Both the Arizona Wildcats and Arizona State Sun Devils took care of business in week one of Pac-12 play by knocking off Utah and Colorado at home. It came with overtime, controversy, comebacks and close finishes when talking about the play of both teams. Wins are crucial once you get into conference play and no matter what fashion the wins came about, the bottom line was they were wins.
Starting with the Wildcats. The week started with a rematch of the Pac-12 Tournament title game with Colorado and Arizona showed the same problems against the Buffalo’s that they had last season. They struggled to get into a consistent offense and got little production from their post players. At least last season they had the excuse of having their main post player that only stood about 6’6” (Jessie Perry).
Whether or not Sabatino Chen’s shot should have counted (and it probably should have), the fact that they came out that flat and trailed by as much as 17 and still pulled out the win speaks volumes of the mental toughness of this team.
The Wildcats got off to a better start against Utah and did not trail once in the game. But it was a battle at home against a team that was predicted to be one of the bottom feeders of the conference. Defending the three has been a problem that Sean Miller has pointed out from the beginning of the season and it remains an issue. They gave up 17 three pointers in the two games combined. That three point shot is what kept the Utes close in the second half.
The Week One Wildcat MVP: Solomon Hill. Had 34 points and 14 rebounds in the two games. Took over in overtime against Colorado and decided no one could guard him against Utah. If you factor in the San Diego State game too, thats 55 points in the last three games. When Hill decides no one can guard him, no one can guard him.
Now to the Sun Devils in what was a very exciting step forward for Herb Sendek and his team. They have now won five games in a row and start conference play 2-0 for the first time since the 2007-08 season. There is no doubt that Utah came to play the first week of conference play. That was seen against Arizona and before that game it was seen in an overtime battle against the Devils. Jahii Carson hit the big shots in regulation and in overtime but for the most part struggled shooting the ball in his first pac-12 game. He was 5 of 18 including 1 of 6 from three. It was ASU’s defense that set the tone and was key in the win as they held the Utes to 34% shooting and just 54 total points in a game that included overtime.
The biggest highlight of the weekend was Sunday night’s win over Colorado. Just like in the Arizona game, ASU found themselves way down early with a 17-4 first half deficit. But they battled back to be within three at half and started the second half rolling. Defense was the difference again and it was once again Jordan Bachynski owning the paint with his nine blocked shots that got the Devils the stops necessary to make the comeback. ASU showed a lot of heart and desire to win on their home floor and did something we haven’t seen a ton of since James Harden left. That’s battle back in games where they face a double digit deficit.
The week one Sun Devils MVP: Carrick Felix. Had 37 points and 21 rebounds in the two games and that just tells part of the story. He played all 43 minutes in the wild overtime game against Utah and his leadership on the floor for this team was absolutely vital. Jahii Carson may be “the guy” on this team but Pac-12 play is a different animal and credit Felix for picking up the slack as Carson got his feet wet.
Next for both Arizona schools are the Oregon schools on the road which will be huge tests for both teams. The Ducks are off to a fantastic start and have one of the most productive freshman in the country in Damyean Dotson, who leads the team in scoring. Of course playing on that crazy Knight Center court is an adjustment in itself.
The Beavers are always tough to beat in Corvalis and Craig Robinson has a strong veteran lead group with juniors Roberto Nelson, Devon Collier and Ahmad Starks and senior Joe Burton. This is the first and only time the Wildcats and Devils play the Oregon schools in the regular season so they better make it count.
The NAU Lumberjacks ended a three game losing streak last week but were unable to get back-to-back wins for the first time of the season as they beat Sacramento State but fell to Southern Utah. Jack Murphy’s active Jacks defense was the story in the last two games as they forced 41 turnovers combined. In the win over Sac State alone, they had a 19-4 scoring advantage in points off turnovers.
For the Jacks to start a win streak, they need to find some consistency shooting from the field. Despite beating Sac State they shot just 32% and in the loss to Southern Utah they shot a little better, 41% but shot only 17% from the three point line.
Lumberjacks MVP last week: DeWayne Russell. The freshman combined to have 43 points and eight assists in the two games last week and continues to be such a bright spot for this team in year one under coach Murphy.
Up next for NAU, two road games against two struggling teams. Eastern Washington and Portland State. Both have just three wins on the season.
The GCU Lopes improved their win streak to 13 in a row with two big wins in California over California Baptist in overtime and Point Loma. The longest such streak since 1988 for them. For the Lopes it was the high’s and lows behind the three point line. They started the game against Cal Baptist 0 of 8 but then hit a couple big ones down the stretch, including the Braylon Pickrel one that forced OT and kept the win streak alive. That momentum from behind the arc at the end of that game transferred to the game against Point Loma as they hit 7 of 12.
Lopes MVP last week: Braylon Pickrel. 31 points in the two games which included clutch and consistent shooting for the Lopes.
This week the Lopes have one of the most difficult games on their schedule as they travel to Dixie State who is always one of the teams to beat in the Pac West. They finish the road trip at Fresno Pacific.