The assumption for most of the past two months was that Arizona would win the Pac-12 title with ease. The Wildcats looked extremely strong -- and the rest of the league didn't. But as conference play opens this week, the thinking has changed. Arizona barely escaped Colorado in Tucson on Thursday evening while UCLA followed up its victory over then-No. 7 Missouri by thumping Cal. Maybe, just maybe, this will be an interesting race after all.
Arizona: No team in the country has been better in pressure-packed situations than the Wildcats, whose victories against Florida, San Diego State and Colorado all have come in the waning seconds. Point guard Mark Lyons has been particularly impressive during crunch time. He had 24 points against Colorado on Thursday.
UCLA: Kyle Anderson had 19 points and 12 boards in Thursday’s 79-65 victory against Cal, which marked the sixth straight win for the Bruins. UCLA’ s next two games (at home against Stanford and on the road against Utah) both look like victories. The Wear twins are playing as well as they have in their careers.
Colorado: Buffaloes coach Tad Boyle might have a legitimate beef about the officials’ decision to call off a 3-pointer by Sabatino Chen that would’ve given Colorado a victory against Arizona at the buzzer Thursday. Either way, CU has only itself to blame. The Buffaloes led by 16 points with 12:40 to go, but couldn't hold on.
Oregon: The Ducks get a lot of praise for an offense that ranks 36th in the country with 77.4 points per game. But Dana Altman’s squad has been very good defensively, too. Four of Oregon’s past five opponents have scored 50 or less. Damyean Dotson averages a team-high 11.1 points.
California: Thursday’s 14-point setback to UCLA marked the Golden Bears’ fifth loss in seven games. Allen Crabbe had 21 points in a losing effort and is now averaging 23.7 points in his past three contests. Cal will try to turn things around in Saturday’s road game at USC.
Oregon State: In what has become a trend, the Beavers dropped a nonconference game they simply had no business losing. Saturday’s 67-66 overtime loss to Towson left a permanent stain on Oregon State’s 2012-13 resume. Towson went just 1-31 a year ago.
Washington: The Huskies' best two wins during an 8-5 nonconference campaign were against Seton Hall and St. Louis, so it’s obvious Lorenzo Romar’s squad has a lot of work to do to avoid missing out on the NCAA tournament for the second straight season. The Huskies open Pac-12 play on the road Saturday against rival Washington State.
Washington State: The Cougars have won seven of their past eight, with the only loss coming in a two-point setback against Gonzaga at the buzzer. Forward Brock Motum has been steady as expected, averaging 19.7 points and 7 rebounds. But the X factor for the Washington State is guard DaVonte Lacy. He can take the team to another level.
Arizona State: Sun Devils fans can react to Wednesday’s 55-54 overtime win against Utah in one of two ways. They can be happy their team opened Pac-12 play with a victory -- or they can be concerned that ASU needed overtime at home to beat a team perceived as one of the conference’s worst. An angry Colorado visits Tempe on Sunday.
USC: The Trojans have won their past two games by two points. Thursday’s 71-69 victory against Stanford, which followed a win over Dayton, came after point guard Jio Fontan made a pair of foul shots with 6.9 ticks remaining. With six victories, the Trojans already have equaled last season’s win total.
Stanford: The Cardinal are in a world of hurt. They lost their Pac-12 opener at USC on Thursday and must now face one of the country’s hottest teams Saturday in Westwood. With no quality nonconference victories, no one should be surprised if Stanford ended up in the NIT once again.
Utah: The Utes have lost three of their past five games by an average of three points. Things won’t get any easier during the next week, when Utah takes on Pac-12 favorites Arizona and UCLA. Loyola Marymount transfer Jarred DuBois leads Utah in scoring with 13.3 points per game.