February 1, 2008

Pac-10 defenses on display in top matchup

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Arizona at UCLA
Arizona State at USC
California at Washington
Stanford at Washington State
Oregon State at Oregon
USC at Washington
UCLA at Washington State
Oregon State at California
Oregon at Stanford

Best matchup: No. 14 Stanford at No. 9 Washington State. There are games with more star power (see Arizona at UCLA on Saturday) and more at stake (see UCLA at Washington State on Thursday), but the Cardinal's road trip to Pullman may end up having the most impact. Stanford (17-3, 6-2 Pac-10) can move into sole possession of second place in the league standings and distance itself from the middle of the pack. Washington State (17-3, 5-3) can move back into a tie for second after a disappointing loss to Cal. If someone can reach 60 points, they will likely come away the winner in what will be a defensive struggle. The Cougars lead the nation in scoring defense, giving up 53.9 points a game. The Cardinal ranks sixth, giving up 57.5 points a game.

The pressure is on: Oregon. A four-game losing streak has sent the Ducks (12-8, 3-5), who returned four starters from an Elite Eight team, into the bottom half of the standings. The veteran-laden club is in danger of staying there if it can't pull out a road win at Stanford, one of the toughest places to play in the league. The main source of the Ducks' problems lies with the shooting woes of sophomore guard Tajuan Porter. Coach Ernie Kent has moved Porter in and out of the starting lineup, but it has had little effect.

Upset alert: California at Washington. The Bears are better than their 12-7 record indicates. In six of those seven losses, the Bears have trailed by two points, been tied or held a lead in the last three minutes of regulation. The Bears, who boast 6-10 power forward Ryan Anderson and 6-11 center DeVon Hardin, are also one of the few teams with the personnel able to slow down Jon Brockman. �The Huskies' big man ranks second in the nation with 11.5 rebounds a game. �

RPI watch: Arizona (No. 8) remains the highest-rated Pac-10 team in the RPI, followed by Washington State (No. 11) and UCLA (No. 12). ... Oregon has fallen steadily, but still has a respectable ranking at No. 54 thanks to a strength of schedule that ranks as the 16th toughest in the nation. ... Arizona State, which has fallen to No. 88, is the team that should be most concerned. Losses to Nebraska and Illinois (which are a combined 3-11 in their respective leagues) are dragging the Sun Devils down. ... In a strange twist, Oregon State's struggles in Pac-10 play have actually helped the league RPI, which ranks only behind the ACC. The Beavers had fallen to No. 301, but are now No. 234 after losing their first eight league games.

Key stat: Six freshmen from the Pac-10 have scored at least 25 points in a game this season. USC's O.J. Mayo, Arizona's Jerryd Bayless and Arizona State's James Harden have reached that barrier three times apiece, UCLA's Kevin Love has done it twice, and USC's Davon Jefferson and Arizona State's Ty Abbott have done it once.

Freshman to watch: Love made his homecoming trip last week with games at Oregon and Oregon State. Now, it's time for James Harden of Arizona State to make his return home. The former five-star recruit from the Los Angeles area will play at UCLA on Thursday and at USC on Saturday. This will be the first time Harden has played a college game in his hometown. His matchup with Mayo could be one of the best head-to-head battles all season.

Who's hot: Bayless was averaging 24.3 ppg over his last three games before he was held to 10 in a win over USC on Thursday. Bayless hit 21 of 36 (58.3 percent) from the field and 19 of 20 (95.0 percent) from the free-throw line over that stretch. ... Washington's Brockman has put together a double-double in 10 of his last 12 games. ... Washington State's Taylor Rochestie has dished out 41 assists while committing just five turnovers in his last seven games. That is an 8-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio.

Who's not: After scoring in double figures in seven consecutive games, Arizona State's Jeff Pendergraph has been held to single digits in his last four games, all Sun Devils' losses. Pendergraph is shooting 36 percent (12-for-33) from the field over that stretch. ... Oregon's Tajuan Porter, who set a Pac-10 freshman record with 120 3-pointers last season, remains mired in a horrid shooting slump. Porter is just 15 of 52 (28.8 percent) from the field during the Ducks' current four-game losing streak. Porter is shooting 37.1 percent from the field and 30.4 percent from 3-point range for the season. ... Washington's Justin Dentmon, who scored in double figures in six of his first seven games, hasn't reached double figures in eight consecutive games.

Worth noting: Prior to Thursday's loss to Arizona, USC had its first four-game winning streak since 2002 when it opened up league play with five consecutive victories. ... Washington State became the last Pac-10 team to lose at home with Thursday's 69-64 loss to Cal. ... Washington's win over Arizona State last week was its 11th win in a row over the Sun Devils. That is the longest current streak between Pac-10 teams. ... Harden leads the league in steals (1.8 per game). Only four freshmen have ended the season leading the league in steals (Cal's Jason Kidd, UCLA's Baron Davis, USC's Errick Craven and USC's Gabe Pruitt). ... The 21 rebounds that Love hauled in at Oregon State last week were the most by a UCLA player since David Greenwood grabbed 23 boards against Washington in 1978. ... USC's Tim Floyd needs two wins to reach career win No. 300.

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Andrew Skwara is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at askwara@rivals.com.


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