February 8, 2008

Arizona hopes to avoid Sun Devil sweep

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

Best matchup: Arizona State at Arizona. This game won't be found on any list of top in-state rivalries, but that could be changing soon. The much-improved Sun Devils (14-7, 4-5 Pac-10) snapped a 12-game overall losing streak to the Wildcats (15-7, 5-4) earlier this season with a 64-59 win in overtime in Tempe on Jan. 9. The Sun Devils will try to snap a 12-game road losing streak to the Wildcats on Sunday. The Wildcats will be playing their first game without guard Nic Wise, who had knee surgery Wednesday and could miss 4-6 weeks. The young Sun Devils enter healthy but looking much more vulnerable than a month ago. After a 4-0 start in Pac-10 play, the Sun Devils have become the league's coldest team outside of last-place Oregon State, losing five games in a row.

The pressure is on: Arizona. Nic Wise's knee injury could be a major blow to the Wildcats. The only pass-first style point guard on the roster, Wise helped create a lot of scoring opportunities and improve the Wildcats' overall chemistry, a major problem area for the team in past seasons. The Wildcats must adjust to playing without their floor general quickly. After playing host to Arizona State on Sunday, the Wildcats get a visit from resurgent Cal, which is coming off road wins at Washington State and Washington.

Upset alert: USC at Washington State. The last time these teams met, Washington State rolled to a 73-58 win in Los Angeles on Jan. 10. That moved to the Cougars to 14-0, their best start in school history. But USC has the momentum now. After that loss to Washington State, the young Trojans - whose starting lineup consists of freshmen and sophomores - reeled off four consecutive wins. Most recently, the Trojans (15-7, 6-4) put together a convincing 73-59 win at Washington. The Cougars (17-5, 5-5) lost five of their next eight games after thrashing the Trojans and are coming off three straight defeats for the first time since the 2005-06 season.

RPI watch: Arizona's penchant for scheduling tough non-conference games is paying off in a big way. Despite being in a three-way tie for third place in the league standings, the Wildcats are No. 9 in the RPI, only two spots behind UCLA. A schedule that has been ranked the nation's strongest for several weeks now gets the credit. The Wildcats played road games at Memphis (third), Kansas (fifth) and UNLV (32nd). Meanwhile, Stanford has risen to 18th while Washington State has fallen to 25th. Arizona State remains dangerously low at 93rd. The Sun Devils have faced four teams outside the top 300.

Key stat: There doesn't appear to be much of a home-court advantage this season in the Pac-10. Through the first half of league play, home teams were barely over .500 (going 23-22).

Freshman to watch: There has been talk that this is the best freshman class in Pac-10 history, and a look at the league's scoring leaders show four freshmen in the top 10: USC's O.J. Mayo (20.1 points per game) is second, Arizona's Jerryd Bayless (18.9) is third, Arizona State's James Harden (18.7) is fourth and UCLA's Kevin Love (17.8) is seventh.

Who's hot: Stanford has held its opponent's leading scorer below his average in eight of its 10 Pac-10 games. Cal's Ryan Anderson is shooting 52.1 percent (24 of 46) from 3-point range in Pac-10 play. UCLA's Darren Collison set a league record by hitting 32 consecutive free throws in conference games before missing his first attempt against Arizona State. Washington State's Kyle Weaver went 15 of 19 (78.9 percent) from the line in an overtime loss to Stanford. He had attempted 20 free throws in his previous five games combined. USC's O.J. Mayo has scored 20 or more points in four straight games and is averaging 24.2 ppg over that stretch.

Who's not: Oregon was held to 43 points, nearly half of its scoring average, in an embarrasing loss to Stanford on Thursday. The Ducks shot 29.2 percent from the field. ... Washington State's Derrick Low is just 3-for-20 from 3-point range (15.0 percent) in his past three games, including a 0-for-9 outing in a loss to Cal. Oregon State's Seth Tarver (9-for-29) and Marcel Jones (10-for-32) have combined to shoot 31.1 percent (19 of 61) from the field over their past three games. Arizona's Jerryd Bayless is averaging 11.5 points over his past two games, down from his season average of 18.9. Washington 3-point specialist Ryan Appleby has made eight of his last 28 attempts (28.5 percent) from beyond the arc.

Worth noting: Cal ranks seventh in the nation in free-throw percentage at 76.7 percent. . Cal center DeVon Hardin missed the Bears' wins at Washington State and Washington with a viral infection. Oregon boasts three of the league's top active career scoring leaders with seniors Malik Hairston (1,496 points) at No. 1, Bryce Taylor (1,321) at No. 2 and Maarty Leunen (1,107) at No. 4. Arizona is 13-3 when scoring at least 70 points and 2-4 when scoring less. The Pac-10 continues to rank as the top league in the Sagarin Rankings. USC coach Tim Floyd landed career win No. 300 when the Trojans beat Washington on Thursday.

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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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