LEFT COAST LAYUPS (12/27/2012): ARIZONA WILDCATS CLAIM WEST’S TOP BILLING
By Raphielle Johnson
Headed into the holiday weekend it could be argued that the question of which team is the best team in the western United States was still up for debate. No. 3 Arizona entered as the highest ranked team in the national polls, but another year of Pac-12 teams incurring losses that did nothing to help the league’s profile may have led to some skepticism from outside circles. Add in the fact that No. 13 Gonzaga got off to a good start and the Mountain West has at least five teams that have proven their worth in the first six weeks of the season and there was definitely room for debate.
But the Wildcats may have offered the first definitive answer in this debate, although it took a game-saving blocked shot by Nick Johnson to hold off No. 17 San Diego State in the title game of the Diamond Head Classic. Arizona is now 12-0 on the season, their best start since the 1987-88 team went 35-3, and just one of two teams in the western United States that is undefeated. The other is 12-0 Wyoming, but with their resume lacking wins equal to Arizona’s victories over then-No. 5 Florida and the Aztecs it’s tough to put Larry Shyatt’s team in the same category.
So why would Arizona merit the label of the region’s best team despite the fact that their two best wins haven’t exactly been dominant? Their ceiling.
Those three talented young big men at Sean Miller’s disposal, while there were flashes of the immense talent that Brandon Ashley, Grant Jerrett and Kaleb Tarczewski all possess, all have a great amount of growth to realize. Ashley posted a double-double (16 points, ten rebounds) in a blowout victory over East Tennessee State while Tarczewski finished with eight points and 13 rebounds in a 69-50 semifinal win over Miami, and Jerrett was for the most part quiet in Hawai’i. As the season wears on these three will be challenged by the likes of Colorado (Andre Roberson, Josh Scott), Oregon (Arsalan Kazemi, Tony Woods) and Oregon State (Eric Moreland, Joe Burton), which should help them come March.
But the perimeter play is where Arizona separates itself from the rest of the Pac-12. Mark Lyons has been criticized by some as not being a “true” point guard but the fact of the matter is that the senior playmaker is just what this group needed at the one. Johnson has been their best player to this point in the season, and with the skill/poise of himself, Solomon Hill and even Kevin Parrom off the bench Arizona has the players needed to combat Lyons’ occasional head-scratching decisions.
Arizona’s 15.1 turnovers per game rank 11th in the Pac-12 and that’s clearly an area they need to improve upon as conference play approaches. The answers that the Wildcats may have should they figure out the turnover issues and get the freshmen bigs playing at a higher level make Arizona the team to beat out west right now. But as the season approaches March there will be others that have something to say, with Gonzaga and the top of the Mountain West having the ability to make a charge at the top spot.
Player of the Week: Oregon State forward Eric Moreland
Moreland posted double-doubles in both of the Beavers’ wins last week, going for 14 points and ten rebounds in a 69-53 win over Howard and following that up with 20 and 11 in Oregon State’s 86-79 win over San Diego.
How much has UCLA improved? Ben Howland’s Bruins have won four straight since dropping a 78-69 decision to San Diego State on December 1, but truth be told a lot more will be learned about the Bruins on Friday night when they host No. 7 Missouri. The Tigers have one of the best point guards in the country (if not the best) in Phil Pressey, and Frank Haith’s team is coming off of a tough win over Illinois in the Busch Braggin’ Rights game. But the biggest question for UCLA is whether or not their front court can control Missouri’s Laurence Bowers and Alex Oriakhi, who are physical enough to make life difficult for Kyle Anderson, the Wear twins and Tony Parker. The perimeter battles will not disappoint, as UCLA can call on Shabazz Muhammad and Jordan Adams, but if the Bruins don’t keep Missouri off the boards it will be a long night at Pauley Pavilion.
Schedule (Friday – Monday)
9:30 PM College of Idaho at Utah (P12N)
10 PM No. 7 Missouri at UCLA (ESPN2)
2 PM Coppin State at Arizona State (P12N)
2 PM Hartford at Colorado (P12N)
4 PM Towson at Oregon State (P12N)
6 PM Washington State vs. Idaho State (P12N)
7:30 PM Washington at Connecticut (ESPN2)
8 PM Harvard at California (P12N)
10:30 PM Lafayette at Stanford (P12N)
7 PM Dayton at USC (P12N)
5 PM Texas-Pan American at Oregon State (P12N)
7 PM Nevada at Oregon (P12N)
Players of the Week: Weber State guard Jordan Richardson and Montana forward Mathias Ward
The two favorites to win the Big Sky opened league play with two road wins last week, and as a result a member of each team received Player of the Week honors. Richardson averaged 14.5 points and 4.0 assists per game for the Wildcats in wins over Eastern Washington and Portland State, shooting 7-of-10 from beyond the arc. Ward earned his second POTW award with averages of 14.0 points and 5.5 rebounds per game in Montana’s wins over Northern Arizona and Sacramento State.
Big road game for Northern Colorado: B.J. Hill’s Bears didn’t get off to the smoothest of starts, as they dropped five of their first six games. But with the beginning of conference play comes a rebirth of sorts, as a team’s performance in this portion of the schedule will determine their chances of winning an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament. Northern Colorado plays its first four Big Sky games on the road and given their 75-66 win at North Dakota and a trip to Weber State next Thursday, Saturday’s tilt at Southern Utah is a big deal.
Both teams enter the game 1-0 in Big Sky play, and the trio of Tevin Svihovec (12.1 ppg, 2.8 apg), Derrick Barden (10.8 ppg, 7.1 rpg) and Tate Unruh (10.1 ppg, 4.4 rpg) will need to be at their best if the Bears are to improve upon their 1-5 record in road games. Southern Utah has struggled defensively, as opponents are shooting 44.9% from the field and 40.4% from beyond the arc. If UNC can take advantage of this, they stand a good chance of getting to 2-0.
Schedule (Thursday – Saturday)
9 PM Northern Arizona at BYU (BYUtv)
8 PM Bowling Green at North Dakota (Big Sky TV)
6 PM Idaho State vs. Washington State (P12N)
9 PM Northwest Indian at Montana State (Big Sky TV)
9:05 PM Southwest at Weber State (Big Sky TV)
9:35 PM Northern Colorado at Southern Utah (Big Sky TV)
Player of the Week: Cal State Northridge guard/forward Stephan Hicks
The redshirt sophomore led the Matadors to a 76-71 win at Utah on Friday night, scoring 19 points and grabbing nine rebounds in the win. That came on the heels of a 14-point, 11-rebound showing in Northridge’s 93-63 win over San Diego Christian last Tuesday. On the season Hicks is averaging 17.8 points and 8.5 rebounds per game, and he ranks third in the Big West in both statistical categories.
Hawai’i goes 1-2 at the Diamond Head Classic: Gib Arnold’s Warriors essentially did what was expected of them this past weekend, soundly defeating East Tennessee State in between losses to Miami and Ole Miss. But that last result will sting a bit, as Hawai’i had a shot at beating the Rebels before falling apart down the stretch. A game that was tied at 63 with just under four minutes remaining finished 81-66, with Hawai’i accumulating more turnovers (three) than made field goals (zero) during the final 3:55.
Ole Miss would score 12 points off of turnovers in the second half while Hawai’i failed to register a single point.There’s also the fact that Ole Miss shot 60% from the field in the second half, which included a 15-of-22 performance from inside the arc (28 points in the paint). Vander Joaquim (29 points, 15 rebounds) played very well in defeat, but with Isaac Fotu battling early foul trouble the Warriors could not afford to have starters Christian Standhardinger, Manroop Clair and Brandon Jawato combine to shoot 6-of-24 given what Ole Miss was able to produce inside and off of turnovers. Look for Hawai’i to address these issues in the days leading up to their Big West opener on Saturday night.
4 PM Cal Poly at UC Riverside
7 PM Pacific at Long Beach State
10 PM UC Davis at UC Irvine
10 PM UCSB at Cal State Fullerton (ESPNU)
12:30 AM Cal State Northridge at Hawai’i
Player of the Week: Colorado State forward Pierce Hornung
Hornung won MVP honors at the Continental Tire Las Vegas Classic over the weekend, as he averaged 16.3 points and 9.0 rebounds per contest in four victories. Hornung, who receives the honor for the first time in his career, posted double-doubles in wins over Portland (24 points, 11 rebounds) and Virginia Tech (18 points, ten rebounds) and shot 71.4% from the field for the week.
Challenging weekend awaits New Mexico: On the heels of their loss to a road weary South Dakota State team, Steve Alford’s Lobos hit the road for a pair of key non-conference match ups. First on the docket is a trip to No. 8 Cincinnati, and with guards Cashmere Wright, Sean Kilpatrick and JaQuon Parker the Bearcats have the tools needed to give Kendall Williams, Hugh Greenwood and Tony Snell fits on the perimeter. Alex Kirk could wind up being a key figure in the paint, because even though Cincinnati has some athletes inside (Justin Jackson immediately comes to mind) they aren’t necessarily world beaters in the post.
Following Thursday’s contest is a game Monday at Saint Louis, and while the Billikens are still without guard Kwamain Mitchell they’re still a serious contender in the Atlantic 10. UNM won last year’s meeting, also played on New Year’s Eve, 64-60 but that was with Drew Gordon (18 points, nine rebounds). Jamal Fenton added ten key points off the bench, but players like Snell and Williams (combined for 17 points on 6-of-13 shooting) can’t afford to be as quiet in the rematch.
Schedule (Thursday – Monday)
9 PM New Mexico at No. 8 Cincinnati (ESPN2)
10 PM Yale at Nevada
2 PM No. 20 UNLV at North Carolina (ESPN2)
4:30 PM Adams State at Colorado State
4:30 PM Air Force vs. No. 14 Florida (FSN)
4 PM Corban College at Boise State
4 PM Sonoma State at Fresno State
7 PM Nevada at Oregon (P12N)
7:30 PM New Mexico at Saint Louis (CBSSN)
Player of the Week: Santa Clara forward Marc Trasolini
Trasolini was highly productive for the Broncos last week, as he averaged 23.7 points and 7.7 rebounds per game in Santa Clara’s three victories. The redshirt senior knocked down 68.4% of his shots from the field in the three games, which includes a 4-of-6 week from beyond the arc.
No. 13 Gonzaga takes on the Big 12: Mark Few has never been one to duck a challenge when it comes to non-conference scheduling, and that remains the case as the Bulldogs will face two of the better teams in the Big 12 this weekend. Friday night the Baylor Bears visit Spokane, and it will be interesting to see whether or not Baylor’s guards can tightly guard Kevin Pangos and Gonzaga’s solid shooters. The Bulldogs haven’t shown the greatest ability to beat people off the dribble to create offensive advantages, and if that remains the case against Baylor (opponents shoot 41.9% against Baylor) things could get tight at The Kennel.
On Monday evening Gonzaga visits No. 22 Oklahoma State, which to this point in the season has looked like Kansas’ biggest threat in the Big 12. Marcus Smart has been very good at the point for the Cowboys, Phil Forte is a high-level shooter and Le’Bryan Nash can pose matchup problems for any opponent he faces. Win both and Gonzaga would have a good case for landing in Salt Lake City for the first weekend of the NCAA tournament.
Schedule (Thursday – Monday)
9 PM Northern Arizona at BYU (BYUtv)
10 PM Morgan State at Loyola Marymount
10 PM Rhode Island at Saint Mary’s
8 PM Baylor at No. 13 Gonzaga (ESPN2)
10:30 PM Fresno Pacific at Pepperdine
12 PM Santa Clara at No. 1 Duke (ESPN2)
2 PM Virginia Tech at BYU (ESPNU)
10 PM Cal State Bakersfield at Loyola Marymount
10 PM Dominican (CA) at San Francisco
10:30 PM Morgan State at San Diego
10:30 PM Texas Pan-American at Portland
5:30 PM Yale at Saint Mary’s (ESPN2)
6 PM No. 13 Gonzaga at No. 22 Oklahoma State
8 PM Harvard at Saint Mary’s (ESPN2)
Player of the Week: Utah State forward Kyisean Reed
Reed led Utah State to a 3-0 week at the World Vision Challenge, averaging 16.7 points, 7.7 rebounds and 2.0 blocks per contest. In the Aggies’ 79-72 win over Nicholls State, Reed tallied 20 points, 12 rebounds and a career-high four blocked shots.
Preseason favorites open league play on the road: Just two days of activity on the WAC schedule this week but they’re important ones, as the conference embarks on the journey that is league play. And things won’t be easy for Denver, New Mexico State or Denver as all three are on the road to take on the members located in either Texas or Louisiana. The toughest opener: that “honor” goes to the Pioneers, who visit a Louisiana Tech team on Saturday that’s been among the stingiest in the WAC as opponents are scoring just 64.5 points per game.
But that distinction does come with a caveat, as Louisiana Tech is eighth in the conference in field goal percentage defense (40.8%). Guards Raheem Appleby and Cordarius Johnson have been one of the best tandems in the WAC, which will pose a challenge for Denver forwards Royce O’Neale and Chris Udofia. New Mexico State takes its shot at Louisiana Tech in Ruston on Monday night, while Utah State visits UTSA and Texas State. That schedule may give Stew Morrill’s team the early edge given Texas State being predicted to finish in the lower region of the WAC standings, but it will all even out. Such is the advantage of having a full round-robin.
Schedule (Saturday – Monday)
5 PM San Jose State at Texas State
7 PM Utah State at UTSA
8 PM New Mexico State at UT-Arlington
8 PM Denver at Louisiana Tech (ESPN3)
10 PM Idaho at Seattle (ROOT)
3 PM Denver at UT-Arlington
3 PM San Jose State at UTSA
5 PM Utah State at Texas State
8 PM New Mexico State at Louisiana Tech
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