Honoring half a season's worth of Pac-10 basketball achievements, Bud Withers picks the 10 best players.
The Demis, please, honoring half a season’s worth of Pac-10 basketball achievements (and don’t be bringing none of that Florida Atlantic, Texas Southern or Central Connecticut State pre-January-mess in here):
An All-Pac-10 team, in the old 10-man-unit form, ranked by most deserving:
1. Darren Collison, UCLA: You look at the Bruins, and somehow they seem underwhelming. But here they are, tied for first place, and Collison ranks high in several statistical categories. As Washington State coach Tony Bennett says, “He leads the league in Pac-10 championships and Final Four appearances and pulling games out when his team needs buckets.”
2. Justin Dentmon, Washington: People are debating whether Dentmon is merely benefiting from the addition of Isaiah Thomas. But he still had to go out and do it, and he’s doing it in style, leading the league in scoring in conference games (19.6), making half his threes and 84 percent of his free throws.
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3. James Harden, Arizona State: There’s little doubt Harden is the best immediate NBA prospect in the Pac-10, and his multifaceted game shows in the numbers. But he deferred too much in the Washington loss, and he’s only led ASU to a 5-4 record at the break.
4. Taj Gibson, USC: With freshman Demar DeRozan up and down and Dwight Lewis having missed several games, Gibson has been a steady force, averaging 13.8 points and 8.4 rebounds. Extra credit here for team achievement, and USC is 6-3.
5. Isaiah Thomas, Washington: Thomas has been a dynamic force who gets to the rim and facilitates Washington’s open-court game. Scoring at 19.2, and he’s more of a three-point threat than his .294 percentage would indicate.
6. Jordan Hill, Arizona: A beast down low who’s the league’s best all-around big man. If only he could raise that .513 field-goal percentage.
7. Jerome Randle, California: Fifth in scoring, first in assists and a .912 foul shooter. He’s not exactly what you think of when you dial up point guards under Mike Montgomery, but he has been the most important figure in Cal’s 5-4 first half.
8. Taylor Rochestie, WSU: OK, he’s on a 4-5 team. But he averages a league-high 41.3 minutes a game in the Pac-10, he’s asked to defend some very good guards, and he’s top 10 in several offensive categories.
9. Jon Brockman, Washington: This list is a little Huskies-heavy, but Brockman deserves a spot if only for his league-high 11.7 rebound average. Washington becoming more guard-oriented takes some offensive load off Brockman, a good thing.
10. Jeff Pendergraph, Arizona State: Scores 15 points a game with nine rebounds. The Sun Devils’ crying need is some help for Pendergraph and Harden.
Just out of the mix: Daniel Hackett, USC (nice all-around player who shut down Harden in their first meeting); Calvin Haynes, Oregon State (makes a ton of big baskets, but doesn’t show up much in the numbers elsewhere); Chase Budinger, Arizona (fourth-leading league scorer, but his game seems to come and go); Aron Baynes, WSU (double-doubles coming with increasing frequency); Patrick Christopher, Cal (big scorer who has leveled off recently).
Coach of the Half-Season: 1, Craig Robinson, Oregon State. Did anybody foresee four Beavers victories in the first half? 2, Lorenzo Romar, Washington. Depending on how the Huskies finish, he might win the award. 3, Mike Montgomery, Cal. Bears have skidded lately, but still look on the right side of the NCAA-tournament reckoning.
Freshman of the half-season: Isaiah Thomas. He’s had a bigger impact than UCLA’s Jrue Holiday, USC’s DeRozan or WSU’s Klay Thompson.
Best Game: Of a half-season, or any season: Cal’s 88-85 triple-overtime win over Washington on Jan. 10. It’s in the top five games I’ve ever seen.
That’s Why They Play the League Award: Stanford blew through its first 10 opponents undefeated, then debuted in the Pac-10 with a 30-point home loss to Arizona State to launch a 3-6 first half. One reason: The Cardinal is allowing .513 shooting in conference.
Biggest game ahead: Not only is UCLA without a significant nonleague victory, the Pac-10 has little cachet in that department; Arizona’s wins over Gonzaga and Kansas, plus Cal’s victory at UNLV are the best.
So if Notre Dame — 12-8 and taking its lumps lately in the Big East — comes West and wins at UCLA Saturday, it’s going to be ugly PR for the Pac-10.
Bud Withers: 206-464-8281 or firstname.lastname@example.org