conference front runners Arizona, Washington and Cal marked the Pac-10's second weekend, with UCLA gaining momentum as we head into week three of conference play.

 

Proof that games are not played on paper—or in Las Vegas for that matter…Arizona went into last Thursday’s tilt with UCLA playing perhaps their best basketball of the season.  Indeed, the Wildcats were not only riding a seven game win streak, but they were also fresh off a victory at Washington, where they fought back to beat the Huskies after being down 13 at the half.

 

And with the Bruins limping in—injuries to starters Ryan Hollins and Cedric Bozeman, not to mention contributor Michael Fey, limited UCLA to only nine scholarship players (now reduced to 8 following Josh Shipp's season ending injury)—it seemed Arizona would have no problem covering the 10.5 point spread.  Just a week earlier, Cal took advantage of the depleted Bruins, beating them at Pauley Pavilion 66-61.

 

However, buoyed by the fantastic individual performance by Arron Afflalo and pinpoint perimeter shooting from the field, UCLA beat Arizona 85-79, marking the first win for Bruins in Tucson since 1997.

 

Afflalo was nothing if not efficient.  The sophomore scored 20 points on only 11 shots, including a memorable running bank shot with a little over three minutes left that stemmed an Arizona run.

 

Arizona lost despite forcing 23 turnovers, and though Hassan Adams' numbers were solid, he was a non-factor on the boards for much of the game. Also, Mustafa Shakur was terrible. He didn't score, missing all three of his shots from the field and both of his free throws. Clearly, the Wildcats can't win without consistent effort out of those two.

 

The 53rd time is the charm…If UCLA’s performance at Arizona was surprising, then Washington State’s 78-71 victory over arch-rival Washington was astonishing.

 

Playing without leading scorer Derrick Low, who broke his foot in practice earlier in the week, Washington State twice overcame 13-point deficits to shock the Huskies.  Josh Akognon scored 27 for the Cougars, including a tie breaking three-pointer and two free throws in the final 17.8 seconds.

 

It was Washington State’s first ever win on the road versus a top 10 team after 52 tries.

 

After winning 32 games in a row at home, Washington has lost two of their last three at Hec Edmundson Pavilion. They now hit the road—a place they have visited only once this season—for five of their next seven games, putting the Huskies’ once promising season at a significant crossroads. 

 

Missing a “Golden” opportunity…Without a doubt, Oregon State played its best game of the season Saturday, as they took down the Cal Bears 72-64.  The Beavers shot 54% and committed only 12 turnovers. 

 

Senior Nick DeWitz, who had been struggling, led the Oregon State attack with 18 points and Marcel Jones contributed his second consecutive double double.  Shooting only 18% from beyond the arc coming into the game, DeWitz hit all three of his three-point attempts.

 

The game was a wasted opportunity for Cal.  A win against the lowly Beavers—who had lost 14 straight road games—and the Bears would have had sole possession of first place, one game ahead of both UCLA and Arizona.

 

If they didn’t have bad luck, they wouldn’t have any luck at all…Arizona State lost in the waning moments twice over the weekend.  On Thursday, USC’s Lodrick Stewart corralled a loose ball and hit a game winning three-pointer with just over two seconds left to beat the Sun Devils 66-65.

 

On Saturday, it was Jordan Farmar’s lay up right before the buzzer that gave UCLA a 61-60 win.  It was the first time the Sun Devils have lost consecutive games by one point since 1983.

 

One has to feel a bit for Rob Evans; his team plays hard, but he has very little talent to work with.  With virtually no post presence whatsoever, their offense revolves around Kevin Krueger, and while Lon’s son is a nice perimeter shooter, he cannot create his own shot.  Arizona State will be lucky to win four conference games this year, which still won’t be enough to save Evans’ job.

 

Player of the week…Hard to go against Washington State’s Josh Akognon, who pumped in 27 in the Cougars momentous upset of Washington.  The sophomore’s performance was even more impressive when you considering he was averaging just over eight points per game coming into the contest.  After the win, the Cougars are now a surprising 9-3 overall and 2-1 in the conference.

 

Looking ahead…Though the Washington Huskies are ranked 13th nationally, they are under .500 in Pac-10 play, which places them in an early must win scenario this Thursday at USC.  A loss to the Trojans would put Washington in the unenviable position of being 1-3 going into Saturday’s tilt versus UCLA…

 

Arizona gets a tremendous boost this week when guard Jawaan McClennan returns from an academic suspension that has kept him out all season.  The sophomore is the Wildcats best returning three-point shooter from a year ago and his presence should be a welcome addition for a team currently shooting 31% from beyond the arc.

 

 

 

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