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Pac-12 Confidential

Bud Withers offers an inside look at the Pac-12 Conference and the national college scene.

February 10, 2012 at 2:59 PM

Five-way tie for Pac-12 lead? UW, WSU and Gonzaga thoughts

The Pac-12 basketball race’s theater of the absurd continues, and it could get weirder very soon. It’s not at all out of the question that by Sunday night, we could be looking at a five-way tie for the league lead with 9-4 records.

Here’s the way it is entering Saturday: 1 (tie) Washington and Cal, 9-3. 2 (tie), Colorado, Arizona and Oregon, 8-4.

This is all it would take: Saturday, Arizona beats Utah. Colorado beats Arizona State. Oregon beats Washington State. And UCLA beats Cal. Sunday, Oregon State beats Washington. Presto, a five-way tie.

That would set up a madcap scramble the final three weekends of the season — with the possibility that none of the five earns its way into the NCAA tournament on an at-large basis. Just sayin’.

Thoughts on what took place Thursday night:

Washington

The Huskies were left in the dust by the Ducks from the outset. Oregon played harder and smarter. I found it interesting that the Ducks prospered by pushing the tempo, because we always assume that’s when Washington flourishes.

Random hits:

It always bothers me when a team drops back into a zone after essentially finding it can’t guard the opposition man-to-man, as the Huskies did (although on this night, nothing much worked).

It’s apparent C.J. Wilcox is less than the player he can be, when not troubled by his hip problem. He just doesn’t seem to be moving as freely as normal.

Terrence Ross got relatively good looks at the basket, even while shooting 4 of 12, but I’d contend he needs to be more aggressive off the bounce, especially in games when Washington is desperate for offense.

It’s just one loss, so no time to overreact. I would contend, however, that Washington’s eight-wins-in-nine games stretch was a bit of a mirage. One broadcaster entering last night’s game referred to the Huskies as “on fire.” Well, it was a one-alarm fire.

Consider the eight victories in that stretch:

Three came against the Pac-12’s dreadful, sub-200-RPI trio, Utah, Arizona State and USC.

One was against Seattle U. (6-14).

Two happened when the Huskies had to overcome double-digit deficits in the second half on their home floor to Washington State and UCLA, which are tied for eighth, and in sixth place, respectively, in the league.

Of the remaining two, the victory at Arizona was a great breakthrough, Washington’s best win of the season. The home win over Stanford was, well, over the seventh-place team in a bad league.

This isn’t to diminish the fact Washington won, which is the name of the game. Just that the Huskies were hardly cutting a swath during that period.

Washington State

You can’t stop Brock Motum, you can only hope to contain him. Something like that.

Motum, the Aussie junior, has cinched a place on the league’s official 10-man first team, and I’d contend he’d be a near-lock for a five-man unit. He’s been phenomenal of late, scoring 109 points in his last four games. You have to go back to the non-conference portion of Klay Thompson’s sophomore year (the 2009-10 season) to find a WSU player who scored more over four games.

Motum is leading the league in scoring at 20.8 in conference games only. He’s also become a rebounder; the past six games, he’s had no fewer than eight.

Here’s a more telling statistic on what he’s meant to WSU lately. In the past four games — against Arizona State, USC, UCLA and Oregon State — Motum has scored 40.4 percent of the Cougars’ points — 109 of 270.

When I asked WSU coach Ken Bone this week if anything had changed Motum in the off-season, he said, “Not really. I saw a guy that knew he was going to get more of an opportunity to play. I think he pretty much figured he was going to start and I think that’s given him a level of confidence. As the year has gone on, I think Brock has become more and more competitive on the floor. He’s a great kid, and we’ve asked him to flip the switch and become a little nastier.”

As for the team, the Cougars have been the chief albatross to Oregon State, having swept the Beavers, the most disappointing team in the conference. Last night, WSU had 46 points at halftime, and in its previous nine Pac-12 games, it averaged 29.6 at the break. The last time WSU had 40 or more was against Oregon State, naturally, Dec. 31.

WSU, with a front line that’s never going to be confused with Kentucky, outscored Oregon State, 40-20 in the paint.

Gonzaga

The Zags got a badly needed quality victory against Saint Mary’s, their first of real note since they went on the road and won at Xavier Dec. 31.

Kevin Pangos was money Thursday night, and he provided something often missing in the Gonzaga offense — “easy” points. This is a team, that — partly because it’s still finding its way at the small-forward (No. 3) position — doesn’t seem to score very easily. It pounds the ball in and the bigs aren’t always reliable on offense.

Not that Pangos’ threes were easy, but with the game in the balance, he took it over with his scoring from the perimeter, finishing with 27 points. He was simply more than the 13th-ranked Gaels could cope with.

Much is being made of whether Gonzaga can continue its streak of 11 straight won-or-tied regular-season West Coast Conference titles. No doubt that’s a worthy goal for the Zags, especially since UCLA’s college record is 13. But since you’d need to go 13-1 in league to ensure it happens, there are external factors involved. I don’t see it as a misstep or a chink in Gonzaga’s armor if the Gaels pull it off. Saint Mary’s has simply been very, very good — unbeaten in the league until Thursday night. Randy Bennett has been building that program steadily, and this is the year when the Gaels have been better.

If Gonzaga had been reeling and was sitting there with a 13-9 record, it would be different. As it is, GU is 19-4, its worst loss (by the computer rankings) is to Illnois on the road and it simply hasn’t faltered much in the big picture. It’s headed toward another NCAA tournament, and has performed well. Just not as well as Saint Mary’s.

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