Pac-10 Round-Up, Preview
Defensive inadequacy finally catches up with Wildcats
First, the good news: Arizona remained in better position than anyone to capture the Pac-10 regular-season title, despite being swept in Los Angeles during the last weekend of February.
The bad news: If the Wildcats don't play any better -- especially on defense -- than they did in a 65-57 loss at USC and a 71-49 defeat at UCLA, a season's worth of good work could be flushed.
Arizona arrived in L.A. riding an eight-game win streak and armed with a two-game lead over UCLA in the conference standings. With just four games left, the Cats seemed in splendid position to win their first conference crown since 2004-05.
"What's happened to us is as we've gone on this win streak, our defense has steadily slipped, regressed," Arizona coach Sean Miller said. "It hasn't shown in the final score because our offense has been terrific.
"What's happened this weekend is we played against two teams that are excellent on defense. They took our scoring away, and it really exposed our defense."
The interior of the Arizona defense was exposed as particularly soft. The USC tandem of Nikola Vucevic and Alex Stepheson combined for 37 points and 22 rebounds. The UCLA duo of Reeves Nelson and Joshua Smith totaled 42 points and 21 rebounds.
UCLA was downright feeble from the perimeter -- making just two of 11 3-point shots -- but still converted 62 percent overall.
Despite all that's crumbling around them, the Cats still rate as the favorites to secure the outright Pac-10 title.
They close the regular season with home games against second-division residents Oregon State and Oregon while co-leader UCLA must play on the road against Washington (unbeaten at home) and Washington State.
--UCLA outscored Arizona 50-22 in the paint and outrebounded the Wildcats 40-26 on Feb. 26.
--The Cats suffered a horrendous shooting weekend in Los Angeles, converting just 31.5 percent at USC and 35.8 percent at UCLA.
--Arizona entered March with a 15-0 home record this season one year after going just 11-5 at McKale Center, including 4-3 in the Pac-10.
BY THE NUMBERS: 36 -- Consecutive games in which F Derrick Williams had scored in double digits before he was held to eight points by USC on Feb. 24.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I just feel we didn't play hard. They were the better team today." -- Reserve sophomore C Kyryl Natyazhko, the only Arizona player made available for media interview after the Feb. 26 loss to UCLA.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
--vs. Oregon State, March 3
KEY MATCHUPS: The Wildcats have lost to Oregon State three straight times, including 76-75 at Corvallis back on Jan. 2, so they have all the motivation in the world in this one. Senior G Calvin Haynes scored 18 points for the Beavers in their home win over Arizona, but Oregon State was 1-10 on the road this season through Feb. 26, including 0-7 in the Pac-10.
--vs. Oregon, March 5
KEY MATCHUPS: The Wildcats and Ducks come full circle more than two months after meeting in the conference opener on Dec. 30. Arizona won that game 76-57 in Eugene, Ore., fueled by 20 points from Kevin Parrom. Oregon has made big strides since then, developing depth and confidence. The Ducks will pressure three-quarter court, meaning that guards MoMo Jones and Kyle Fogg will need to be on their games for Arizona.
FUTURES MARKET: The Cats need star sophomore F Derrick Williams to clear his head before stepping on the court again. At the very least, he needs to chase USC coach Kevin O'Neill out of it.
Williams, the favorite for Pac-10 player of the year honors, had his worst weekend of the season in Los Angeles. He scored a season-low eight points on 3-for-11 shooting at USC on Feb. 24, then managed just two second-half points in a 15-point effort at UCLA on Feb. 26.
His tough weekend came after O'Neill suggested Williams is "the most protected dude I've seen since Michael Jordan." O'Neill's biggest complaint was that Williams was leading the nation with 9.2 free-throw attempts per game. "If the guy walks across the court, it's a foul," O'Neill said.
"Just stop fouling me and we will be good," Williams posted on his Twitter account.
Perhaps the damage had been done. Williams shot just two free throws at USC, four at UCLA.
"I think the refs did listen to what he had to say," Williams told the Arizona Daily Star.
--Sophomore PG MoMo Jones, who played well during Arizona's eight-game win streak, shot 5-for-20 from the field and totaled just 13 points in losses at USC and UCLA.
--Junior F Jesse Perry was the club's leading scorer in the Feb. 24 loss at USC, logging 12 points to go with six rebounds.
--Junior SG Kyle Fogg converted just four of 15 shots on the Feb. 24-26 weekend, scoring 15 points.
Sun Devils search for pride in season-ending homestand
No happy ending seems on the horizon for the Sun Devils, who have locked up last place in the Pac-10.
What's left to play for after ugly losses at UCLA and USC?
"Pride," sophomore forward Trent Lockett told the Arizona Republic. "It's embarrassing to just go out there and get blown out by 20 points in the first half.
"Plus, it's our seniors' last homestand coming up. They've had a great career here, and it really sucks for them going out like this."
After beating Washington State at home for their first conference win since Jan. 1, the Sun Devils were swamped 71-53 at UCLA on Feb. 24, then 62-46 at USC on Feb. 26.
"I don't know how much of it is a function of effort," coach Herb Sendek said. "I don't think anybody's not trying.
"This was going to be a difficult road test for us, and for us to win on the road at UCLA and USC right now we would've had to play ... really close to (perfect)."
Unfortunately for the Sun Devils, perfect doesn't exist this season. Not even close.
--Arizona State had 16 turnovers in the Feb. 24 loss at UCLA, giving them 34 in two games. The Sun Devils gave the ball away just eight times at USC on Feb. 26.
--The Sun Devils shot a season-low 30.4 percent in the Feb. 26 loss at USC.
--Sophomore F Trent Lockett shot 5-for-11 against the Trojans on Feb. 26, but the remainder of Arizona State's starting lineup made just two of 18 shots.
BY THE NUMBERS: 4 -- Season-low assist total the Sun Devils managed in their loss to USC on Feb. 26.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "Lack of focus and lack of concentration. There's really no other words for it. It's just making simple basketball plays. We've done a great job taking care of the ball this Pac-10 season, but those guys are big and long and athletic, and they took advantage of us." -- Senior PG Jamelle McMillan, after Arizona State committed 16 turnovers in the Feb. 24 loss to UCLA.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
--vs. Oregon, March 3
KEY MATCHUPS: The Sun Devils rode 19 points from Carrick Felix to a 60-55 win at Oregon on Jan. 1, but Arizona State didn't win another Pac-10 game until Feb. 19. Guard Trent Lockett needs a solid game for the Sun Devils, whose ball-handlers will have to be sharp against Oregon's pressure defense. The Ducks constantly flood the court with fresh players, allowing them to play at a fast pace.
--vs. Oregon State, March 5
KEY MATCHUPS: The Sun Devils have a score to settle against the Beavers, who pounded them 80-58 in Corvallis on Jan. 1. Oregon State's fortunes since then haven't been much better than those of Arizona State, but the Devils must deal with sophomore G Jared Cunningham, who can be a factor at both ends of the floor. This will be the final home game for Arizona State seniors Ty Abbott, Jamelle McMillan and Rihards Kuksiks.
FUTURES MARKET: Freshman G Keala King had been stuck deep on coach Herb Sendek's bench for much of the Pac-10 season. Sendek finally gave King an opportunity, and he delivered. King shared team scoring honors in the loss at USC, scoring 14 points, going 4-for-6 from the field and 6-for-6 from the foul line. That gave him 32 points in his past three games through Feb. 26 after totaling 29 points in 14 previous outings.
--Senior SF Ty Abbott had just one point on 1-for-7 shooting against the defense of USC's Marcus Simmons on Feb. 26. He was 1-for-10 from the field on the L.A. trip.
--Senior F Rihards Kuksiks, the team's No. 3 scorer at 9.6 points per game, had missed four consecutive games through Feb. 26 with a sprained ankle.
--Freshman G Chanse Creekmur led Arizona State with nine points in the Feb. 24 loss to UCLA.
Consecutive comebacks have Bears thinking postseason
Cal's weekend in Oregon featured two games that could not have started much worse or ended much better.
The result was two impressive come-from-behind victories that put the Bears in position to possibly secure the No. 4 seed for the Pac-10 tournament.
"A road sweep is pretty good for us, really puts us in a position that most people probably didn't think we could've gotten this year," coach Mike Montgomery said after Cal came back from 14 points down to beat Oregon State 87-76 on Feb. 26.
"We can't have a losing season, can't have a losing conference season, just about guarantees us some sort of postseason opportunity."
In fact, the Bears have assured themselves of a winning season and seem almost a sure thing to earn a spot in the 32-team NIT. That's if they can't do better still.
Montgomery said he's not sure any team, except perhaps Washington (which beat Cal decisively twice) would welcome playing the Bears in the conference tournament.
"On any given game," he said, "I think guys feel they can beat anybody, and I think that's true. It's proven itself out."
Cal achieved that in Oregon, despite two lackluster starts. The Bears trailed 40-24 at Oregon with four minutes left in the first half and were down 30-16 at Oregon State with 10 1/2 minutes left in the first half.
In both cases, tougher defense led to the points needed to get over the hump.
"We came in at halftime and the coaches said we needed to pick it up," freshman guard Allen Crabbe said after the win at Oregon State. "Our leaders gathered us together and said we need to play more like we're capable.
"We just came out and did what we did at Oregon: played harder and with more intensity. That's what got us the victory."
--Cal's basketball program was hit with two years' probation by the NCAA after its coaching staff was found guilty of making 365 impermissible phone calls to recruits during a seven-month span in 2008, just after coach Mike Montgomery was hired. The penalties do not include scholarship reduction or postseason ban, primarily because the NCAA was satisfied that the infractions were not intentional and that the university caught the violations, self-reported them and assessed its own sanctions before the NCAA ruling. The stiffest penalty Cal received was a reduction of allowable paid on-campus for visiting recruits (a limit of five) in 2011-12 and 2012-13.
--The Bears need four more victories to give coach Mike Montgomery his 13th straight season (including his final 10 at Stanford) with at least 20 wins.
--Cal completed its first conference road sweep of the season to finish the year 4-5 on the road in Pac-10 play. The win at Oregon was the Bears' seventh straight over the Ducks, and the victory over Oregon State snapped a two-year drought in Corvallis.
BY THE NUMBERS: 1 -- Defeats the Bears suffered from Jan. 27-Feb. 26 in games in which freshman G Allen Crabbe was healthy enough to play the entire way. Cal was 7-4 over that span, but Crabbe missed two entire games and much of a third after suffering a concussion at Washington.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "We want to aim for the stars and land on the clouds. We'd love to be in that March Madness. If it's the NIT, as long as we're playing, I think this group of guys will be satisfied with that." -- Senior C Markhuri Sanders-Frison.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
--vs. Stanford, March 5
KEY MATCHUPS: Cal struggled to contain Stanford freshman F Dwight Powell, who scored 20 points in the Cardinal's 82-68 win at Maples Pavilion on Jan. 2. Stanford junior SG Jeremy Green spent most of January in an offensive funk, but he was one of the Pac-10's hottest players in February. Figure Cal's Jorge Gutierrez will get that defensive assignment. This will be senior C Markhuri Sanders-Frison's final regular-season home game for the Bears.
FUTURES MARKET: The Bears landed a recruit who figures to provide immediate help next season when 6-foot-5 combo guard De'End Parker, a sophomore at City College of San Francisco, gave them an oral commitment. Parker plays point guard for CCSF, which entered the Northern California playoffs at 27-1 and with the state's No. 1 ranking. But he could play any of three perimeter positions for the Bears and gives them a physical player with a defensive mind-set and a selfless approach to offense. Parker got his unusual first name because he was the last of 10 children in his family and his mother declared simply, "You're De'End."
--Freshman G Allen Crabbe totaled 45 points in the Bears' wins in Oregon in late February, hitting a combined 10 of 16 from the 3-point arc. He had 28 of those points in the second half to fuel both comebacks.
--Senior G Jorge Gutierrez had 23 points and five assists in the Feb. 24 win over Oregon, then contributed 14 points, nine assists, four rebounds, four steals and two blocks at Oregon State on Feb. 26.
--Sophomore PG Brandon Smith scored a career-high 18 points and hit the go-ahead 3-pointer in the Feb. 24 win over the Ducks. He totaled 14 assists for the two games in the state of Oregon.
Home-court crash leaves Ducks searching for answers
Momentum, that elusive quality that provides a powerful push, has officially fled town for the Ducks.
Oregon had won six of eight games and was the most surprising team in the Pac-10 until returning home to sparkling new Matthew Knight Arena. The Ducks then blew a 16-point lead in an 81-71 loss to Cal on Feb. 24, and they lost 88-71 on Feb. 26 to a Stanford team that had dropped four in a row.
"We've kind of lost our identity," freshman guard Johnathan Loyd said after the Ducks fell to seventh place in the Pac-10 with the loss to Stanford.
Oregon had been dazzling at times in recent weeks, showing off improved depth and an aggressive pressure defense while producing big scoring numbers.
"Maybe our confidence offensively gave us a false perception of where we were," first-year coach Dana Altman said. "We sure didn't do a good job on the boards, and defensively. We weren't the same team that had been flying around."
The Ducks had no answer for Stanford junior Josh Owens, who had four points in a 67-59 win by Oregon at Maples Pavilion a month ago -- the Ducks' first win at Stanford in 25 years. In the rematch, Owens had a career-high 31 points.
Meanwhile, Stanford borrowed a page from Cal, swarming Joevan Catron, Oregon's best interior player and leading scorer. The ploy worked: Catron drew two charging fouls and spent long stretches on the bench.
"We're just a different team when he's in there," Altman said. "We're able to run some things."
The defeat to Cal was no easier for the Ducks to digest.
"Not what I had envisioned, not what I had hoped for obviously," Altman said. "Just a real disappointing performance in the second half."
The explanation was simple, according to Cal star Jorge Gutierrez. "We played harder than them."
No argument from Catron. "Our energy went down," he said, "and it killed us."
--Cal shot 62.5 percent in the second half Feb. 24 against the Ducks, outscoring them 47-26.
--Stanford F Josh Owens had as many two-point field goals (12) as Oregon's entire team did in the Feb. 26 game.
--Junior F Jeremy Jacob had missed five of the past seven games through Feb. 26 because of pain in his left knee. Jacob, who averaged 7.5 points and 4.8 rebounds last season, had played in just 17 games this season.
BY THE NUMBERS: 16 -- The Ducks' first-half lead (40-24) against Cal, the biggest advantage they had squandered in a loss all season.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "That's not how Senior Day's supposed to go." -- Coach Dana Altman, after the Ducks lost by 17 points to Stanford on Feb. 26 in senior F Joevan Catron's final regular-season home game.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
--at Arizona State, March 3
KEY MATCHUPS: The Ducks lost 60-55 at home to the Sun Devils back on Jan. 1, unable to stop Carrick Felix, who broke loose to score 19 points. Oregon will try to wear down Arizona State with its superior depth and pressing defense. The Ducks must keep track of Arizona State senior SG Ty Abbott, who is capable of getting hot in a hurry and will be playing his final career home games.
--at Arizona, March 5
KEY MATCHUPS: Oregon got spanked 76-57 on its home floor by the Wildcats in their first meeting and it hasn't come within single digits in any of five consecutive losses to Arizona. This one could be the toughest of all, because Arizona is likely to be playing with a Pac-10 title on the line. The Ducks must find a way to contain Arizona star sophomore F Derrick Williams, who was getting to the foul line more often than any player in the nation through Feb. 26.
FUTURES MARKET: Junior Malcolm Armstead got the start at point guard in place of Johnathan Loyd against Stanford on Feb. 26 and scored a season-high 22 points. It was Armstead's first start since New Year's Day and Loyd's first time coming off the bench in a Pac-10 game, but it was an accident. Armstead's name was mistakenly put in the scorebook. "I didn't want to take a technical, so we went that way," coach Dana Altman said. Armstead also had six assists and five steals in the game.
--Senior G Jay-R Strowbridge, a one-year Oregon player after transferring from Jacksonville State, scored 16 points in his home finale against Stanford on Feb. 26.
--Senior F Joevan Catron, who entered the last week of February averaging a team-best 15.5 points, had just 14 against Cal and eight vs. Stanford as both teams sagged on him defensively.
--Junior F Tyrone Nared scored 16 points in the loss to Cal on Feb. 24, topping his previous season high of 14.
Robinson won't stress out over Beavers' inconsistency
It hasn't been an easy season for the Beavers or their third-year coach, Craig Robinson.
Oregon State went 18-18 in Robinson's stunning first season, then climbed the Pac-10 standings to a tie for fifth a year ago. More progress was expected this season.
Instead, the Beavers have been an inconsistent and frustrating team, an uncomfortable mix of veterans desperate for one last chance to win and newcomers prepared to lay a foundation for the future.
It hasn't worked.
Robinson has tried his best to stay on an even keel.
"I think actually people are surprised that I don't get more upset given how competitive I've been all my life," he said. "But I don't."
Robinson said he works hard to maintain a perspective about things. His brother-in-law, President Barack Obama, knows real stress. And Robinson experienced some while working in the financial world.
"I traded bonds for a living. That's stressful. You lose money, you get fired," he said. "I played basketball for a living. You lose, you get fired. I grew up on the south side of Chicago. That's stressful, depending on who you talk to.
"You can't have your entire life based on your wins and losses."
And yet, that's the bottom line in college basketball. The Beavers got one of each to close out February -- a come-from-behind win over Stanford, and a loss to Cal in which they squandered a 14-point first-half lead.
The Cal game got rough and a little chippy, and Robinson acknowledged his players allowed that to throw them their game.
"We had a nice rhythm going (offensively), and in the heat of battle, we went away from our game plan," said Robinson, who talked at length about Cal's physical play. "If we had handled our business in the second half like we did in the first half, it would be an entirely different conversation."
--The Beavers shot 68 percent in a 52-point second half against Stanford on Feb. 24.
--Oregon State had 19 assists vs. Stanford just five days after totaling only seven in a loss to Oregon.
--Oregon State had been 0-9 in Pac-10 games in which it fell behind by double figures in the first half before the Feb. 24 win over Stanford.
--The Feb. 26 game against Cal featured 40 personal fouls and five technicals, including four in one sequence in the second half.
BY THE NUMBERS: .615 -- Oregon State's season-best shooting percentage in the Feb. 24 win over Stanford.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I think the Lord has a great sense of humor, because it is quite amazingly ironic." -- Cal assistant and former Oregon State head coach Jay John, who was on the opposing bench Feb. 26 when four Oregon State seniors he recruited played their final home game.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
--at Arizona, March 3
KEY MATCHUPS: The Beavers have had Arizona's number the past two seasons, winning three in a row for the first time since taking 11 straight from 1979 through '84. This will be a different challenge for Oregon State, still seeking its first road victory in conference play. Arizona is 15-0 at home and is armed with sophomore F Derrick Williams, one of the nation's most efficient offensive players.
--at Arizona State, March 5
KEY MATCHUPS: Oregon State had dropped six in a row in the series vs. Arizona State until posting an 80-58 victory in Corvallis on Dec. 30. Senior G Calvin Haynes scored 18 for the Beavers in that one and hopes to deliver again in his regular-season collegiate finale. The Beavers must be wary of Arizona State's Ty Abbott, Rihards Kuksiks and Jamelle McMillan on Senior Day.
FUTURES MARKET: Jared Cunningham scored 21 points in the Feb. 24 win over Stanford and collected four steals to break Gary Payton's sophomore school record of 72, set in 1987-88. With three more steals against Cal, Cunningham had 77 through Feb. 26. Both Payton and Cunningham are Oakland natives, and Cunningham said the two occasionally exchange text messages. "It's really nice they have that kind of relationship," Oregon State coach Craig Robinson said. "(Cunningham) has a knack for knowing what's going to happen before it happens. To see him get that (steals) record is just amazing."
--Freshman PG Ahmad Starks had careers highs in points (18) and assists (6) against Cal on Feb. 26, but he seemed to wear down at the finish and twice turned the ball over late in the game. "He was fatigued, but he wasn't going to tell me to take him out," coach Craig Robinson said. "We needed him on the floor."
--Senior G Calvin Haynes scored 14 points and Oregon State's bench provided 42 in the Feb. 24 win over Stanford. Haynes scored nine points in his Gill Coliseum finale vs. Cal.
--Senior F Omari Johnson had 10 points and eight rebounds against Cal on Feb. 26, his first double-digit scoring game since logging 12 points vs. USC on Jan. 15.
Owens' career day gives Cardinal a huge boost
Josh Owens had been waiting for a game like this.
For a long time, he'd waited.
Stanford's junior forward, who missed all of last season with an undisclosed medical condition, had a day to remember in Eugene, Ore., scoring a career-high 31 points to go with 11 rebounds and four blocks in the Cardinal's 88-71 win over Oregon on Feb. 26.
"All season for me, it's been about trying to find consistency and being able to put a whole game together," Owens said. "I felt like this was the first time this season that happened."
In the first game against the Ducks -- an Oregon victory that snapped a 25-year losing streak at Maples Pavilion -- Owens had just four points. He shot 12-for-15 from the field in this one.
"Josh had an amazing night," coach Johnny Dawkins said. "That's the best game he's played in his career for us.
"He's very proud. We kind of challenged him, and I thought he really responded."
Owens' timing was impeccable. Stanford had dropped four straight games, and the win allowed the Cardinal to avoid its longest victory drought since a six-game skid that ended the 1992-93 season.
"It was important for us to get a win," Dawkins said. "We're all battling down the stretch run in Pac-10 play, and we're trying to get some momentum and just see what we can do going into the (Pac-10) tournament."
--Junior F Josh Owens scored as many field goals (12) as the entire Oregon team in Stanford's Feb. 26 win at Eugene.
--Stanford shot 59.3 percent in the win over Oregon, including 7-for-15 from the 3-point arc. The Cardinal also forged a 35-18 rebounding edge and used a swarming defense to limit Ducks star Joevan Catron to eight points.
--The Cardinal surrendered 16 points off turnovers in the second half alone in its Feb. 24 loss at Oregon State.
BY THE NUMBERS: 50 -- Stanford's 3-point shooting percent (20-for-40) in road games vs. Oregon State and Oregon.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "It feels good to end that streak. When we were losing, everyone was down. To finally get a win, you know, the locker room's happy." -- Junior SG Jeremy Green, after the victory over Oregon that halted a four-game losing streak.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
--at Cal, March 5
KEY MATCHUPS: Stanford played one of its finest games of the season in the first meeting vs. rival Cal. Freshman F Dwight Powell scored 20 points and the Cardinal rolled to an 82-68 win at Maples Pavilion. But Stanford likely will be greeted by tougher sledding in Berkeley, as Cal junior G Jorge Gutierrez was one of the conference's most productive players in the month of February.
FUTURES MARKET: Freshman reserve PG Aaron Bright, a starter for several weeks during the middle of the season, was just 4-for-23 from the 3-point line in eight games before making all five of his long-range attempts in a 15-point effort against Oregon State on Feb. 24. That tied his career high for points. Bright then came back to shoot 3-for-5 from long range while contributing 13 points and five assists off the bench to Stanford's Feb. 26 win at Oregon. Bright improved his 3-point accuracy to 34.9 percent for the season.
--Freshman F Dwight Powell, back in the starting lineup, had 11 points and 11 rebounds at Oregon on Feb. 26 for his second double-double of the season.
--Junior SG Jeremy Green scored 24 points on 9-for-14 shooting at Oregon State on Feb. 24, then had 15 points on 6-for-10 accuracy at Oregon State on Feb. 26.
--Freshman G Anthony Brown had 12 points each in the late-February games in the state of Oregon.
Bruins ride emotion, momentum into stretch run
The Bruins delivered such a stirring performance in their final game at Pauley Pavilion before a one-year hiatus for renovation that even stoic coach Ben Howland was reduced to tears afterward.
The rest of the Pac-10 may soon find itself crying, too.
UCLA responded from an overtime loss at Cal to post a pair of impressive home victories, and its 71-49 dismantling of Arizona on Feb. 26 moved the Bruins into a first-place tie with the Wildcats heading into the final week of the regular season.
"They've become the best defensive team in our conference," Wildcats coach Sean Miller said.
The Arizona game marked a farewell after 46 years to the Pauley Pavilion built by legendary coach John Wooden. The place will be refurbished and modernized before the Bruins return to the building for the 2012-13 season.
Afterward, while talking about how walk-on Tyler Trapani -- Wooden's great-grandson -- scored the final basket at the original Pauley -- Howland cried.
On the eve of the showdown, sophomore forward Tyler Honeycutt called the matchup with Arizona the most important game of the season.
"We don't want to let ourselves down," he said.
The Bruins played like a team determined not to betray a half-century legacy of excellence.
No one was better than sophomore forward Reeves Nelson, who had a career-high 27 points and helped limit Arizona star Derrick Williams to two second-half points.
"I just took it as a challenge," Nelson said. "I have a tattoo on me that says, 'Tell me I can't. I don't hear you.'
"I put it upon myself to guard their best player, and I also happened to have a good offensive game, so I'm glad for that."
--A sellout crowd of 11,986 watched UCLA's final game at Pauley Pavilion before a one-year shutdown for renovations, a 71-49 rout of Arizona on Feb. 26.
--UCLA opened the second half against Arizona with a 22-2 run that transformed a one-point lead into a 51-30 edge.
--The Bruins shot 59.1 percent in the second half Feb. 24 vs. Arizona State and 52 percent for the game after they made only two of their first 16 shots.
--UCLA trailed Arizona State by 12 points early, then went on a 30-8 run that gave the Bruins a 10-point halftime lead and control of the contest.
BY THE NUMBERS: 22 -- The Bruins' season-high assist total -- out of 29 baskets -- in their Feb. 26 win over Arizona.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "It goes back to right after last season ended, the returning players made a big commitment. We all know that UCLA basketball doesn't belong in the middle of the Pac-10 or out of the NCAA Tournament." -- Sophomore Reeves Nelson.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
--at Washington, March 3
KEY MATCHUPS: A tough assignment for UCLA, which enters the final weekend of the regular season tied with Arizona for first place. The Bruins lost 74-63 to the Huskies at home on the opening weekend of the Pac-10 season, unable to control Washington forward Matthew Bryan-Amaning, who had 21 points. The Huskies are even tougher at home, where they are 14-0 this season and have beaten UCLA six straight times in Seattle. UCLA must take the crowd out of the game and handle Washington's physical style.
--at Washington State, March 5
KEY MATCHUPS: UCLA will try to continue a remarkable road streak against the Cougars, whom they have beaten 17 straight times in Pullman. The Bruins had it cookin' against Washington State in Los Angeles on the opening weekend of the conference schedule, getting 21 points each from Malcolm Lee and Reeves Nelson in an 80-71 win. They will have to continue to keep a close eye on Washington State junior SG Klay Thompson, who had 26 points in the first game and led the Pac-10 in scoring through Feb. 26.
FUTURES MARKET: John Wooden's great-grandson Tyler Trapani, who'd never scored in three seasons as a Bruins walk-on, got the final two points at Pauley Pavilion before it closes for a year for renovations. With 25 seconds left, Trapani caught a teammate's airball shot and put it in. "Daddy and Mother had to be watching," said Trapani's grandmother, Nan Muehlhausen, Wooden's daughter. "I'm sure they were saying, 'C'mon, Tyler, c'mon, Tyler.'"
Coach Ben Howland, for perhaps the first time in eight seasons, wept. "I pray a lot. ... To have Trapani make that last shot means so much to me, you have no idea," Howland said. "You couldn't have written it any better."
--Sophomore F Reeves Nelson, in addition to his 27-point, 16-rebound effort vs. Arizona on Feb. 26, had 12 points and 12 rebounds, along with three steals and three blocks in the Feb. 24 win over Arizona State. That gave Nelson 12 double-doubles, second most in the Pac-10 through Feb. 26.
--Sophomore F Tyler Honeycutt provided 13 points and six rebounds to the Feb. 24 win over Arizona State, then 15 points, five rebounds and three of UCLA's 10 blocks against Arizona on Feb. 26.
--Freshman C Joshua Smith continues to make steady progress. He had 12 points and three blocks against Arizona State on Feb. 24, and 17 points, four rebounds and four assists vs. Arizona on Feb. 26. Smith had scored in double digits eight of the past 10 games through the end of February.
Trojans aren't giving up on NCAA dream</Headline
Much happened -- all of it good -- for the Trojans during the last week of February, even after coach Kevin O'Neill stole the spotlight early in the week with remarks that worked themselves into the head of Arizona star Derrick Williams.
USC was less about talk and more about performance the rest of the weekend, stifling Arizona 65-57 on Feb. 24, then beating Arizona State 62-46 on Feb. 26 to pull into fourth place in the Pac-10.
USC has won four in a row and five of six entering its March 3 game at Washington State.
"They're certainly good enough to be an NCAA team," Arizona State coach Herb Sendek said. "The Pac-10 doesn't get enough credit, and (the Trojans) aren't getting enough credit."
The week began with O'Neill planting the seed for game officials to send Arizona's Williams to the free throw line a bit less frequently. Williams was averaging 9.2 free throw attempts per game, and O'Neill called him "the most protected dude I've seen since Michael Jordan."
The verbal ploy seemed to work in a couple ways. Williams was prompted to respond on his Twitter account, which could only have served as a distraction. Then he attempted only two free throws (made them both) while scoring a season-low eight points in the loss to the Trojans.
"Wow," O'Neill said, grinning after at his news conference. "Amazing how that happens."
Williams was gracious afterward.
"This is the same team that beat Texas at home by 20, that went to Kansas and lost by one or two," he said of USC, "so their record may not show it, but they're a great team."
--Junior F Nikola Vucevic, who had 45 points and 22 rebounds in the sweep of Arizona and Arizona State, was serenaded by chants of "one more year" by USC fans late in the Arizona State game on Feb. 26. The 6-foot-10 native of Montenegro, whose father Borislav watched his son play in person for the first time since Vucevic was 16, said he won't make a decision about entering the NBA Draft until after the season.
--The Trojans trailed 5-0 early, then knocked Arizona Steve out with a 38-13 run to close the first half.
--The Trojans were so dominant inside against Arizona on Feb. 24 that it didn't matter they shot 1-for-10 from the 3-point line.
--USC gave away 2,000 bobbleheads of coach Kevin O'Neill to students who attended the Arizona game.
BY THE NUMBERS: 12-0 -- USC's record this season, through Feb. 26, when holding its opponent to fewer than 60 points.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "We're not thinking about the NIT. We're thinking about the NCAA Tournament. As a team, we're hitting our peak right now." -- Senior G Donte Smith.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
--at Washington State, March 3
KEY MATCHUPS: The Trojans beat Washington State 60-56 in Los Angeles, and they hope to complete a season sweep. The teams alternated sweeping the other the previous three seasons. Senior Marcus Simmons likely draws the defensive assignment on Washington State junior Klay Thompson, the league's leading scorer. USC's 1-2 inside punch of Nikola Vucevic and Alex Stepheson should have an advantage over a small Washington State frontcourt.
--at Washington, March 5
KEY MATCHUPS: The Trojans lost 73-67 in overtime when they faced Washington in Los Angeles, but they have won two of the past three seasons in Seattle. The Huskies were unbeaten at home this season through Feb. 26, and USC must get off to a good start to make sure the Seattle crowd doesn't take over. The Trojans also need to stay in front of Washington PG Isaiah Thomas, whose quickness can energize the Huskies.
FUTURES MARKET: USC coach Kevin O'Neill praised senior G Marcus Simmons, who held Arizona PG Lamont Jones nine points on 3-for-12 shooting and Arizona State SG Ty Abbott to one point on 0-for-7 shooting. "He's the defensive player of the year, not just in this league, but in this country," O'Neill said of Simmons.
--Junior F Nikola Vucevic had 20 points and 10 rebounds against Arizona State on Feb. 26, his Pac-10-leading 18th double-double of the season. He also made three of three shots from 3-point range. That followed a 25-point, 12-rebound performance vs. Arizona on Feb. 24.
--Senior F Alex Stepheson also had two more double-doubles with 12 points and 10 rebounds against Arizona, then 15 points and 10 rebounds against Arizona State. That gave him 10 double-doubles for the season through Feb. 26.
--Junior G Jio Fontan equaled his season high with 21 points, including 8-for-10 shooting from the free-throw line, in the Feb. 24 win over Arizona
Title hopes die as rival Cougars celebrate -- again
The Huskies had motive and opportunity, but they whiffed at a chance to stay in the race for a Pac-10 title nearly everyone had assumed was theirs when the conference season began.
How could Washington not win the title after opening the Pac-10 schedule with four straight wins, including a road sweep of UCLA and USC?
But in the wake of a stunning 80-69 home defeat to rival Washington State on Feb. 27 -- the Huskies' first loss this season at Hec Edmundson Pavilion -- Washington was out of the championship race.
Entering the final week of the regular season, the Huskies trailed co-leaders Arizona and UCLA by two games. And while the Bruins visit Washington and Washington State, the Wildcats will enjoy games against the Oregon schools at McKale Center in Tucson, Ariz., where they were 15-0 this season through the end of February.
The Huskies were plenty fired up for the Cougars, especially after Washington State's fans stormed the floor following an 87-80 win in Pullman on Jan. 30. The Cougars faithful carried Faisal Aden on its shoulders and chanted "Over-rated" about the Huskies.
"I just watched how they did that," Washington junior guard Isaiah Thomas said in the days before the rematch. "They felt it was the right thing to do, I guess. I remember it, so it's something that is on my shoulder. Hopefully we get it correct this time."
A Pullman sandwich shop added the final insult in the form of a note placed inside each of the Huskies' postgame boxed lunches. "May memories of the fun you share bring you gentle comfort. So sorry for your loss," the note read.
But the Huskies couldn't get it going at home against their rivals, couldn't find the basket. They shot 22.2 percent in the first half, including 1-for-13 from the 3-point arc, and turned the ball over 10 times.
Washington State extended a 24-17 halftime margin to 21 points midway through the second half, then withstood a furious Huskies comeback in the final six minutes.
--Prior to losing 80-69 to Washington State on Feb. 27, the Huskies' season low for a home game this season was 80 points. Washington had topped 100 points five times in its previous 13 home games.
--Junior G Scott Suggs sat out the Washington State game with a strained left MCL.
--With nine blocked shots on Feb. 22 against Seattle University, the Huskies broke the season school record with 153 blocks. They added four more in the Feb. 27 loss to Washington State.
BY THE NUMBERS: 55 -- The uniform number worn by senior F Matthew Bryan-Amaning when Washington played Seattle. Bryan-Amaning, who usually wears No. 11, donned the nameless substitute jersey when he forgot his uniform.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I'm not friends with him right now. I'm trying not to say anything. Not even look at him." -- Washington junior PG Isaiah Thomas, on how he planned to deal with his friend and Washington State rival Reggie Moore when the teams squared off. Thomas had 21 points in the Huskies' loss, while Moore scored 10 points for the Cougars.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
--vs. UCLA, March 3
KEY MATCHUPS: The Huskies looked as though they'd taken immediate control of the Pac-10 race when they beat UCLA 74-63 in Los Angeles to complete a road sweep on the first weekend of the Pac-10 schedule. They arrive at this game in third place, and realistically out of contention, two games back of co-leaders UCLA and Arizona. Washington has beaten the Bruins six straight times in Seattle. The Huskies must control the sophomore forward tandem of Reeves Nelson and Tyler Honeycutt and prevent 6-foot-10, 305-pound freshman Joshua Smith from getting their front line into foul trouble.
--vs. USC, March 5
KEY MATCHUPS: The Huskies beat USC 73-67 in overtime at Los Angeles on opening night, but the Trojans have won two of the past three matchups in SeattleThe Huskies must contain 6-foot-10 forward Nikola Vucevic, possibly the Pac-10's most underrated player.
FUTURES MARKET: Sophomore C Aziz N'Diaye had a breakthrough performance in Washington's 95-74 out-of-conference win over Seattle on Feb. 22. He scored a career-high 15 points, and he added 10 rebounds for his third career double-double. N'Diaye also blocked three shots. He had six points and nine rebounds vs. Washington State on Feb. 27.
--Senior F Matthew Bryan-Amaning shot 9-for-11 and scored 24 points to go with 13 rebounds in Washington's Feb. 22 win over Seattle.
--Junior PG Isaiah Thomas scored 20 points against Seattle on Feb. 22, then had 21 points and five assists vs. Washington State on Feb. 27. He had scored 20-plus points nine times this season through the end of February.
--Freshman G Terrence Ross scored 13 points against Seattle on Feb. 22, then shot 0-for-5 and was scoreless against Washington State on Feb. 27.
Sweep of rival Huskies keeps alive hope of tourney bye
The Cougars had eight days to digest losing to last-place Arizona State.
Given the chance to play again, they got it right.
Boy, did they ever.
Washington State completed a season sweep of rival Washington by running the Huskies out of their own gym with an 80-69 victory at Hec Edmundson Pavilion on Feb. 27. Washington had averaged 97.1 points in 13 previous home victories.
The victory kept afloat Washington State's hopes of finishing in the top six in the final Pac-10 standings, which would allow the Cougars to avoid playing in the opening game at the conference tournament. The top six move directly into the tournament quarterfinals.
Washington squawked all week about how Washington State fans celebrated after the Cougars' 87-80 win in Pullman on Jan. 30. The Huskies all but promised that the rematch would be different.
Washington State coach Ken Bone wasn't convinced.
"I think they're motivated differently than the fans rushing the court," he said three days before the game. "I can't believe that's going to be a big motivational factor, but maybe it is. I think there's more at stake than that."
The Cougars entered the game as the conference leader in field-goal percentage defense, and they snuffed out the Huskies' explosive offense. Washington missed 12 of its first 14 shots, converted 22.2 percent for the opening half and wound up at 33.8 percent.
--The Cougars' celebrated their 100th all-time victory over the Huskies, who still led the series 171-100 after the Feb. 27 meeting.
--Washington State and Washington have swept one another for eight straight seasons. The Cougars won every meeting in 2006, '07 and '08, while Washington swept in 2004, '05, '09 and '10.
--The Cougars entered the Feb. 27 game shooting just 69 percent from the free-throw line, then converted 32 of 36 against the Huskies.
BY THE NUMBERS: 17 -- First-half points Washington State allowed to Washington on Feb. 27, 11 fewer than the Huskies had scored in any first half this season.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I think you'd get the same answer from every coach. If you're playing that first night, you have to win to get into the quarterfinals. You have a better chance to win three in a row than four in a row to win the tournament. So it's very important." -- Washington State coach Ken Bone, on the significance of a top-six finish in the final standings and the accompanying bye into the Pac-10 tournament quarterfinals.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
--vs. USC, March 3
KEY MATCHUPS: These teams have played tight games the past three seasons, including on Dec. 31, when USC claimed a 60-56 win in Los Angeles. The Cougars must contain the Trojans' frontcourt duo of Nikola Vucevic and Alex Stepheson. Washington State's Klay Thompson is likely to be matched against the defense of USC stopper Marcus Simmons, a long and active senior who thrives on the defensive end.
--vs. UCLA, March 5
KEY MATCHUPS: The Cougars will be anxious to take their best shot at UCLA, which beat them 80-71 in Los Angeles on the opening weekend of the Pac-10, but also owns 17 straight victories in Pullman. Washington State, in fact, has beaten the Bruins just twice in their past 37 meetings. UCLA has plenty of weapons, but Washington State may want to start by trying to defend Malcolm Lee and Reeves Nelson, who each had 21 points in the first meeting.
FUTURES MARKET: Coach Ken Bone said holding star junior Klay Thompson out of the opening minutes of Washington State's 71-69 loss at Arizona State on Feb. 19 was about trying to set a tone for his program. Thompson was late for the team bus because he was looking for his misplaced iPod.
"What we're trying to do is lay down some discipline within the program," Bone said. "One of those areas is when there's time involved, be on time. It's a life lesson. We're not going to try to throw away games because of it. He understands the rules."
So, where was Thompson's iPod? In teammate Brock Motum's bag.
--Junior SG Klay Thompson scored 26 points in the Feb. 27 win over Washington, going 13-for-14 from the free-throw line. He got 18 points in the second half, the 38th time in his career he had reached double digits after intermission.
--Junior PF DeAngelo Casto had 20 points and 13 rebounds vs. the Huskies on Feb. 27 for his fifth double-double of the season. Casto was 8-for-8 from the foul line.
--Sophomore PG Reggie Moore contributed 10 points, five rebounds and four assists to the Cougars' victory over Washington on Feb. 27.
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