When California ventured to Oregon last week, its freshman guard, Jordan Mathews, was in the middle of a nasty shooting slump. In his previous four games, he had hit six field goals in 28 attempts.
So he went for 32 points against the Ducks on 10 of 14 from the field.
We should have figured. And not merely because the Oregon defense is lately a get-well wish for what ails scorers.
Let’s call the Pac-12 what it is: A guards’ league. Undersized guards like Arizona State’s Jahii Carson who defy containment, big guards like Washington’s C.J. Wilcox, with his exquisite rotation on three-point shots, and every other imaginable iteration of college hoops’ reigning form — small ball.
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Almost every week in this year’s Pac-12, your stiffest challenge is from the enemy backcourt.
Check the scoring numbers. There are 14 players averaging 15 points or more, and 12 of them are 6 feet 5 or smaller. The two who aren’t are Utah’s 6-6 Jordan Loveridge, second on his team in treys attempted, and UCLA’s Kyle Anderson, an unusual 6-9 talent who fuels the Bruins with perimeter playmaking skills.
Indeed, it was a Cal guard named player of the week — but not Mathews. Justin Cobb won it with a robust 40-point, 20-assist, 11-rebound weekend in Oregon.
After 10 weeks of that award, the only non-guard to win it is Loveridge.
“I think college has become a guards’ game,” said Washington coach Lorenzo Romar.
The magical names of the past like Patrick Ewing and Bill Walton, of course, stayed and dominated the college game.
“You have to try to find ‘bigs’ that are going to develop and become good,” Romar said. “The one-and-done (caliber), the bigs that are really good, they get to the league right away.”
Not only are there simply more guards out there, there are relatively few difference-makers in the backcourt that move quickly to the NBA.
This is hardly a trend limited to the Pac-12. In the Big Ten, ranked by the RPI computer as the nation’s top league, the top 10 scorers are all guards.
It might never have been as pronounced in the Pac-12 as it is in 2013-14, underscored by the new rules curbing hand-checking and charges taken.
Five years ago, there were three frontcourt scorers among the league’s top nine — Jordan Hill, Chase Budinger and Jon Brockman. Go back 10 years, and the top two were Ike Diogu and Luke Jackson.
Twenty years back, in 1994, Cal’s Lamond Murray led scoring, UCLA’s Ed O’Bannon was sixth and Arizona State’s Mario Bennett eighth.
Thirty years ago? Eight of the top 10 scorers in the Pac-10 were forwards or centers, led by A.C. Green of Oregon State.
Today, when a team has quality size, it’s thus accentuated. And you have Arizona, with 7-foot Kaleb Tarczewski, springy 6-9 Aaron Gordon and 6-8 Brandon Ashley, undefeated and No. 1-ranked.
Monty moving up
With his next Pac-12 victory, Cal coach Mike Montgomery will tie Oregon State’s Slats Gill for No. 3 on the all-time list for league wins. The top 10:
1. Lute Olson, Arizona (1984-2007), 327.
2. John Wooden, UCLA (1949-75), 304.
3. Slats Gill, Oregon State (1929-64), 276.
4. Mike Montgomery, Stanford-Cal (1986-2004, 2009-2014), 275.
5. Hec Edmundson, Washington (1921-47), 266.
6. Jack Friel, WSU (1929-58), 232.
7. Ralph Miller, OSU (1971-89), 204.
8. Nibs Price, Cal (1925-54), 192.
9. Marv Harshman, WSU-UW (1959-85), 176.
10, George Raveling, WSU-USC (1973-83, 1987-94), 140.
And what’s more …
• Sunday’s Colorado-Washington game keeps getting more disastrous for the Buffs. Not only did CU lose its best player, Spencer Dinwiddie, to a season-ending knee injury in the 71-54 loss, Tacoma freshman Tre’Shaun Fletcher needs knee surgery and will be out 6-8 weeks.
• Wednesday night’s UW-California game is reminiscent of 2013, when the Huskies won as part of a three-game sweep of the road to start the Pac-12. Now it’s the Bears who have begun with three victories away from home, hoping to get more mileage from it than Washington did last year.
• ASU’s Herb Sendek on UCLA freshman guard Zach LaVine of Bothell: “Zach’s an extraordinary talent. I was blown away by his talent and skill level.”
Bud Withers: 206-464-8281 or firstname.lastname@example.org