Desert Double take for week of February 18

A look around the state at Arizona, Arizona State, Northern Arizona and Grand Canyon and how their basketball teams fared this past week plus looking at what’s ahead this week on the hardwood.

Arizona

Well it was just another crazy week in the Pac-12. Arizona coming off a tough home loss to Cal, knew it was going to be a very hostile environment as they went into Colorado Thursday night. I mentioned last week that the biggest key was to start fast and deliver the first blow before the first media time out. Something they had not done in four of the last six games prior. Once again they did not in Boulder and pretty much played on their heals the entire game. Spencer Dinwiddie was unstoppable and freshman Xavier Johnson couldn’t miss. Colorado has solidified themselves as one of the top home court advantages in the conference.

Then came Utah. The Wildcats had trouble putting them away in the second half in their first meeting at McKale and the same exact thing happened. I’ll start off by saying it was a win snapping a two-game skid, but that’s about the only positive I’ll take from the entire weekend. Sean Miller said it best after the game. In summary he said when the defense is clicking as a unit, shots and free throws are hard to come by. That was the case in the first half as the Utes only had only three free throws attempted in the half. But then Miller noted that it all came apart in the second half and they got back to not working together defensively. The end result, Utah had 15 free throw attempts in the half.

Wildcats MVP this week: Mark Lyons. No he is not the point guard everybody wants, but he is they player that the team needs. 1 of 9 from three against Utah is dreadful. But if not for his scoring from within the perimeter down the stretch, the Wildcats drop their third straight. Wildcat fans just have to know if they haven’t figured it out yet that it won’t always be pretty with Lyons. But he holds the key to the team’s success in the ladder stages of this season.

Arizona needs to make a statement this week. The Washington schools come to town and if you’re the Wildcats they need to leave thinking wow, this is the best team in the conference. Everyone seem’s down on this team right now on whether or not they are capable of winning the conference and making a long run in March. Washington and Washington State are both having extremely disappointing years, the Wildcats need to kick them while they are down on their home floor and get themselves ready from an intensity standpoint for what’s ahead in Southern California next week.

Arizona State

I don’t think even Herb Sendek could accurately state what to expect from this ASU team night-in and night-out. On Wednesday, ASU almost blows their season playing one of their worst games of the season up in Salt Lake City. Jason Washburn just stuck it to Jordan Bachynski and Ruslan Patev. Jahii Carson turned the ball over far too many times. The Sun Devils couldn’t get anything going on either side of the ball and looked like a team that had finally hit the wall this season.

Then comes Saturday up in Boulder. I mentioned how great the Buffs have been at home the last two seasons. But they came out flat against the Sun Devils and ASU took full advantage. ASU played like a team that knew their season was on the line and put together as gutsy an effort anyone has seen from them in quite some time. When you have one player (Jahii Carson) that just refuses to let up, it becomes contagious. ASU almost blew a late lead but had the strength and resiliency to come away with the win in overtime, salvaging their NCAA tournament hopes with what I believe is their best and most important win of the year to this point.

Sun Devils MVP last week: Evan Gordon. ASU does not beat Colorado without Jahii but ASU is not in the game and literally does not win the game without Gordon. Was a great offensive threat and hit the game winner in overtime to seal it. Carson can only do so much on his own, without Gordon, ASU is making NIT plans.

ASU showed that they are better than both Washington State and Washington based on how they played against them both on the road a few weeks ago. They will never tell you that they are looking ahead and it’s one week at a time but the SoCal trip and the Trip to Tucson will all be very tough games. These next two are the most winnable left on their schedule and the Sun Devils can ill-afford to have a miss step. Each game is important but the final two home games of the season must be must wins.

Northern Arizona

Despite losing two of the last three games, NAU is still right in the thick of a high seed for the Big Sky Tournament. Six teams are with a game of each other for third place in the conference so every game will count. The Lumberjacks had a golden opportunity to take that third place spot but fell on the road in a hard fought battle against Northern Colorado. It has been a frustrating season at times but one thing that has remained true is the fact that the Jacks do not know how to mail it in. They responded to that Northern Colorado loss with an enormous road win over a team ahead of them in the standings, North Dakota in what was their first ever trip to Grand Forks.

Lumberjacks MVP this week: DeWayne Russell: Was forced to come off the bench for NAU against Northern Colorado and gave the team a spark with 15 points. Against North Dakota, was back in the starting line-up and played all 45 minutes of the game. Hit the game tying shot at the end of regulation to force overtime. Had 21 points, 6 rebounds and 5 assists in the game.

Next up is a rare non-conference game for this time of year against Hawaii who is fourth in the Big West but is currently riding a two-game losing streak. It is their lone game this week and could be a very good tune-up for what’s ahead. A very important final two-game home stand of the season.

Grand Canyon

GCU made a statement this week playing three road games, all of which they expected to win, and do so in blowout fashion. Beating Notre Dame de Namur by 28, Academy of Art by 27 (scored 105 points in the process), and grind out a road win over a very tough Dominican team by one. They go 4-0 on their Northern California road trip since falling to Dixie State in that tough home loss and keep themselves just one game behind Dixie for first in the conference.

Lopes’ MVP this week: Josh Lowery. Has really been huge for the Lopes all season but especially of late. His team high 16 points was critical in the win over Dominican and only missed two shots on the night.

This week the Lopes return home for their final two home games of the season against Hawai’i Pacific and BYU-Hawaii. Both are in the top six in the Pac West standings and will have a chip on their shoulder for conference tournament positioning. The win over Dominican gave GCU their 21st win of the season which is the most since head coach Russ Pennell took over as head coach. GCU hasn’t won 22 games in a season since 1995-96 when they won 23.