Pictured: Jaylen Hands
Source: Joe Robbins / Getty Images North America

Preview: USC at UCLA

The stakes are always high when cross-town rivals USC and UCLA square off, but Thursday’s Pac-12 game at Pauley Pavilion brings a bit of added significance. The Trojans and Bruins are tied for fifth in the conference, one game behind Utah in their bid to receive a first-round bye in the Pac-12 tournament with each having a road game against the Utes remaining.

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UCLA is in this position thanks to sophomore guard Jaylen Hands, who scored all his career-high 27 points in the second half as the Bruins erased a 19-point deficit en route to a 90-83 victory over Oregon on Saturday. “We’ve just got to figure out, how can we package that second half,” interim UCLA coach Murry Bartow told reporters. “If we can figure out how to tie a ribbon around the second half as we move forward, then we’re a pretty good basketball team.” USC missed all six of its free-throw attempts – the first time in school history it didn’t record a point from the line – in a 67-62 loss to Oregon State on Saturday in its final home game of the regular season. The Trojans snapped a four-game losing streak in the series with an 80-67 victory Jan. 19 behind 21 points apiece from senior forward Bennie Boatwright and junior forward Nick Rakocevic.

TV: 9 p.m. ET, ESPN

ABOUT USC (15-13, 8-7 Pac-12): Boatwright is third in the conference in scoring (team-high 18.3 points), and is shooting 65.5 percent from 3-point range in the last three games and 58.7 percent on 46 attempts over his past six contests. Rakocevic (15.1 points) leads the Pac-12 with 13 double-doubles and is third in rebounding (team-high 9.4) but recorded only four points versus Oregon State and a total of five boards in his last two games. Freshman guard Kevin Porter Jr. (9.1 points, 4.0 rebounds) registered his first career double-double with 11 points and a personal-best 10 rebounds Saturday, and has reached double-figure scoring in three of his last four contests.

ABOUT UCLA (15-13, 8-7): Sophomore guard Kris Wilkes (team-high 17.2 points) has reached double figures in 26-of-28 games this season, with both misses coming in the last six contests, and scored 20 or more for the ninth time with 20 versus Oregon. Hands (13.5 points), who has averaged 21.4 points while shooting 50 percent from 3-point range in his last five contests, leads the Pac-12 with 6.4 assists per game. Junior guard Prince Ali (9.6 points) averaged only 3.3 points in four games before missing the last two with plantar fasciitis in his left foot.

TIP-INS

1. The Trojans lead the Pac-12 with 16.4 assists per game and are 14-0 this season when recording at least 16.

2. UCLA shot 63.6 percent from 3-point range Saturday – it’s most prolific game since shooting a school-record 76.5 percent in a 95-79 victory over Northwestern in Las Vegas on Nov. 29, 2013.

3. Boatwright, Rakocevic and junior G Jonah Mathews (12.5 points) account for 58.4 percent of USC’s points.

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Source: Ethan Miller / Getty Images North America

Preview: Oregon State at UCLA

Oregon State is fresh off its first season sweep of rival Oregon in nine years. The Beavers are now eyeing another sweep Thursday when they visit UCLA.

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Beating the Bruins, though, at home (79-66 on Jan. 13) and on the road would be even more notable as that hasn’t happened in 31 years. In the meantime, Oregon State has second place all to itself in the Pac-12 – sitting a half-game ahead of Arizona State and Utah – and coach Wayne Tinkle knows his team has plenty of work to do over the final six games of the regular season. “(Sweeping Oregon) is a good start,” Tinkle said Saturday in his post-game news conference. “We just have to bring our hard hats and lunch pails every day.” UCLA also has work to do to get itself out of its current tailspin, having lost four of its last five games and seven of 10 since a 3-0 Pac-12 start.

TV: 11 p.m. ET, Fox Sports 1

ABOUT OREGON STATE (16-8, 8-4): The 72-57 win over the Ducks was the Beavers’ fourth win in their last five games, ensuring the program’s best 12-game conference start since the 1990-91 squad began 11-1. Forward Tres Tinkle (20.1 points per game) and guards/brothers Stephen Thompson Jr. (16.3) and Ethan Thompson (13.7) account for more than two-thirds (67.6 percent) of Oregon State’s scoring and each of the three also averages at least 4.6 rebounds and 3.2 assists. As a team, the Beavers rank second in the conference in field-goal percentage (47.0) and assists per game (15.2) but bring up the rear in 3-point accuracy at 32.3 percent.

ABOUT UCLA (13-13, 6-7): Points haven’t been the problem for the Bruins who are averaging a conference-best 79.6 in Pac-12 play. Rather, sloppy ball handling (league-most 16.2 turnovers in conference action), off-target free-throw shooting (conference-worst 62.8 percent for the season) and poor defense (79.5 points surrendered per Pac-12 contest) have been UCLA’s downfalls, and its 104-80 loss at Stanford last Saturday night is only the latest example. Guards Kris Wilkes (17.3 points), Jaylen Hands (13.0) and center Moses Brown (10.5) are the Bruins’ leading scorers while Hands leads the team – and the Pac-12 – with 6.2 assists per outing.

TIP-INS

1. The Thompson brothers had 17 points, six rebounds and six assists apiece in Oregon State’s Jan. 13 win over UCLA while Wilkes scored a game-high 21 for the Bruins.

2. UCLA has won 13 of the last 14 against Oregon State at Pauley Pavilion, with the lone Beavers victory during that span coming on March 5, 2016.

3. Tres Tinkle is the only Pac-12 player to rank in the top 10 in scoring (second), rebounding (fifth), assists (eighth) and steals (second).

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Pictured: Matisse Thybulle (in white)
Source: Ethan Miller / Getty Image North America

Preview: Washington at Oregon

Washington puts its undefeated Pac-12 record on the line at Oregon on Thursday in a matchup involving the two best scoring defenses in the conference. The Huskies are trying for their first 6-0 start in the Pac-12 since 1983-84, and have outscored their opponents by 100 points during a seven-game winning streak – their longest since starting 11-0 in 2014-15.

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“The only thing I think our standing in the Pac-12 and our record so far in conference does is just we’re getting everyone’s best shot and it makes people want to beat us even more,” Washington senior guard Matisse Thybulle told reporters after the Huskies’ 71-52 victory versus California on Saturday. “That means we have to play even better. We’re accepting the challenge and we’re going to take it head on, and it’s exciting.” The Ducks are coming off a 78-64 loss at Arizona State on Saturday after starting the trip with a 59-54 victory at Arizona on Jan. 17. “We got to continue to develop our team. Offensively, we’re going to have to execute better,” Oregon coach Dana Altman told reporters after his club’s scoring average dropped to 72.1 – second-lowest in the Pac-12 with Washington just ahead 72.6. The Ducks have won six straight in the series – their longest since winning seven in a row from 1937-39 – by an average of 13 points after last season’s 72-64 victory in Seattle behind 14 points from junior guard Payton Pritchard, and hasn’t lost at home to the Huskies since 2010.

TV: 9 p.m. ET, ESPN2

ABOUT WASHINGTON (14-4, 5-0 Pac-12): Sophomore guard Jaylen Nowell (team highs of 16.7 points and 3.4 assists per game, 5.4 rebounds) recorded 11 points, nine rebounds and four assists versus Cal after scoring 19 or more in four of his previous five games, and is averaging 7.6 boards in conference games. Thybulle was eighth nationally in steals (2.72) and 20th in blocks (2.33) entering Thursday – the only player ranked in the top 20 in both categories and one of two in the top 100 (Duke’s Zion Williamson). Senior forward Noah Dickerson (13.2 points, club-high 6.7 rebounds) recorded 12 points and 11 rebounds Saturday for his third double-double of the season while senior guard David Crisp (11.2 points) is scoring 15.6 per contest and has connected on 15-for-26 from the 3-point range in Pac-12 games.

ABOUT OREGON (11-7, 2-3): Pritchard (team highs of 11.9 points and 4.5 assists), whose 20 points Saturday were his most since scoring 22 in the season opener, needs seven assists to become the sixth player in program history with 1,000 points and 400 assists. Freshman forward Louis King (10.4 points, 5.3 rebounds) is averaging 16.8 points and 8.2 rebounds in Pac-12 games, including a pair of double-doubles and recording 19 points, eight rebounds and six assists versus USC on Jan. 13. Senior forward Paul White (10.8 points) has reached double figures in six straight games, averaging 15.6 in the Pac-12 while grabbing at least four rebounds in each of the last six contests.

TIP-INS

1. The Ducks lead the Pac-12 at 64.9 points allowed per game with the Huskies at 65.0 while Washington and Oregon are 1-2 in field goal percentage defense at 39.5 and 39.6, respectively.

2. Thybulle (254 career steals) is five away from moving past Arizona State’s Eddie House (1996-2000) and into third all-time in Pac-12 annals with Oregon State’s Gary Payton (321 from 1986-90) and Stanford’s Brevin Knight (298, 1993-97) leading the way.

3. Ducks senior G Ehab Amin (6.2 points) is one of two active players with 1,000 points (1,175), 500 rebounds (502), 200 assists (212) and 200 steals (249). Fort Wayne’s John Konchar is the other.

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Posted in CBB, Top Fantasy Picks

Preview: Stanford at California

Two weeks after poor air quality in the Bay Area forced officials to postpone the annual rivalry game between California and Stanford, the teams are set to close the regular season Saturday in Berkeley. Cal has lost its last eight meetings against the Cardinal, which rebounded from back-to-back losses to the Washington schools by recording wins over Oregon State and UCLA.

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Known for their run-first offense in recent years, the Cardinal have become a pass-oriented offense behind junior quarterback K.J. Costello, who ranks first in the Pac-12 in passing efficiency and second in the conference in passing yards per game. Costello has thrown 15 touchdown passes over his last four games and continued to impress in last Saturday’s 49-42 win over UCLA, completing 23-of-37 passes for 344 yards and a career-high five scores. “Costello is coming into his own,” coach David Shaw told reporters. “Over the next year, he’s going to be one of the best quarterbacks in America.” The Stanford offense figures to be tested by Cal’s stellar defensive unit, which has allowed an average of 14.2 points over its last five games.

TV: 3 p.m. ET, Pac-12 Network. LINE: Stanford -3

ABOUT STANFORD (7-4, 5-3 Pac-12): JJ Arcega-Whiteside returned last week after missing one game due to injury and tied the school’s single-season record with 14 touchdown receptions after recording seven catches for 106 yards and three scores against the Bruins. Bryce Love had 22 carries for 85 yards and a score but has battled injuries all season and is averaging 4.6 yards per carry, well below his 8.1 average from last year. Senior linebackers Sean Barton and Bobby Okereke have a combined 153 tackles to lead the defense, which needs to regroup after allowing 528 total yards against UCLA.

ABOUT CAL (7-4, 4-4): The Bears’ defense forced a season-high five turnovers in last Saturday’s 33-21 win over Colorado as Elijah Hicks and Ashtyn Davis each scored on interception returns for touchdowns. Freshman Chase Garbers (13 touchdowns against five interceptions) has settled in as a reliable starter for the Bears, who clinched their first winning season since 2015 with last week’s victory. Running back Patrick Laird had 153 rushing yards in last season’s 17-14 loss to Stanford but has been held under the 100-yard mark in his last four games.

EXTRA POINTS

1. Stanford holds a 63-46-11 lead in the all-time series – including a 27-21-6 advantage at Berkeley.

2. Cal linebackers Jordan Kunaszyk and Evan Weaver lead all FBS duos in solo tackles per game (13.7) and all Power 5 duos in total tackles per game (23.2).

3. Stanford is 7-0 this season when forcing at least one turnover and 0-4 when not recording a turnover.

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Posted in CFB, Top Fantasy Picks

USC vs Washington State Preview

USC and Washington State will meet for the first time since 2014 when the No. 16 Cougars host the No. 5 Trojans in a Pac-12 showdown on Friday night (Enter GoW contest). Washington State has won its first four games for the first time since opening the 2001 season with seven straight wins, and USC has won 13 consecutive games, its longest streak since winning 34 in a row from 2003-05.

The Cougars will be playing their fifth straight home game to open the season for the first time in program history, and they’ve scored at least 31 points in their first four wins. USC hasn’t had an easy time in any of its first four victories, but the Trojans are a lot better off than last season, when they opened 1-3, including 0-2 in the Pac-12 after losses to Stanford and Utah. That was the stretch when Sam Darnold took over as starting quarterback and he’s gone 13-1 in that role, though he hasn’t been as sharp as many expected this season. His completion percentage (67.2) is nearly identical to last season, but he has been intercepted seven times in four games, compared to eight times in 10 games as a starter last season.

ABOUT USC (4-0, 2-0 Pac-12)

Darnold is running out of healthy receivers at an alarming rate, and the latest to go down is Deontay Burnett, who is fifth in Division I-A in receptions (33) and seventh in receiving yards (462). Burnett has a shoulder injury and didn’t practice Monday, leaving his status in doubt against the Cougars. USC is already without its second-best receiver, Steven Mitchell Jr., who missed Saturday’s win against California with a groin injury, and he appears further away from returning than Burnett.

ABOUT WASHINGTON STATE (4-0, 1-0 Pac-12)

Luke Falk is in his fourth year as the starting quarterback for the Cougars and he’s off to a strong start, completing 76.9 percent of his passes for 1,378 yards and 14 touchdowns with one interception. His completion percentage is tied for first in the country, his touchdown total is second and his passing yards are fifth. Falk made the first strong impression of his career against the Trojans three years ago when he replaced Connor Halliday, the nation’s passing yardage leader at the time who suffered a season-ending broken leg in the first quarter, and completed 38-of-57 passes for 346 and two touchdowns in the 44-17 loss.

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Posted in CFB

Pac-12 Games of the Week Preview

Be part of the new conference bundle Games of the Week. Get inside the Pac-12 games with Thursday Games of the Week contest (Enter Contest). Here’s a look at the conference matchups.

No 5 UCLA Bruins (24-3) vs Arizona State Sun Devils (13-15)

UCLA is the only Pac-12 team that’s unbeaten in February. The Bruins are coming off one of their most impressive wins of the season, a 102-70 victory Saturday against USC, a team that beat the Bruins by eight points in January. UCLA also put up 102 points the last time it faced Arizona State and small forward Isaac Hamilton had his most productive game of the season, scoring 33 points with the help of 9-for-14 shooting from 3-point range. Hamilton has slowed down of late and hasn’t surpassed his 14.3 scoring average in the last five games, but the Bruins won all five so it hasn’t been a concern.

Arizona State wasn’t able to add to its two-game winning streak and lost at Washington State on Saturday. Torian Graham scored 26 points off the bench against UCLA in the last meeting, and he’s averaging 23.7 points in the last three games while shooting 52.9 percent from the floor.

USC Trojans (21-6) vs No 4 Arizona Wildcats (25-3)

Arizona hasn’t been at full strength very often this season, but the fourth-ranked Wildcats should have all their key personnel available against USC. Starting point guard Kadeem Allen missed the last two games with a finger injury and starting forward Dusan Ristic missed the most recent game with a sprained left ankle, though both are expected to return against the Trojans. Arizona has had its full rotation for just seven games this season, as Allonzo Trier, the team’s top returning scorer, was suspended the first 19 contests. The Wildcats used only seven players in their 76-68 win Saturday at Washington and received just two points from their reserves, but still maintained a one-game lead atop the Pac-12 standings with the win.

USC is coming off losses to No. 7 Oregon and No. 5 UCLA, but is still a game behind fourth-place California because the Golden Bears have also dropped their last two games. USC forward Bennie Boatwright continues to get stronger after missing two months with a knee injury, and the 6-10 sophomore is coming off his first double-double of the season, finishing with 20 points and 10 rebounds in a 102-70 loss to UCLA last weekend.

Utah Utes (17-10) vs Colorado Buffaloes (16-12)

Colorado and Utah have a combined six NCAA Tournament appearances since joining the Pac-12 in 2011. They are currently on the outside of the bubble looking in. Utah got off to a 5-2 start in conference play, but they have 11 players who didn’t log a minute of playing time a season ago. The lack of experience seemingly has caught up with coach Larry Krystkowiak’s crew. Colorado stumbled to a 0-7 Pac-12 start, and even a 6-2 mark since still leaves the Buffaloes three games short of .500 in the conference with three to play.

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Pac-12 Championship Preview

Colorado Buffalos vs Washington Huskies

Washington battles Colorado for Pac-12 championship (Enter Contest). A victory by fourth-ranked Washington over No. 9 Colorado in the Pac-12 Championship Game might be enough to get the Huskies into the College Football Playoff. But maybe not. The prospect of the Big Ten getting two teams into the four-team playoff could shut out Washington (11-1), even if it defeats the surprising Buffaloes (10-2), who went from worst to first in the Pac-12 South in one season. The teams play in the sixth Pac-12 Championship Game on Friday night at Levi Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif. The North champ is 5-0 in the league title game. Washington’s poor non-conference strength of schedule (Rutgers, Idaho, Portland State) could come into play when the selection committee makes its decisions, but first there is the matter of finding a way to beat a veteran, balanced Colorado squad.

Colorado Buffalos

The Buffaloes cleared big hurdles in the past two weeks, twice defeating teams ranked No. 22. They followed a 38-24 win over Washington State with a 27-22 win against Utah to clinch the South at 8-1. That marks three more conference victories than Colorado managed over its first five seasons in the Pac-12. Colorado ranks 13th nationally in total defense (323.8 yards per game) and scoring defense (18.8 points). Senior cornerback Chidobe Awuziewas selected the team’s most valuable defensive player; he has 54 tackles, 10 pass break-ups and a nine career sacks, four this season. Safety Tedric Thompson has tied the school record for most interceptions in a season with seven.

The Buffaloes’ offense isn’t as explosive as Washington’s, but the run-pass balance is formidable. Senior quarterback Sefo Liufau has thrown for 2,150 yards, completing 64.6 percent of his 277 passes, with just three interceptions. Liufau also has 483 rushing yards. Running back Phillip Lindsay posted 1,136 rushing yards in the regular season, to go with 44 receptions.

Washington Huskies

Washington is third nationally in scoring at 44.8 points per game. Sophomore quarterback Jake Browning is third in the country in passing touchdowns (40), fourth in passing efficiency (181.6 rating) and ninth in yards per completion (14.78). In last week’s showdown at Washington State for the Pac-12 North title, he completed 21 of 29 passes for 292 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions. Sophomore running back Myles Gaskin ran for 1,180 yards in the regular season, his second season of at least 1,000 yards. Speedy senior John Ross is second nationally with 16 touchdown catches. Wide receiver Dante Pettis has 14 touchdown receptions. Washington did lose starting linebackers Joe Mathis and Azeem Victorto injuries during the season, but redshirt freshman D.J. Beavers is making the most of his new opportunity. Beavers tallied four tackles with a forced fumble, fumble recovery and interception in last week’s game against Washington State.

Washington and Colorado each lost to USC, with the Buffaloes also dropping a game at Michigan. They were leading that game in the second half before Liufau left with an injury. The Huskies have won six consecutive meetings against Colorado, the last coming in 2014 in Boulder, 38-23.

Posted in CFB

Washington Huskies vs Washington State Cougars Preview

It has been a long time since the Apple Cup packed such importance and No. 5 Washington and No. 23 Washington State square off in a duel for the Pac-12 North Division crown when they meet on Friday in Pullman (Enter Contest). The last time the two rivals were both ranked when they met was in 2001. It was a 26-14 win for the Huskies.  The visiting Washington’s national championship hopes hang in the balance as well as attempting to secure a spot in the Pac-12 title game. The Cougars had an eight-game winning streak halted with a 38-24 road loss to Colorado on Saturday.

ABOUT WASHINGTON (10-1, 7-1 Pac-12)

Sophomore quarterback Jake Browning fueled the Huskies’ rise with his superb play that includes a school-record 37 touchdown passes to go with 2,870 yards and only seven interceptions. Two junior big-play wideouts have certainly aided his production. Both John Ross (64 receptions for 991 yards and 15 touchdowns) and Dante Pettis (46 for 701, 12 scores) are enjoying solid campaigns, as is sophomore running back Myles Gaskin (1,130 yards, nine touchdowns). The defense has lost key players in linebackers Azeem Victor (67 tackles) and Joe Mathis (five sacks) with season-ending injuries. No worries though because junior inside linebacker Keishawn Bierria leads the nation with five fumble recoveries. Washington owns a 70-32-6 series lead and recorded victories in each of the past three meetings.

ABOUT WASHINGTON STATE (8-3, 7-1 Pac-12)

Junior quarterback Luke Falk is enjoying his own splendid season with 35 touchdowns passes (three off the school record he set last season) and he ranks third nationally with 3,935 passing yards. Falk (87) is four touchdown passes away from breaking the Cougars’ record set by Connor Halliday (90 from 2011-14). Senior receiver Gabe Marks (74 catches, 12 touchdowns) became the 13th player in FBS history to top 300 career receptions and his 36 career touchdown catches are five shy of the Pac-12 record held by USC’s Dwayne Jarrett (2004-06). Senior free safety Shalom Luani has a team-best four interceptions and junior middle linebacker Peyton Pelluer has a team-leading 80 tackles for a defense allowing 25.5 points per game.

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