It was wacky Wednesday night in the Pac-12, providing the most startling results of the first half of the conference basketball season.
First, USC knocked off UCLA, 75-71, in overtime, after blowing a late lead in regulation. The Bruins got back forward Travis Wear from a concussion, and freshman Shabazz Muhammad played after being ill this week, scoring a team-high 22 points, but shooting only 7 of 18.
“Sacrilegious!” exclaimed analyst Bill Walton on the ESPNU telecast of Oregon-Stanford. “On the night they retired Reggie Miller’s number, how can they lose to USC?”
As this is written, Stanford is absolutely waxing Oregon, handing the Ducks their first league loss of the season and repeating some of the disappointment the Cardinal football team caused Oregon in November.
The Ducks (7-1) still look poised for the Pac-12 title, but suddenly they have an issue at point guard. They looked fragile for much of the game last week against Washington with Dominic Artis out with a foot injury, committing 23 turnovers. They kept giving it up again at Stanford. The Ducks look like a team that wants to run and find quick shots, encumbered right now by a lot of bad decision-making.
This was the Stanford team a lot of us thought we’d see in the wake of its NIT championship last year, but was missing in action much of the season.
Two other thoughts: As the conference season began, I postulated that the improvement at the bottom of the league could cause some problems for the top teams, and we saw some of that Wednesday night (although Stanford was widely figured for the first division, a sentiment I shared). Last year, there were three 200-plus RPI teams, which was a negative for the league leaders in that a victory over them did nothing. But all things considered, that was better than the alternative this year of losing to, say, a better-but-still-plus-125 RPI team, which has occasionally been happening. (The phenomenon of Washington not making the NCAA last year as a regular-season winner had a lot more to do with a non-conference resume that was lacking conference-wide than the bad teams at the bottom of the league.)
Second, will the upheaval continue Thursday night? Arizona had to be greatly cheered by what happened Wednesday night, but the Wildcats figure to have their hands full against a semi-desperate Washington team. Meanwhile, resurgent Arizona State should also have a fight on its hands at Washington State.