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January 5, 2009

Turnaround Stories in the Pac-10

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kevin Pelton @ 1:41 am

A year ago, California and Oregon State combined for six Pac-10 wins in 36 combined tries. A week into the 2009 conference schedule, the Cardinal and the Beavers are already halfway to that total.

Someday, Barack Obama may be known as Craig Robinson‘s brother-in-law, not the other way around. Well, maybe not, but Robinson does have an Oregon State squad that in 2007-08 became the first in Pac-10 history to go 0-18 playing competitive ball. Sunday, the Beavers paid it off by beating USC 62-58 in overtime to snap a 23-game conference losing streak.

Still, so far Oregon State only ranks second as far as Pac-10 turnarounds go. That’s because Mike Montgomery has his Cal Bears in position to compete for the conference title. Having lost two starters to the NBA Draft after a ninth-place finish in Ben Braun‘s last year at the helm, the Bears were expected to rebuild this season. An 11-2 non-conference record was a great start, but Cal was short on marquee wins (Utah and UNLV, both on the road, being the team’s biggest conquests) and was walloped by 27 at Missouri.

We can safely say the Bears now have a win to point to, having taken down 12-1 Arizona State (No. 7 by Ken Pomeroy’s Pythagorean ratings) 81-71 at Haas Pavilion Sunday to complete a sweep of the Arizona schools. Cal’s start has come on the strength of super-accurate three-point shooting. The Bears lead the NCAA by hitting 50.5 percent from beyond the arc, including 9-of-17 threes Sunday. Junior guard Jerome Randle, a secondary scorer before the departure of Ryan Anderson, is leading the way by hitting 38 threes this season at a 55.9 percent clip and averaging nearly 20 a night after matching James Harden‘s 26 points in the win.

Elsewhere in the Pac-10:
– Don’t expect Arizona to be the last team to come away winless from a trip to the Bay Area. Stanford–also breaking in a new coach, Johnny Dawkins–has exceeded expectations for the post-Lopez twins era, meaning the Cal-Stanford pair is challenging USC-UCLA as the hardest trip in the conference.

– The Trojans’ lack of depth has been a weakness in recent years; now it’s reaching ridiculous proportions. Daniel Hackett and Keith Wilkinson both went the full 45 minutes in the OT loss; Dwight Lewis and Taj Gibson both topped 40. Two USC reserves saw action for a combined 24 minutes.

– Washington snapped a seven-game losing streak to Washington State by a 68-48 final in the weekend’s rivalry matchup. The fate was a familiar one for the Cougs, who defend as well as anyone in the nation (eighth in Pomeroy’s adjusted Defensive Rating while surrendering the nation’s lowest opponent two-point percentage) but simply can’t score consistently after losing Derrick Low and Kyle Weaver from last year’s Sweet Sixteen team. In five losses, Wazzu has averaged 49.4 points, an outcome not entirely attributable to Tony Bennett‘s slow pace. The Cougars’ average Offensive Rating in those five games is a dismal 89.2.

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