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Saturday, November 22, 2014 | Last updated: 4:41pm

Pac-12 basketball power rankings: Arizona holds number three spot



Arizona’s fall from the unbeatens seemed like a foregone conclusion with so many close wins in a row; but after Oregon bested the Wildcats, two new teams have risen to the top and, at this point in the season, are favorites for the Pac-12.

Sure, Arizona still has the best overall resume and most potential, as shown by falling just three spots to No. 7 in the latest AP poll. Both No. 24 UCLA and No. 21 Oregon have more favorable schedules to finish off the season though, and with the way the Bruins are rolling, they now sit in the driver’s seat.

It feels like so long ago when UCLA lost to lowly Cal Poly in Pauley Pavilion. It didn’t get much better as San Diego State comfortably defeated the Bruins in Anaheim, causing them to fall to 5-3 . The seat of head coach Ben Howland was burning and, coupled with the transfers of Joshua Smith and Tyler Lamb, things were headed toward disaster in Los Angeles. That’s no longer the case.

UCLA is back into the rankings thanks to a nine-game winning streak. Freshman Shabazz Muhammad appears to be the real deal and the home and away meetings with Arizona should decide the conference.

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Arizona Daily Wildcat File Photo

Before that game, though, another Pac-12 contender will have a say in the title fight — Oregon.

The Ducks lack the big names of UCLA and UA; they even lack a clear leader on their team. Freshman Damyean Dotson leads the Ducks with 11.8 points per game, but right behind him are four players who average 10.1 to 10.9 points per game.

The balanced scoring and frantic pace of Oregon kept the Wildcats on their heels in Eugene, resulting in 14 turnovers and several ugly possessions. In between Arizona’s 11-0 and 11-3 runs to start and finish the game, Oregon outscored the then-No. 4 team in the nation 67-44. Head coach Dana Altman’s team is for real.

The Ducks also have the benefit of a friendly schedule — they’re all done with the Arizona schools and only play UCLA and USC this week. Yes, the game is in Pauley Pavilion and UCLA should be the favorite. But if Oregon manages to pull it out, it’ll have the tiebreaker over both preseason favorites.

Three other teams — ASU, Washington and Colorado — are still in the conference mix, but none of them are likely to make a real push. While Colorado has the talent to contend, the late game collapse against Arizona has knocked the Buffs off their game.

Colorado dropped its next game to the Sun Devils and then fell at home to UCLA during the weekend.

ASU has been the biggest surprise in the Pac-12 this season, but it has a true measuring stick game Saturday against the Wildcats.

With that said, though, a seemingly lame duck coach in Herb Sendek has done more than enough to save his job. Freshman Jahii Carson proved he was worth the wait, but it’s not quite time to anoint him as the conference’s top guard.

Washington’s perfect conference start (3-0) appears to stem more from a favorable slate of games than the Huskies turning a corner.

Still, all three wins came on the road and it’s a different Huskies team from the one that lost to Albany in the second game of the season. It’s not as talented of a Washington team as head coach Lorenzo Romar typically has, but at the very least, the Huskies are turning into a dangerous opponent.

In the long run, though, the Pac-12 hunt should turn back into a two-team race. Oregon is definitely good, and so is Colorado, but the conference is much deeper this year and the Ducks should stubble enough to fall into third. Unless the Buffs’ controversial loss in Tucson was a season-ruining moment and the wheels continue to fall off, Colorado should still slide comfortably into fourth place.

After two weeks of conference play, there is little doubt that Arizona and UCLA are the two most talented teams in the conference. But at least for the sake of competitiveness, it appears that the conference race should be much closer than it looked a month ago.

1. No. 24 UCLA (14-3, 4-0 Pac-12) Previous Rank: 3
Week 3: vs. OSU; vs. Oregon
Last Week: W 57-53 at Utah; W 78-75 at Colo.

2. No. 21 Oregon (14-2, 3-0) PR: 4
Week 3: at USC; at UCLA
Last Week: W 70-66 vs. Ariz.; W 68-65 vs. ASU

3. No. 7 Arizona (15-1, 3-1) PR: 1
Week 3: vs. Arizona State
Last Week: L 70-66 at Ore.; W 80-70 at OSU

4. Arizona State (14-3, 3-1) PR: 7
Week 3: vs. Arizona
Last Week: W 72-62 at OSU; L 68-65 at Ore.

5. Washington (11-5, 3-0) PR: 8
Week 3: vs. Colorado; vs. Utah
Last Week: W 62-47 at Cal; W 65-60 at Stanford

6. Colorado (11-5, 1-3) PR: 2
Week 3: at Washington; at WSU
Last Week: W 66-60 vs. USC; L 78-75 vs. UCLA

7. California (10-6, 2-2) PR: 6
Week 3: at Stanford
Last Week: L 62-47 vs. Wash.; W 67-54 vs. WSU

8. USC (7-10, 2-2) PR: 12
Week 3: vs. Oregon; vs. OSU
Last Week: L 66-60 at Colo.; W 76-59 at Utah

9. Stanford (10-7, 1-3) PR: 5
Week 3: vs. Cal
Last Week: W 78-67 vs. WSU; L 65-60 vs. Wash.

10. Utah (8-8, 0-4) PR: 11
Week 3: at WSU; at Washington
Last Week: L 57-53 vs. UCLA; L 76-59 vs. USC

11. Oregon State (10-6, 0-3) PR: 9
Week 3: at UCLA; at USC
Last Week: L 72-62 vs. ASU; L 80-70 vs. Ariz.

12. Washington State (9-7, 0-3) PR: 10
Week 3: vs. Utah; vs. Colorado
Last Week: L 78-67 at Stanford; L 67-54 at Cal

­­—Kyle Johnson is a journalism junior. He can be reached at sports@wildcat.arizona.edu or on Twitter via @KyleJohnsonUA


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