Posted on January 21, 2023
The action in the Pac-12 continues today with one of the most anticipated games of the year.
No. 5 UCLA looks to sweep the Arizona schools with a matchup in Tucson against No. 11 Arizona.
Tipping off on national television, the game is a marque event for the Conference as a whole.
Later in the day, Arizona State hosts USC in a pivotal game while Washington and Oregon seek road sweeps in their respective matchups.
I preview all four games here and my picks, and those of Stephen Vilardo, appear at the bottom.
No. 5 UCLA at No. 11 Arizona
Saturday, January 21
11:00 am PT, ABC
In a rare starting line up change, Lloyd started Cedric Henderson Jr. and brought Pelle Larsson off the bench on Thursday.
The switch produced Henderson’s highest point total in seven games and Larsson’s most in eight contests.
But UCLA fields an exponentially stronger defense that makes the Trojans look like a junior college team. Ranked No. 5 in KenPom’s defensive efficiency metric, the Bruins force 17.0 turnovers per game.
Matched up against such an elite group, Kerr Kriisa’s decision-making figures to be one of the deciding-factors. The junior guard had eight assists against the Trojans but is averaging 3.1 turnovers per game.
If UCLA forces the Estonian to exceed his average, the chances of Arizona winning decrease substantially.
Yet, similar to nearly every other team in America, Mick Cronin has an Azuolas Tubelis problem. Outside of Adem Bona, the Bruins don’t have a comparable big to match up with the Lithuanian.
Mac Etienne and Kenneth Nwuba arguably have the body type to hamper him, but neither is skilled enough to play extended minutes against the Pac-12’s leading scorer.
Lloyd plays Tubelis together with Oumar Ballo for at least half of the game, too, creating a personnel problem with no easy answers.
One of the X-Factors, though, is UCLA’s three-point shooting. Cronin’s team is among the best in College Basketball at hitting shots from deep and timely threes can destroy any runs Arizona may engineer.
In that sense, UA’s defense on David Singleton could be what tips the scales in either direction.
And similar to the recent matchups between the two rivals, a higher-scoring affair favors Arizona while a low-scoring game benefits UCLA.
It’s one of the top games in the Pac-12 this season that figures to come down to the wire.
Washington at Utah
Saturday, January 21
5:00 pm PT, Pac-12 Network
The Utes are a different team at home and are fresh off a double-digit win over Washington State.
Branden Carlson scored 28 points on Thursday with 11-for-12 shooting and is 19-for-24 from the field over his last two games.
Able to score from the paint and perimeter, Carlson is a zone-busting option that could frustrate Washington’s defense.
But Utah’s greatest threat to Hopkins’ zone is its ability to rebound. Craig Smith’s team is 21st in the nation in rebounds per game and projects to thrive on the offensive glass.
Second-chance points figure to play an oversized role at the Huntsman Center and Utah is an above-average three-point shooting team.
Look for UU to secure offensive rebounds that lead to open shots from three that its players knock down with relative consistency.
Smith’s group also shares the ball better than Colorado does, enabling them to break down the zone with more efficiency than CU.
It’s a worrying combination for Hopkins that will likely require the Dawgs to win the game with their offense.
Braxton Meah could have a tough night against Carlson and Keba Keita, but Keion Brooks Jr. is a matchup nightmare for the Utes.
The Husky leading scorer might need to drop 25 or more to get the win and the Dawgs will probably also need strong nights from Cole Bajema and Noah Williams.
If UW limits the number of offensive rebounds it allows while knocking down its threes, the Huskies could pull off the road sweep.
USC at Arizona State
Saturday, January 21
7:00 pm PT, ESPNU
Boogie Ellis had an off night against Arizona and likely comes out firing in Tempe. That’s a concern for Bobby Hurley’s group, which gives up too many open looks from three.
The Arizona State defense substantially hampers players that score most of their points in the paint or within the arc. But Hurley’s scheme is vulnerable to perimeter-based offenses.
With one primary big and a slew of guards, USC is far more suited to matchup with ASU than it was with the Wildcats. And not just when the Trojans are on offense.
Andy Enfield’s personnel defensively matches up well with Arizona State’s guards. Joshua Morgan may be outmatched by Warren Washington, yet most of the Sun Devil scoring comes from its three starting guards.
With an arguably stronger rotation than the Sun Devils, USC should find itself in a much closer game than Thursday night.
One of the deciding factors figures to be the turnover and points off turnover margins. Both teams rebound well and shoot comparable percentages from three, making extra possessions loom large.
The Sun Devils are third in the Pac-12 in TOs forced per game and are more dangerous on their home floor. But if USC limits its mistakes and Ellis isn’t cold from the field, the Trojans could pull off the upset on the road.
Oregon at Stanford
Saturday, January 21
8:00 pm PT, FS1
But the Tree face an Oregon squad that is rolling. Dana Altman’s team is starting to come together since the return of Jermaine Couisnard and Keeshawn Barthelemy.
The duo is arguably the missing piece to UO’s offense that provide the needed spark. The emergence of Nate Bittle, though, has been an X-Factor.
The sophomore big is playing the best basketball of his career and appears to be fully comfortable in Altman’s offense.
With all their weapons healthy, the Ducks present a substantial challenge.
Yet, the Cardinal have the personnel to match. With what might be the deepest bench in the Pac-12, Jerod Haase has numerous variable lineups to use.
The multifaceted options are both a blessing and a curse, but the confidence gained against Oregon State on Saturday could be what the team needed to emerge from their funk.
The key to beating the Ducks is slowing down N’Faly Dante and effectively defending the perimeter.
In that sense, James Keefe is arguably the most important Stanford player in the matchup. His defense on Dante could determine the outcome.
Maxime Raynaud must have a strong defensive game, too, or Oregon’s offense will hum from the inside out.
Assuming the Cardinal are able to relatively contain Dante, the game could come down to Oregon’s outside shooting.
If the Ducks are knocking down their shots from deep they have a stronger chance of getting the road win.
But, if Stanford defends the three with efficiency, its offense has enough firepower to defend home court.
Our Senior Writers’ Game Picks
—More from Dane Miller—
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