Arizona reasserts its dominance as the best team in the Pac-12
Before Saturday, there was a case to be made that Utah was the best team in the Pac-12. Arizona had lost to Oregon State, had its lapses defensively and struggled at times on offense, while the Utes had been dominating every team in their path. But the calming presence of T.J. McConnell was a distinct reminder that this is still Arizona's conference. McConnell had 16 points on 8-of-10 shooting to go along with six assists, three rebounds and only two turnovers in the Wildcats' 69-51 victory.
Early on against the Utes, Arizona was having trouble finding its offense. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Stanley Johnson drove inside, but threw up wild shots. Brandon Ashley and Kaleb Tarczewski weren't able to get easy baskets. And then T.J. McConnell decided to take over. He picked his spots perfectly, hit multiple mid-range jump shots and performed a slow dissection of the Utah defense. McConnell used the glass, made off-balance jumpers and just commanded the offense in every single way. He had 12 of his points in the first half and was the reason Arizona won.
Although the offensive surge from McConnell was the biggest part of the game, the defense from Arizona was superb from about 12 minutes to go in the first half until the end of the game. Hollis-Jefferson had the bulk of the duty, but Johnson and McConnell also helped shut down Delon Wright. Wright had the first seven points of the game for the Utes, but only had three points for the rest of the game. Utah averaged .89 points per possession and out of their 41 attempted field goals, only three came at the rim. The Wildcats turned up the intensity and just completely shut down everything Utah tried to do. When the Arizona defense is clicking, there is nothing more lethal or fun to watch.
Stanford is the third best team in the conference
Chasson Randle has been a monster since Pac-12 play has started and although Delon Wright is still the frontrunner for Pac-12 Player of the Year, it's not hard to make a case for Randle. Randle and the Cardinal took down Cal on the road and then beat Connecticut at home this week. The senior point guard continues to fuel the efficient Stanford offense. He scored 25 points and went 4-of-6 from three against Cal. And against Connecticut, he put up 23 points and was 4-of-8 from three. Randle is shooting 39 percent from beyond the arc and has only had two games this season without a three-pointer. Also, he's been less turnover prone. His turnover rate of 13.9 is down over two percent from last season and he hasn't committed more than two turnovers in any game in Pac-12 play.
Anthony Brown's emergence has turned him and Randle into one of the best scoring duos in the conference. Brown is shooting 46 percent from three, has the highest offensive rating on the team and has been in double figures in all but one game this season. He had 18 points in each of the games over the week and shot 7-of-12 from three. The two are mostly responsible for Stanford shooting 40 percent from three on the season, which is 12th best in the nation. Stefan Nastic has also stepped up and filled the void left by Dwight Powell and Josh Huestis. He is averaging 13.9 points per game, up six points from last season. Ultimately, Stanford is 13-4 overall, 4-1 in the Pac-12, has three legitimate scorers and because of that, they're the third best team in the conference.
Washington gets back on track
After losing four in a row, Lorenzo Romar's squad did what it needed to and swept the Oregon schools. The Huskies grinded it out and won 56-43 in what was an ugly, ugly game against a respectable Beavers team. Although Oregon State is not an offensive juggernaut, the Huskies still allowed only 43 points in 40 minutes, held the Beavers to 35 percent shooting on two-pointers and 25 percent on three-pointers. More importantly, Robert Upshaw played 37 out of a total 40 minutes. Obviously, the more minutes he's on the floor, the harder it is to score on the Huskies. Upshaw finished with 12 points, 15 rebounds and six blocks and continues to have the best block percentage in the country.
Their win over Oregon might have been more impressive. After trailing by 10 at half and only scoring 32 points in the first 20 minutes, Washington exploded for a 53-point second half to take down the Ducks 85-77. Foul trouble was a problem in the first half for Shawn Kemp Jr. and Upshaw, but they were able to sit in their zone defense to avoid fouling as the game went on and let the offense pave the way. Washington is shooting 32 percent on threes this season, but against Oregon, they went 8-of-15 from beyond the arc. When they shoot like that and get 12 points, 13 rebounds and five blocks out of Upshaw, the Huskies are tough to beat. Lorenzo Romar might have to use a zone defense going forward to keep his bigs in the game, but so far, it's been successful.