If you’re like me and you had to be somewhere at exactly 3 PM on Saturday, then you turned off the UW-Oregon game with the Dawgs up 7 with the ball and a little over 3 minutes to play. They had stemmed the tide of a furious Duck comeback and looked in good shape to close out the game. What could go wrong? In short, the Dawgs didn’t make another field goal in regulation and Oregon outscored them 9-2 to send the game into overtime. A couple tough threes by Payton Pritchard, and a single point by any Husky other than Isaiah Stewart- suddenly the Dawgs lost a 17-point second-half lead and another tough conference game.
Mike Hopkins pointed out earlier this week that teams have shot unfathomably well at the end of close games against UW. In the last five minutes of Pac-12 games, opponents are shooting 72% from the field and 8-11 on three. Looking at the shot charts, a disproportionate number of those threes are coming from the wings, which is typically the toughest part of the floor from which to make a three. Overall, UW holds opponents under 41% from the field and under 31% from three- both exceptional numbers. There’s an element of bad luck in the late game situations, but long stretches of offensive stagnation cost the Huskies the game against Stanford and again against Oregon. If the team had a single perimeter player who could engineer a tough bucket in a half-court set with some regularity, both those losses would be wins, the Huskies would be 4-2 in conference, and we’d be feeling very good about our chances at the NCAA tournament.
It’s worth noting that UW played a complete game earlier in the week against Oregon State for a 64-56 win that wasn’t as close as the final score. Still, the late collapses mean that it’s getting late early for the Dawgs, who head to the mountains needing a sweep over Utah (doable) and Colorado (highly challenging) to keep slim tournament hopes alive.
The fact that Washington State knocked off Oregon before the Ducks got to Seattle adds insult to UW’s injury. The Cougs didn’t have any magic elixir; they just got outrageously hot from three. They shot 11-21 from outside on the night. CJ Elleby led the way with 25 points, 4-7 shooting outside, and 14 rebounds. The Cougs built a big lead early in the second half and stayed hot enough from outside that the Ducks never made it close. Pritchard was the only member of the explosive guard rotation to get on track for the game, but the real story is WSU’s three-point accuracy. Even an averaging shooting night would have led to a very different game flow.
Arizona is the Pac team most likely to push Oregon as evidenced by their heavyweight fight in Eugene two weeks ago. On the other hand, the Wildcats entered last week the losers of four of five. They bounced back comfortably with blowout wins over Utah and Colorado. Arizona’s 75 points marked only the fourth time the Buffs have given up that many points all year. I noted recently that Colorado has benefited from teams turning the ball over at an abnormally high rate and shooting poorly from outside. Arizona shot 41% from outside and only turned the ball over 11 times. It was a balanced attack and the Buffs didn’t have the firepower to match. Even at 3-2 in conference, Arizona is primed to go on a nice run.
This weekend is light in terms of marquee Pac-12 games. The underachieving LA schools travel to Oregon. Stanford plays Cal and Arizona faces Arizona State in rivalry games that should be fairly one-sided. It’s an opportunity to catch the Thursday/Saturday UW games, but whether that’s a good or bad thing is yet to be determined.
With wins over the two Oklahoma schools, Baylor improved to 15-1 and leapfrogged Gonzaga for the #1 spot in the AP poll. Of course, that means UW beat the #1 team and narrowly lost to the #2 team, but that’s cold comfort given the recent results. Baylor’s defensive and rebounding prowess were on display in the UW game and they have maintained or improved those abilities as the year has gone on. Jared Butler is the leading scorer on the team and probably the most visible player, but the tenacious effort from the entire rotation is the most notable asset.
Coach Scott Drew has amazingly been at the helm of Baylor since 2004 after Dave Bliss left the school amidst an outrageous scandal that involved paying players, filing false expense reports, lying to the NCAA, and threatening assistants who didn’t go along with the cover-up. It took Drew a few years to bring the program back from the brink. Since 2008, Baylor has finished 41st or higher in the KenPom ratings 12 times in 13 years. They have been to the Elite 8 twice and the Sweet 16 two more times. They have quietly been the most successful Texas school in that stretch and arguably the best Big 12 program other than Kansas. Most of the top teams this season have obvious flaws, which leaves an opening for a tough, experienced team like Baylor. With a couple breaks in their favor, this might be the year that Drew breaks through to the Final Four.
This weekend features a break in conference play for the SEC-Big 12 Challenge. Unfortunately, most of the top teams in the two conferences miss each other. Still, Baylor @ Florida and Kentucky @ Texas Tech should be compelling match-ups.