Pac-12 Basketball: UCLA strength, “buy game” losses among early takeaways

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Pac-12 Basketball Oregon Ducks guard Jacob Young Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

Pac-12 Basketball tipped off the season going 18-6 in the first week of the season. It was a weekend that highlighted the disparity in the conference and the work left to do for the teams found in the middle. Here are some initial thoughts on week one and what to look for in the next couple of games.

The strength at the top

All eyes were on the Pauley Pavilion Friday night when UCLA hosted Villanova in the biggest game in the first week of the season. The Bruins snuffed out any potential doubt that their tournament run was a fluky result of a team getting hot at the right time by mounting a tough-as-nails comeback and winning 86-77 in overtime after trailing by 10 with 9:24 left in the second half.

The win was particularly significant considering the absence of senior Cody Riley who missed the game with an MCL sprain from their 95-58 victory against CSU Bakersfield on Tuesday. Johnny Juzang’s 25 point performance received most of the attention–understandably–but Jaimie Jaquez and Tyger Campbell had incredible impacts in their facets of the game. Jaquez pulled down 13 rebounds and scored 21 points while Campbel took care of the ball and was hard to stop with his dribble penetration.

Notably, Mick Cronin went with a short rotation against the fourth-ranked Wildcats with his starters playing over 33 minutes. Once Riley is back and freshman five-star Peyton Watson is up to speed, lookout.

The Oregon Ducks offense is scary. Seniors Will Richardson and Jacob Young are averaging 61% and 43% respectively from outside as they boat raced Texas Southern and SMU to start the season. Their defense also looks potent as senior forward Eric Williams and junior guard Devion Harmon are averaging 2.5 and 2 steals per game.

Junior Quincy Guerrier looks as good as advertised, averaging 9.0 rebounds, 8.5 points and a block in the first two games. The Ducks won handily against a decent SMU team without N’Faly Dante, who is still recovering from a torn ACL and should return in a matter of weeks. This Ducks team has not taken a step back after winning last year’s conference title and the rest of the conference should be put on notice.

The return of Arizona basketball on the national scene is coming sooner than a lot of folks may have originally thought. In Tommy Lloyd’s first couple of games in his head coaching career, the Wildcats displayed a lot of toughness and firepower. Lloyd has five guys averaging double-digit points after beating Northern Arizona 81-52 and UT Rio Grande Valley 104-50 to start the season.

In just 43 minutes, junior center Christian Koloko leads the nation with 10 blocks and is averaging 13 points and 7.5 rebounds over the two games. With returning All-Pac-12 forward Azuolas Tubelis continues to display dominance in high usage and transfer Oumar Ballo showing signs of development (averaged 10 points and 7.5 rebounds in 12 minutes over the two games) the Wildcats have one of the better frontcourts in the conference. Time will tell if that bears out as the level of competition improves.

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