February 29, 2008

Stanford, UCLA meet with Pac-10 on line

MORE BREAKDOWNS: ACC | Big 12 | Big East | Big Ten | SEC

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

Best matchup: Stanford at UCLA. Stanford (23-4, 12-3 Pac-10) has a chance to capture a share of the Pac-10 title and also prove it belongs among the national elite if it can win at Pauley Pavilion. The Cardinal, who sit a game behind the Bruins (25-3, 13-2) in the league standings, lack a victory over a team ranked in the top 20. The last time these two met was the Pac-10 opener for both, and the Bruins pulled away in the final minutes for a 76-67 win at Stanford. Cardinal star Brook Lopez was held to 13 points on 5-for-14 shooting. But that was just the fourth game for Lopez, who was coming off an academic suspension. Since that meeting, Lopez has emerged as an All-American candidate, averaging 18.9 points and 8.0 rebounds, and the Cardinal have won 12 of their past 14.

The pressure is on: California. The Bears (15-11, 6-9) need to beat visiting Washington on Saturday and find a way to win at USC on Thursday to climb onto the NCAA Tournament bubble. If Cal loses those games or even splits, their only chance of getting into the field of 65 will rest on winning the Pac-10 Tournament title - something the Bears haven't accomplished. The key is getting big performances from star Ryan Anderson. The Bears are 7-2 when Anderson scores at least 25 points.

Upset alert: Washington State over Stanford. The last time these two met, the Cardinal pulled out a 67-65 overtime win in Pullman, Wash., on Feb. 2. Washington State could return the favor in the rematch. The Cougars (22-6, 10-6) shot just 34.5 percent in that first meeting. They'll likely be a little more accurate in the rematch and their stellar defense long their biggest strength should be fine. Opponents are scoring 55.5 points per game against the Cougars, which ranks third nationally.

RPI watch: Oregon State (247th), 0-15 in league play, continues to drag down the Pac-10, which sits in third in the conference ratings (behind the ACC and Big 12). Four teams are inside the top 25, with UCLA leading the way at ninth. The Bruins are followed by Arizona (17th), Stanford (20th) and Washington State (24th). Oregon, despite losing three in a row, remains respectable at 57th. Arizona State (70th) and Cal (83rd) remain well outside the top 50, putting their NCAA Tournament hopes in serious jeopardy.

Key stat: Arizona State is 11-2 when holding its opponent to under 60 points. The Sun Devils are allowing 61.8 points per game.

Freshmen to watch: No conference has a better collection of freshmen guards than the Pac-10, and two of the best USC's O.J. Mayo and Arizona State's James Harden go head-to-head when the Trojans play in Tempe on Saturday. Not only is each trying to carry their team to an NCAA Tournament bid, but with plenty of NBA scouts sure to be on hand, their draft status also is at stake.

Who's hot: Stanford has held opponents to below 40 percent from the field in six of its past eight games. Washington State guard Taylor Rochestie has scored in double figures in six consecutive games, averaging 16.6 points over that stretch Stanford's Robin Lopez has scored in double figures in five of his past six games after being held to single digits in each of his previous 10 games. USC's Angelo Johnson, inserted into the starting lineup after Daniel Hackett went down with injuries, has hit eight of 12 (66.7 percent) 3-pointers in his past two games.

Who's not: During Oregon's current three-game losing streak, their opponents have shot 45 percent (21-of-47) from 3-point range. Arizona State's Jeff Pendergraph is averaging just five points over his past four games and has shot 8-for-22 (36.2 percent) over that span. Washington's Justin Dentmon was 0-for-10 from the field in the Huskies' win over Arizona last Thursday.

Worth noting: The Pac-10 is on pace to break its attendance record. The league is averaging 8,762 fans, which would beat its previous high of 8,388 set in 2000. The Pac-10 is the No. 1 league in the Sagarin Rankings. California is shooting a league-high 77.8 percent from the free-throw line, just shy of the league record (78.6 percent, Arizona in 2004). USC's Daniel Hackett, who missed three games with back and abdominal injuries, returned to action and played 24 minutes and scored five points in a the Trojans' win against Arizona on Thursday night. Arizona State's Ty Abbott needs five more 3-pointers to break the school's freshman-record of 66 set by Ron Riley in 1992-93.

MORE BREAKDOWNS: ACC | Big 12 | Big East | Big Ten | SEC

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

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