Player of the Week
Lonzo Ball, Guard (UCLA)
Ball’s numbers against Oregon were not all that gaudy, but anyone who watched this critical Pac-12 contest knows that Lonzo Ball clinched the game for UCLA and kept them in the hunt for a conference championship. Ball scored 15 points in the game, including five in the last two minutes with the game on the line. First came an explosive drive to the basket with an acrobatic finish, and then a ridiculous step back three from NBA range on the next possession to seal the game. The series of clutch plays did not tell the whole story though. This game was a perfect example of the type of player Ball that is. All year he has been heralded for his passing prowess, but he only had one assist in the game. Instead he contributed in another major way by pulling down 11 rebounds. The thing NBA scouts arguably crave most about Ball is the fact that he’ll do whatever it takes to win games. He proved that throughout his distinguished high school career, going his senior year without a loss, and he is again showing that ability at UCLA. Keep in mind that the Bruins were one of the worst teams in the conference last season, but Ball has played a huge role propelling them to elite status once again. UCLA has their flaws defensively, but with Ball leading the way, it is almost impossible to count them out of any game.
Dillon Brooks, Forward (Oregon)
Brooks and the Oregon Ducks were coming off of a big week, in which they blew out red-hot Arizona at home. They had another big one this week on the road at UCLA and appeared to be well on the way to another huge win. However, a second half collapse prompted the Bruins to avenge themselves and keep the Pac-12 race closely contested. The Ducks did, however, bounce back on Saturday with an impressive win over an upset-minded USC team. Brooks again was spectacular this week. He scored 19 points against UCLA and also made five three-pointers. Brooks then tallied 21 more points on another efficient day against USC, shooting 8-14 from the field and 3-5 from three-point territory. He continues to show the nation why he was selected as a preseason All-American with this kind of consistency. It took him some time to get back in the groove, but now Brooks is cooking. Over his last four games he is averaging over 21 points per game and continues to do so with such great efficiency. Oregon has undoubtedly been a better team with him in the lineup and still has a great chance to win the conference title. The biggest key for him this season has been harnessing his emotions, which in the past could spiral out of control. Now he is leading one of the best teams in college basketball and is back to performing like one of the top players in America.
Bennie Boatwright, Forward (USC)
Boatwright’s numbers from USC’s two games this week are a bit misleading. On Thursday against Oregon State, Boatwright had 15 points and then added 16 more in their loss to Oregon on Saturday, but his efficiency left a lot to be desired. Boatwright’s best ability as a player has always been his ability to stretch the floor as a 6-10 power forward. Against Oregon State, Boatwright made just one of five three-point attempts and then a miserable one for nine on Saturday. He did an excellent job at the free-throw line, but that was where most of his points came from this week. He also shot only 3-15 total from the field on Saturday, making it much easier for Oregon to avoid dropping their second conference game in a row. Boatwright’s scoring numbers look good, but he needs to convert a higher percentage of his field goals than his current 38%.
Under the Radar
David Crisp, Guard (Washington)
Washington has underwhelmed again this season to say the least. Many were hoping that with their returning core along with Markelle Fultz, that they could at least be a middle of the pack team in the Pac-12. Especially now with Fultz out, Washington has really struggled, but Crisp has stepped up in his absence. Crisp has actually been one of the most over-looked players in the conference all season. At only 6 feet tall, he is averaging almost 15 points per game and is shooting 40% from three-point range. The lefty sharpshooter recorded a season-high 31 points against Utah on Saturday, following a 17-point outing against Colorado. Much of his damage this season has come beyond the arc, but he’s also solid off the dribble and an underrated passer. If not playing for a team like Washington, a lot more people would probably know who he is.
Top Five Games That Will Determine Conference Title
1. UCLA @ Arizona (February 25th, 8 P.M. ET)
Arizona is back at the top of the Pac-12 standings thanks to UCLA’s win over Oregon last Thursday. The Bruins are currently 2.5 games back from the top spot and have already lost to Arizona once this season. This time around may be even more difficult as they will look to steal one in Tucson from the Wildcats. This game is a must win for UCLA to stay in the hunt.
2. Oregon @ California (February 22nd, 9 P.M. ET)
Oregon has the easiest remaining schedule of the top Pac-12 contenders, but California is a team that has the ability to knock them off and shake up the standings. Playing at home in Berkeley will be an advantage, but the Bears will need a big performance from their trio of Ivan Raab, Jabari Bird, and Charlie Moore.
3. USC @ UCLA (February 18th, 10 P.M ET)
This game will be another big one for UCLA, as they were upset on the road by the Trojans a couple weeks back. The Trojans will not be competing for the regular season title, but they have a great opportunity to be a spoiler in the closing weeks.
4. USC @ Arizona (February 23rd, 10 P.M. ET)
Other than UCLA, this game will Arizona’s biggest remaining test of the regular season. The Wildcats have a really good chance to win all their remaining regular season games, and if they do, they will win the conference regular season title.
5. Colorado @ Oregon (February 18th, 3 P.M. ET)
This matchup is intriguing as we all remember Colorado pulled off a big shocker when they upset the Ducks earlier in the season. Oregon cannot afford another letdown against the Buffaloes, who have been disappointing in conference play after a strong showing in the non-conference portion of the season. Do they have one more big win in them?