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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Pac-10 Tournament Preview: Men’s Basketball

X-factor

Derrick Williams

It’s a no-brainer. Williams makes Arizona go, so long as he isn’t on the bench within minutes of the tip. Even if his numbers don’t blow anyone away, the forward’s presence inside opens up shots or lanes to the basket for his fellow Wildcats.

His 22 minutes of four free throw attempts and seven field goal attempts were more than enough for the Wildcats to tab 20 assists and a 56 percent field goal line against Oregon.

That being said, those numbers might not be good enough to sweep through the Pac-10 Tournament. Williams will need to stay on the court and assert himself for more than 25 minutes per game if Arizona expects to advance.

Why Arizona will win

Facing Oregon, the Wildcats regained their offensive groove by making the Ducks pay for collapsing their defense on forward Derrick Williams. So what’d UA do? It shot 11-for-25 from beyond the arc and earned 23 points at the foul line.

Williams scored 14 points and was limited with foul troubles, but his four most important teammates — guards Momo Jones and Kyle Fogg, along with forwards Kevin Parrom and Solomon Hill — all had their second consecutive strong outings.

And despite being unable to put either Oregon school completely away this past weekend, Arizona did make enough defensive stops to avoid any nail-biters. If they can carry that McKale magic to the Staples Center, they’ll be in good shape..

Why Arizona will lose

An NCAA Tournament bid isn’t on the line for Arizona, only upholding a high seed is.

Just as a No. 10 national ranking got to players’ heads two weeks ago, the glee of the regular season conference championship runs the risk of causing Arizona’s team to eye the NCAA Tournament rather than the task at hand.

In the end, Arizona doesn’t have as much to play for as do a number of other teams who are fighting for NCAA Tournament eligibility or playing this tournament as their entire postseason. If the Wildcats come out flat, especially on the road, even a first round loss is possible.

Team with most to gain

USC

At 18-13, the Trojans are on the outside looking in, but after playing well toward the end of the season, that all could change. Probably the most likely team to upset a UCLA, Washington or Arizona, winning two games against No. 5 seed Cal and (likely) No. 1 seed Arizona might put them on the bubble.

ESPN’s bracketology has the Trojans being one of the first four teams out, and as Wildcat fans and Southern California head coach Kevin O’Neill know, sometimes a team doesn’t need 20 wins to reach the NCAA Tournament — see then-interim head coach O’Neill’s Arizona squad in 2008, which won 19 games before losing in the first round.

Granted, that was a much, much better Pac-10 in 2008. Oh, and then that whole NCAA investigation took away that 2008 postseason, so nevermind.

 

Team with most to lose

Washington

Currently predicted as a No. 10 seed in many NCAA brackets, the Huskies can’t falter much more. If head coach Lorenzo Romar’s team and its 20-10 record loses right off the bat in the Pac-10 Tournament, then all of a sudden UW is risking being a bubble team for NCAA consideration.

Though the Huskies played a tough schedule, which has accounted for most of the losses, they won’t be helping themselves if they drop to a No. 12 NCAA seed and play a tough No. 5 squad from, say, the Big East Conference.

A poor Pac-10 showing makes Washington’s NCAA Tournament run a short one.

X-factor

Klay Thompson, WSU

Cougar head coach Ken Bone announced that his star player, Thompson, will return to game action after being suspended for marijuana possession last week. As the No. 6 seed in the tournament, Washington State does have 19 wins on the season and with Thompson, the ability to knock off their rival Huskies in the team’s first game at Staples Center.

Without Thompson, the Cougars put a scare to UCLA, who won by four points in Pullman, Wash., on Saturday. Who knows? Maybe Thompson’s return and a newfound confidence in his teammates without him might spark a run to the championship game.

 

Winner

UCLA

Of all the contests, the Bruins have the easiest path.

Arizona runs the risk of playing an Oregon State team that it doesn’t match-up well with before facing USC or Cal, who both know they can play with the Wildcats. Then, assuming the top seeds win, they’d have to beat UCLA or Washington for the title.

Meanwhile, the Huskies play their rival in the first game and will likely hit a second game versus the Bruins, who have the Los Angeles advantage tacked on to what should be an easier first game against Oregon or ASU.

The Bruins get the luck of the draw and have enough left in the tank to come out on top.

 

— Kevin Zimmerman

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