Bryce Alford

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PREGAME SHOOTAROUND: Key contests in Atlantic 10, Pac-12

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GAME OF THE NIGHT: UCLA at No. 17 Arizona, 9:00 p.m.
The Bruins and Wildcats have already met once this season, with a Bryce Alford three-pointer giving UCLA an 87-84 win. But UCLA has continued to struggle with consistency since then, and the chance at payback should serve as a motivating factor for Arizona. Sean Miller’s team welcomed back Allonzo Trier in Saturday’s win at Washington, and in forward Ryan Anderson they have one of the conference’s best players. The “rivalry” aspect of this game should make it a good one, as UCLA tends to show up for big-name opponents, but it could also be another major blow to the Bruins’ fleeting hopes of getting back to the NCAA tournament.

THIS ONE’S GOOD, TOO: No. 19 Dayton at Rhode Island, 7:00 p.m.
The Rams have struggled with injuries all season, most recently dealing with Jarvis Garrett’s broken jaw and Kuran Iverson’s concussion. Garrett’s back on the floor, playing with a face mask that appears to be inspired by Hannibal Lecter, and it’s that team toughness that makes URI a serious threat to first-place Dayton at the Ryan Center (Iverson’s been medically cleared but remains a game-time decision). Charles Cooke has been outstanding for the Flyers this season, and Dayton’s depth makes them a tough matchup for any team much less one as banged up as URI.

FIVE THINGS TO WATCH FOR

1. As a result of No. 11 Oregon’s loss at Cal last night, No. 23 USC finds itself tied in the loss column atop the Pac-12 standings heading into their game at Arizona State (8:00 p.m.). Outside of keeping opponents off the offensive glass the Sun Devils have had issues defensively in conference play, and with the Trojans’ many scoring options led by guards Jordan McLaughlin and Julian Jacobs this will be a tough matchup for the home team.

2. Monmouth looks to maintain its lead atop the MAAC standings, as they visit Rider (9:00 p.m.). The Broncs haven’t been the conference contender many envisioned them being when the season began but they’re still dangerous, with players such as guard Teddy Okereafor capable of giving opponents fits. Justin Robinson, who’s been excellent at the point all season long, leads the way for a Monmouth team that still has hopes of earning an at-large bid should they need it.

3. Having lost to Yale last weekend, Columbia’s in a position where they need to hold serve ahead of the rematch in New York City March 5. That makes games like tonight’s against Penn (7:00 p.m.) that much more important for Kyle Smith’s Lions, who have done a good job of turning opponents over in league play (22.8 TO%). Penn’s had issues taking care of the basketball, and that combined with Columbia’s tandem of Maodo Lo and Alex Rosenberg could prove to be the difference at Levien Gym.

4. Two teams looking to make a push in the MAC East race meet in Buffalo, as the Bulls host Ohio (7:00 p.m.). Nate Oats’ team had its four-game win streak snapped by Toledo, with the Rockets beating Buffalo by two Wednesday night. They’ll look to rebound with a defense that has been the best in the MAC in conference play (tops in defensive efficiency and effective field goal percentage), but they have to take care of the basketball in order to do so.

5. Grand Canyon, which can’t play in the NCAA tournament as they’re still in the Division I transition process, looks to remain a game behind New Mexico State in the WAC standings. Dan Majerle’s Antelopes visit Seattle (10:00 p.m.), which handed GCU its first conference loss 13 days ago. GCU shot just 6-for-23 from three in that game, which they led by ten late in the first half. If Seattle is to win they’ll need to slow down the tandem of sophomore Joshua Braun and senior Grandy Glaze, who combine to average 31.5 points and 13.6 rebounds per game.

WEEKLY AWARDS: USC’s race towards relevancy, while Brice Johnson leads UNC again

(AP Photo/Mark Wallheiser)
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PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Brice Johnson, North Carolina

Twice this week Johnson was the best player on the floor as the Tar Heels went on the road to knock off a pair of potential NCAA tournament teams in Florida State and Syracuse. Against the Seminoles, he put together one of the most dominant performances that we’ve seen in college basketball in a long time: 39 points, 23 boards, three steals and three blocks while shooting 14-for-16 from the floor in a 106-90 win. He controlled the paint defensively, he dominated the offensive glass and he finished every dump down or lob he received.

Against Syracuse, his impact was different. He had just 16 points and four boards, but his eight assists were absolutely eviscerated the Orange zone, setting up Isaiah Hicks for his 21-point outburst. The Tar Heels needed all of those assists as well, as they won by 11 but trailed 56-50 late in the second half.

And while I get that your thinking may be, ‘It’s Florida State and Syracuse. Yawn!’ remember that Virginia, who entered this week ranked one spot ahead of North Carolina in the AP Poll, also went on the road twice this week, losing to Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech, neither of whom looked destined to even be in the bubble conversation before landing that win.

Winning on the road in league play is never an easy thing to do, and Johnson made sure that the Tar Heels picked up a pair of those wins this week.

THE ‘ALL THEY WERE GOOD, TOO’ TEAM

  • Buddy Hield, Oklahoma: Hield could have easily been the Player of the Week. He had 31 points, eight boards, five assists, two steals and two blocks in a win over Kansas State on Saturday which followed his 46 points, eight board and seven assist performance in the triple-overtime loss to No. 1 Kansas. We went with Johnson because UNC went 2-0 this week.
  • Bryce Alford, UCLA: Alford averaged 21.5 points, 5.0 assists and 3.0 boards in a pair of wins this week. That included 25 points, six assists, four boards, no turnovers and the game-winning three-pointer in a win over Arizona at Pauley Pavilion, all of which happened in front of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.
  • Josh Hart, Villanova: Hart posted a pair of double-doubles this week, capped by a 22-point, 11-board performance in Villanova’s win at Butler on Sunday night.
  • Marshall Plumlee, Duke: Plumlee played the best basketball of his Duke career this week. After going for 18 points and seven boards in a win at Wake Forest, Plumlee posted 21 points and 10 boards as the Blue Devils dispatched Virginia Tech at Cameron Indoor Stadium.
  • Mo Watson, Creighton: Creighton made a statement this week with impressive wins over Georgetown and Seton Hall, and Watson was the catalyst, posted 27 points and four assists against the Hoyas and 13 points and 14 assists at Seton Hall.
  • BENCH: Jaron Blossomgame (Clemson), Ben Moore (SMU)
Andy Enfield
USC coach Andy Enfield (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez, File)

TEAM OF THE WEEK: USC Trojans

Dunk City West is starting to come to fruition.

The Trojans picked up two huge wins this week, knocking off Arizona State at home before beating No. 7 Arizona in a quadruple-overtime thriller on Saturday night. The two wins moved Andy Enfield’s club to 3-1 in Pac-12 play, a record that would be perfect had they not blown a 22-point second half lead at Washington last week, a collapse that was spurred on when their most important player, Julian Jacobs, left the game with an ankle injury.

It may be too early to truly call USC a Pac-12 contender (their next three games — at UCLA, at Oregon and at Oregon State — will give us that answer) but what’s clear is that this is going to be a team that is far more relevant to the conference race this season than we expected. For the most part, USC was thought to be a year away from mattering heading into the season, but now that we’re at the midway point, it seems clear this team isn’t going anywhere.

The thing that gets you with this USC team: their balance. Six guys average double-figures and five of them are scoring between 12.2 and 12.9 points. Pick your poison.

THEY WERE GOOD, TOO

  • SMU: The Mustangs remained undefeated on Sunday with a blowout win over UCF, but it was their come-from-behind win over Cincinnati — when they only had six scholarship players left — that got them on this list.
  • Baylor: The Bears made a statement this week, going into Hilton Coliseum and knocking off Iowa State despite trailing by double-figures in the second half. That came after they whipped Oklahoma State in a game where they grabbed 23 of a possible 34 offensive rebounds.
  • Pitt: It’s time to start taking the Panthers seriously. They’re now 15-1 on the season after beating Georgia Tech at home and knocking off Notre Dame in South Bend.
  • Marquette: The Golden Eagles may have changed the course of their season on Tuesday when they went into Providence and knocked off the Friars. They followed that up with a win over St. John’s at home.
  • Clemson: The Tigers moved to 3-1 in ACC play this week as they knocked off Louisville and and won at Syracuse.

SET YOUR DVR

No. 12 Miami at No. 4 Virginia, Tue. 7:00 p.m.
No. 1 Kansas at No. 17 West Virginia, Tue. 7:00 p.m.
No. 19 Iowa at No. 5 Michigan State, Thu. 7:00 p.m.
No. 24 Pitt at No. 16 Louisville, Thu. 9:00 p.m.
No. 17 West Virginia at No. 2 Oklahoma, 9:00 p.m.

LATE NIGHT SNACKS: No. 7 Arizona falls, No. 5 Michigan State rolls

Associated Press
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GAME OF THE NIGHT: UCLA 87, No. 7 Arizona 84

Bryce Alford’s three-pointer with 1.8 seconds remaining gave the Bruins the win in a game they led by 15 with five minutes remaining. How’d Arizona get back into the game? A combination of better execution offensively and some bad UCLA possessions on the other end of the floor. Alford led four Bruins in double figures with 25 points and also dished out six assists, while Ryan Anderson led Arizona with 15 points and 15 rebounds. The question coming out of this one: why can’t UCLA play with the effort and energy they displayed for much of this game on a consistent basis?

IMPORTANT OUTCOMES

No. 15 SMU 59, Cincinnati 57: Nic Moore hit two huge threes and Jordan Tolbert added a tip-in and a key blocked shot as the Mustangs outscored Cincinnati 11-2 over the final 3:09. SMU had four players in double figures and managed to win (and remain undefeated) despite having just six scholarship players for most of the game.

No. 16 Louisville 77, NC State 72: Quentin Snider scored 21 points and played some solid defense on Cat Barber to help lead the Cardinals to a five-point win in Raleigh. Barber scored 20 points for the Wolfpack but did so on 7-for-22 shooting, with Snider and the other Louisville guards being a key reason why. As a team NC State shot just 36.1 percent from the field.

STARRED

Weber State’s Joel Bolomboy: One of the best rebounders in the country, Bolomboy scored 20 points and grabbed 23 rebounds in a win over North Dakota.

Ole Miss’ Sebastian Saiz: Saiz tallied 21 points and 16 rebounds in a win over Alabama.

Manhattan’s Shane Richards: Richards shot 11-for-14 from the field, making six of his seven three-pointers, to score 32 points in a win at Canisius.

BYU’s Kyle Collinsworth: Collinsworth picked up the ninth triple-double of his career, going for 21 points, 11 rebounds and ten assists in a blowout win over Santa Clara.

STRUGGLED

Michigan’s Zak Irvin: Irvin scored seven points on 2-for-10 shooting in a loss at No. 20 Purdue. Of course, being guarded for most of the game by one of the best defenders in the country in Rapheal Davis doesn’t help matters.

Bryant’s Nisre Zouzoua: Zouzoua shot 1-for-8 from the field, scoring two points in a loss at Wagner.

Georgia Southern’s Tookie Brown: Brown scored 17 points in a six-point loss to South Alabama, but he shot 5-for-18 from the field in doing so.

THE REST OF THE TOP 25

  • With Denzel Valentine out of the lineup No. 5 Michigan State rolled to a 79-54 win over Illinois in East Lansing. Bryn Forbes scored 17 for the Spartans, who expect Valentine to return to the lineup this weekend.
  • Also taking care of business at home was No. 20 Purdue, which beat Michigan 87-70. A.J. Hammons, who finished with 17 points, five rebounds, three assists and four blocks, moved to 4-for-4 on the season from three and Rapheal Davis added 16 points and six boards.

OTHER NOTABLE RESULTS

  • Notre Dame won 82-54 at Boston College, with Demetrius Jackson scoring 17 points and dishing out nine assists.
  • Darell Combs scored 18 points to lead IUPUI to a 74-67 win over South Dakota State. The Jackrabbits shot just 7-for-28 from three on the night.
  • Terry Tarpey finished with 21 points, six rebounds and six steals in William & Mary’s 72-63 win at Drexel.
  • Shane Richards scored a career-high 32 points to lead Manhattan to a 94-86 win at Canisius.
  • Old Dominion ended Louisiana Tech’s 39-game home win streak with a 56-53 victory in Ruston. Trey Freeman and Aaron Bacote combined to score 38 points for the Monarchs.
  • UT-Arlington moved to 3-0 in the Sun Belt with a 71-67 win at Appalachian State. Jalen Jones scored 14 points and Erick Neal 13 for the 12-2 Mavericks.
  • Weber State moved to 2-0 in the Big Sky with a 74-62 win over North Dakota. In addition to Joel Bolomboy’s impressive stat line, Jeremy Senglin scored a game-high 26 for the winners.
  • Ole Miss opened its sparkling new building with a 74-66 win over Alabama. Sebastian Saiz and Stefan Moody scored 21 apiece, with Saiz also grabbing 16 rebounds.
  • Walter Wright scored 22 points and dished out nine assists to lead Montana to a 79-66 win over Portland State. The Grizzlies, who lost in last year’s Big Sky title game, are now 3-0 in conference play.
  • Pascal Siakam finished with 20 points, 11 rebounds and four blocks in New Mexico State’s 78-66 win at Utah Valley.
  • Saint Mary’s remained undefeated in WCC play with a comfortable 73-48 win at Loyola Marymount. Emmett Naar scored 15 points, grabbed five rebounds and dished out five assists for the Gaels.
  • USC moved to 2-1 in Pac-12 play with a 75-65 win over Arizona State. The Trojans led by as much as 16 in the second half before the Sun Devils rallied to within two, but Bobby Hurley’s team was unable to get over the hump.
  • Preseason Big West favorite UC Irvine took care of the reigning regular season champions UC Davis by 21, 76-55. Luke Nelson led the balanced offensive effort with 16 points.
  • Cal-State Fullerton erased a 20-point second half deficit to win by six at UC Riverside. Lionheart Leslie led five Titans in double figures with 25 points.

VIDEO: Bryce Alford’s three gives UCLA a win over No. 7 Arizona

AP
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Bryce Alford is developing a nice reputation as one of college basketball’s best clutch shooters.

He did it again on Thursday night.

After the UCLA Bruins had blown an 81-68 lead in the final 4:30, allowing Arizona to eventually tie the game with 10 seconds left, Alford was able to force a switch, getting a 1-on-1 opportunity against Arizona center Kaleb Tarczewski.

He took advantage of it:

Isaac Hamilton and Aaron Holiday combined for 29 points and 12 assists as UCLA picked up their second win of the season over a top ten team, beating No. 7 Arizona 87-84 in Pauley Pavilion on Thursday night.

But Alford was the story. He finished with 25 points, six assists, four rebounds and no turnovers, putting together one of his best games of the season despite playing fairly poorly for the first 19 minutes. He did, however, knock down a pair of threes in the final minute of the first half — including one at the buzzer — which comes less than a week after he hit a number of clutch threes late in a game against Washington.

What made that shot so important was that it not only gave the Bruins a win over Arizona, but it was also the first Pac-12 win of the season for UCLA. They lost in double-overtime at Washington last Friday and, 48 hours later, lost to Pac-12 cellar dweller Washington State.

That’s what makes nights like Thursday so confounding.

UCLA is the most talented team in the Pac-12. They may not be the best team in the league or the favorite to take home the regular season title, but when you look at their roster on paper and compare it to the rosters of every other team in the conference, the Bruins look like they should be the best. They definitely shouldn’t be getting swept by the Washington schools, let alone losing to Monmouth at home.

Why can’t they play like this more often?

The collapse in the final four minutes was worrisome, yes, but focusing on that would ignore the fact that UCLA totally outplayed Arizona for the first 36 minutes of this game. Just like they totally outplayed then-No. 1 Kentucky, who lost by double-digits at Pauley Pavilion. The Bruins also won at Gonzaga this year.

What is it about this team that they can’t get up for a game unless they are playing one of the nation’s elite programs?

Youth? A lack of leadership? Do they need there to be fans packing the stands to get up for a game?

I don’t know what it is.

But Peak UCLA looks like they can be pretty good.

As far as Arizona is concerned, this loss shouldn’t be overly concerning. The Wildcats struggle at times and really did not look like a top ten team, but they were also playing on the road in a rivalry game where Russell Westbrook was getting honored and brought all of his Oklahoma City Thunder teammates with him. If UCLA only shows up when people show up to watch, you know they’re going to play like this when Russ brings Kevin Durant to a game.

To be frank, I think this performance reinforces that Arizona doesn’t have top ten talent this year. Sean Miller is getting as much out of this group that he can, and I don’t think that’s going to change — they’re still my pick to win the conference — but I’m not sure that will end up translating to more than a Sweet 16 come March.

PAC-12 CONFERENCE RESET: League balance should make for fun race

Associated Press
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College basketball’s non-conference season is coming to a close, and to help you shake off post-holiday haze and the hangover of losing in your fantasy football playoffs, we’ll be providing you with some midseason primers to get you caught up on all the nation’s most important conferences.

Today, we’re taking a look at the Pac-12.

PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Jakob Poeltl, Utah

Poeltl made the decision to return to Salt Lake City for his sophomore season, and the strides he’s made in his skill set have been highly impressive. Poeltl’s currently averaging 17.8 points, 9.7 rebounds and 2.2 blocks per contest for the Runnin’ Utes, shooting 71.2 percent from the field. His post moves have more polish, and he’s raised his foul shooting some 20 percentage points from a season ago (64.6 from 44.4 last season).

ALL PAC-12 FIRST TEAM

  • Jakob Poeltl, Utah
  • Gary Payton II, Oregon State
  • Bryce Alford, UCLA
  • Ryan Anderson, Arizona
  • Josh Scott, Colorado

WHAT WE’VE LEARNED

  1. There may not be a dominant team, but the Pac-12 doesn’t lack for depth either: In each of the last two seasons Arizona has been the clear class of the conference, winning the regular season title by three games both years. Sean Miller’s team remains the favorite heading into conference play this week, but the gap is much smaller with multiple teams harboring hopes of grabbing the top spot. Oregon is finally approaching full strength health-wise, Utah has the conference’s best player to this point in Poeltl, and neither UCLA nor California lacks for talent. Add in solid starts from teams such as Colorado, Arizona State and Oregon State, and an early surprise in USC, and there’s a lot to choose from in the Pac-12.
  2. California needed time to figure out its rotation: With the return of Tyrone Wallace and the additions of Jaylen Brown and Ivan Rabb, it was assumed by many that the Golden Bears would simply hit the ground running and take the Pac-12 by storm. But there was the need for a change in the rotation, as Jabari Bird moved into the sixth man role as Kameron Rooks shook off the rust that came from missing all of last season with a torn ACL. While this may not be the “best five” lineup many envisioned for Cal, with Brown playing the four, the pieces seem to fit better with this setup. Heading into conference play on the heels of their most impressive win of the season, Cal is a team to keep an eye on in the Pac-12 race.
  3. UCLA is at its best when their improved big men see consistent touches: With five players averaging double figures, Steve Alford doesn’t lack for scoring options in Westwood. But at times his guards can get a bit shot happy, thus neglecting to get the ball inside, where UCLA has an advantage over most teams. That hasn’t occurred as often this season, and senior Tony Parker and Thomas Welsh have taken advantage. Parker’s (13.8 ppg, 10.3 rpg) raised his scoring average by two points from a season ago but his rebounding average is up by more than three boards per game. Welsh (12.8 ppg, 7.8 rpg) has built upon a summer spent winning gold with the United States U19 team at the FIBA World Championships. When the ball goes inside things tend to open up offensively for the Bruins, who have also received improved play from Isaac Hamilton.

KEY STORY LINES IN LEAGUE PLAY

  1. Can Utah get consistent play from the point guard position: The loss of Delon Wright was expected to be a big one; you don’t lose a player of his caliber and not feel some sort of impact. That being said, the guard play for the Runnin’ Utes has been inconsistent thus far. Junior college transfer Lorenzo Bonam is getting a little more comfortable in Larry Krystkowiak’s system, but there are still some strides to be made if he’s to lead this group to the top of the Pac-12. What’s of even greater importance is that they get Brandon Taylor, who has struggled from a consistency standpoint and is shooting just 35.9 percent from the field, back on track.
  2. Will the Kadeem Allen/Parker Jackson-Cartwright PG tandem hold up for Arizona: To this point in the season the two-headed attack has worked, with the notable exception of their loss to Providence at the DirecTV Wooden Legacy (Kris Dunn’s pretty doggone good). Allen’s been the more productive of the two scoring-wise and as a defender, but Jackson-Cartwright has done a better job of taking care of the basketball. Neither will fully replace T.J. McConnell because of what he gave the Wildcats from a leadership standpoint, but that’s OK given some of Arizona’s veterans at other positions. How well this two-man rotation works will have a major impact on Arizona’s Pac-12 title hopes.
  3. How long with it take Oregon to mesh its pieces together once healthy: The Ducks have been navigating injury issues since the season began, with Jordan Bell and Dylan Ennis missing the most time. Now that Ennis is back in the fold Oregon can begin to evaluate certain lineups in hopes of finding the best possible lineups to put on the floor. Casey Benson’s taken care of the ball at the point in Ennis’ absence, but the former Villanova guard gives the Ducks a point guard capable of either scoring or distributing the basketball.

BETTER THAN THEIR RECORD: UCLA has a 9-4 record, due in part to their lack of consistency. But the Bruins do have a win over Kentucky to their credit, and they’re no shame in losing to the likes of Kansas and North Carolina either. And the losses to Monmouth and Wake Forest aren’t crippling defeats either. Steve Alford’s team gets three of its first five Pac-12 games at home, and the two on the road (the Washington schools this week) are manageable.

BEAT SOMEONE AND WE’LL TALK: California entered this season with expectations of winning the Pac-12, and that goal remains on the table. But a look at their résumé reveals a lack of marquee wins when it comes to the NCAA tournament selection process. The Golden Bears do have home wins over Saint Mary’s and Davidson to their credit, but losing to San Diego State and missing out on a shot at West Virginia hurt, as did blown leads in the second half and overtime that led to their loss at Virginia. They’ll be fine, but their résumé means that Cal’s margin for error is smaller when it comes to getting an at-large bid.

COACH UNDER PRESSURE: This is tough given the head coaching changes made by Pac-12 programs last spring. With that being the case the coach under pressure to get thing done in Pac-12 play may be Lorenzo Romar at Washington, even with the amount of success he’s enjoyed in Seattle. The Huskies haven’t reached the NCAA tournament since 2011, and with a roster loaded with newcomers ending that streak may prove difficult. What helps is the aforementioned roster, and the landing of an elite guard for next season in Markelle Fultz.

POWER RANKINGS, POSTSEASON PREDICTIONS

Tourney teams

  • 1. Arizona: No Kaleb Tarczewski in recent weeks due to an ankle injury, but Dusan Ristic has raised his production with more playing time. Ryan Anderson’s been excellent, and Allonzo Trier’s been a key addition for Sean Miller.
  • 2. Oregon: The Ducks’ issues boil down to one word: injuries. Dylan Ennis is back, giving Dana Altman the full rotation he expected before the season began. Dylan Brooks has improved, and the addition of Chris Boucher has been key for a team that was without Jordan Bell for a significant portion of non-conference play.
  • 3. UCLA: Isaac Hamilton enters conference play on the best stretch of his college career, which is an important development for Steve Alford’s team. The key for the Bruins will be to continue to get Tony Parker and Thomas Welsh paint touches, which in turn opens things up for Hamilton and Bryce Alford.
  • 4. Utah: Poeltl’s been outstanding to this point in the season, but the Runnin’ Utes have to solidify their perimeter rotation. Brandon Taylor’s struggled for much of the season, and Lorenzo Bonam is still working to get fully comfortable in Larry Krystkowiak’s system. Get the guards going, and Utah can be a major player in the league race.
  • 5. California: The Golden Bears may have lost three of the biggest games on their schedule to date (San Diego State, Richmond and Virginia), but that isn’t a reason to give up on Cuonzo Martin’s team. Cal put forth its best performance of the season Monday night in a win over Davidson, and they’ve got a talented roster led by senior guard Tyrone Wallace.

NIT teams

  • 6. Colorado: Tad Boyle’s Buffaloes are off to a good start despite not having the injured Xavier Johnson. Josh Scott’s healthy and playing well in the post, and redshirt sophomore George King’s been the impact player many expected him to be. The combination of talent and Boyle’s coaching chops could push CU even higher up the pecking order.
  • 7. Arizona State: Bobby Hurley was successful in his first season at Buffalo in 2013-14, and he has a group capable of duplicating that. The keys for the Sun Devils: Tra Holder’s continued development, and when leading scorer and rebounder Savon Goodman can return to the floor.
  • 8. Oregon State: The Beavers may be a year away from having expectations of ending their tournament drought, but that does senior guard Gary Payton II no good. And Payton’s good enough to lead Wayne Tinkle’s team, which has some quality freshmen, to the brink.
  • 9. USC: Andy Enfield’s Trojans appeared to be “one year away,” but their performance in non-conference play has raised the team’s confidence. Freshman Chimezie Metu and Bennie Boatwright have been solid contributors, but the biggest key has been a healthy Jordan McLaughlin.

Autobid or bust

  • 10. Stanford: Injuries have been the story for the Cardinal, who lost expected starting point guard Robert Cartwright for the season and Reid Travis being out for the time being as well. Balanced offensively, Johnny Dawkins will need Rosco Allen and Dorian Pickens to be even better than they have been of late.
  • 11. Washington: Young players such as Marquese Chriss have shown promise in non-conference play, but as expected of teams with many newcomers the consistency hasn’t been there. That’s likely to be an issue throughout conference play as well.
  • 12. Washington State: The Cougars have some talented players, most notably one of the Pac-12’s best front court players in junior Josh Hawkinson. But they’re the lone Pac-12 team outside of the top 100 in adjusted defensive efficiency, which could be an issue in conference play.

After Gonzaga win, are we ready to buy UCLA yet?

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Isaac Hamilton and Bryce Alford combined for 33 points and six assists, committing just a pair of turnovers on the night, as UCLA landed their second big win of the season, going into Spokane and knocking off No. 20 Gonzaga at The Kennel, 71-66.

And while it was the back court that made the big plays for Steve Alford’s team, the star of the second half was Tony Parker. The 6-foot-9 senior center was dominant during a stretch where the Bruins extended their lead to as much as eight points. He finished with 16 points and made his first eight shots from the field, overpowering a Gonzaga front line that is beat up.

Prezemek Karnowski did not play again. The 7-foot-1 center — by far Gonzaga’s best low post defensive presence — has been dealing with back spasms for the last week. He didn’t play in the loss to Arizona and he missed the near-loss to Montana. Domantas Sabonis played well — 18 points and eight boards — but he’s just not the same presence as Karnowski is.

Kyle Wiltjer began the game on fire, hitting threes on three straight possessions, before Steve Alford made a switch. Initially, Parker was guarding Wiltjer, but Alford put Jonah Bolden in the game. Bolden is 6-foot-10 and long but he’s far more athletic and mobile than Parker is. That switch made a difference; Wiltjer finished with 20 points, but shot just 4-for-12 from the floor the rest of the way. Bolden finished with 10 points and 11 boards in 30 minutes, by far his best game in a Bruin uniform.

So what do we make of UCLA?

I’m seriously asking you.

Because I don’t really know.

They beat Kentucky … when Kentucky was missing their best big man and their starting point guard was banged up. They won at Gonzaga — who isn’t really the typical Gonzaga this season — while they were missing their best big man. They’ve lost to Monmouth at home, lost to Wake Forest in Maui and got worked over by Kansas.

There is a ton of talent on that roster in a year where the Pac-12 is wide open, but I can’t convince myself to fully trust this team just yet.