Pac-12 race getting tighter as season winds into final month
A look at things to watch this week in the Pac-12 Conference:
GAME OF THE WEEK: Southern California at No. 13 Arizona, Saturday. The Wildcats (21-4, 9-2 Pac-12) had a chance to take firm control of the Pac-12 race last week if it could sweep the Washington schools. Arizona only won one of the games, thanks to a buzzer-beating 3-pointer by Washington’s Dominic Green. The Huskies’ 78-75 victory on Saturday tightened up the conference standings. The team right behind Arizona: The Trojans. USC (17-7, 8-3) lost to rival UCLA in its only game last week, but is just a game behind the Wildcats. Arizona must face UCLA and the Trojans are at Arizona State on Thursday, so Saturday’s game at McKale Center could be with first place on the line.
LOOKING AHEAD: Washington (17-6, 7-3) is making a strong case for a return to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2011 and has Mike Hopkins in the running for Pac-12 coach of the year in his first season. The Huskies swept the two Arizona schools last week to beat ranked teams in consecutive games for the first time since 2007 and have won four straight to pull into third in the conference. Washington, which has the third-best turnaround nationally from last season, plays at Oregon on Thursday, at Oregon State on Saturday.
INSIDE THE NUMBERS: Arizona’s Deandre Ayton has 15 double-doubles this season, second-most nationally among freshmen. … Oregon’s Elijah Brown has made 39 straight free throws, the seventh-longest streak in Pac-12 history. Oregon’s Luke Ridenour holds the record with 62 in a row. … Cal’s Kingsley Okoroh has 186 career blocked shot, five shot of making the conference’s top 10.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Noah Dickerson, Washington. The Huskies’ junior forward was named the Pac-12 players of the week after averaging 23 points on 55 percent shooting and 11.5 rebounds in the wins against Arizona and Arizona State. Dickerson is Washington’s leading scorer (15 points per game) and rebound (8.1).
ON THE WOMEN’S SIDE: The race for the regular-season title is heating up. No. 8 UCLA (18-4), No. 9 Oregon (21-4) and No. 17 Stanford (16-8) are all tied atop the league standings at 10-2. No. 16 Oregon State and No. 25 Arizona State are tied for fourth at 8-4. UCLA hosts the Arizona schools this week, Oregon plays at the Washington, and Stanford hosts Utah and Colorado.
Compiled by AP Basketball Writer John Marshall in Phoenix.