There's still plenty to be decided in the Pac-12 race in the final week of the season. Washington and Arizona State have clinched a first-round bye to the Pac-12 Tournament, but 8 teams are jockeying for the final 2 spots.
STANFORD, Calif. – No. 25 Washington avoided a disastrous Bay Area trip and did just enough to defeat Stanford 62-61 Sunday to salvage a split in its final regular-season road games.
The Huskies (23-6, 14-2 Pac-12) return home with the outright Pac-12 title and a little bit of momentum heading into their final week of games at Alaska Airlines Arena.
Here are three impressions.
OLD AND HEALTHY IS PAYING OFF
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There are few teams as old as Washington, which has three seniors (Matisse Thybulle, David Crisp and Noah Dickerson) in the starting lineup and a fourth (Dominic Green) who is usually the first person off the bench.
Together, they’ve played in more than 500 games and they’ve practically seen everything college basketball has to offer.
Washington’s seniors are seasoned to the point where they’re comfortable in close games on the road. They don’t normally make silly mistakes and they tend to come up with the requisite amount of plays to pull out close victories.
And it helps to have sophomore guard Jaylen Nowell, who is perhaps one of the best closers in UW history.
Washington’s 2-3 zone defense kept the score down and forced 19 turnovers that led to 28 points.
Meanwhile, the veteran-laden Huskies made one more play than Stanford, which has just one senior (Josh Sharma) in the rotation surrounded by a cast of underclassmen.
When it mattered most, Washington knew what it wanted to do. The Huskies put the ball in the hands of Nowell, who delivered two clutch baskets in the final 90 seconds.
At the other end, Stanford’s best player KZ Okpala had a miserable game and finished with just six points on 2-for-7 shooting. He tried to be the hero and launched an ill-advised three-pointer in the final seconds that missed badly.
UW’S OFFENSE BOGGED DOWN AGAIN
Josh Sharma, a 7-foot center, proved to be a formidable barrier for the Huskies. Whenever they got inside, he made life difficult.
Stanford’s big man was the best player on the court and finished with 16 points, 14 rebounds, four blocks and two steals in 31 minutes.
Still, it’s unclear why the Huskies didn’t replicate the game plan from their first matchup with the Cardinal that resulted in an 80-64 victory Jan. 17.
In that game, Sharma wasn’t much of a factor on the defensive end partly because UW employed a smaller lineup that didn’t allow him to park in front of the basket.
With Sam Timmins playing 22 minutes, the Huskies used a four-guard lineup that spread the floor. Green came off the bench and knocked down three three-pointers to open the lanes even wider for Nowell (22 points), Nahziah Carter (13) and Crisp (10).
Sunday, Washington relied on isolation plays and dribble-drive penetration a few times in the second half for some much-needed scoring. Seemingly, the Huskies could have blown past the Cardinal and gotten into the lane for the entire game.
Granted, Nowell and Carter were saddled with foul troubles, but when they were the floor at the same time one of them had a big matchup advantage that wasn’t utilized enough.
Nowell finished with 13 points on 6-for-11 shooting and Carter made 3 of 6 shots for seven points.
A LOOK AT THE PAC-12 TOURNAMENT STANDINGS
Washington is guaranteed the No. 1 spot in the Pac-12 Tournament and California is locked in the 12th seed so there’s a chance they could meet again in Las Vegas in two weeks.
The Golden Bears would have to claim an upset victory in their tournament opener to face UW, which has a first-round bye. Cal captured a stunning 76-73 victory over the Huskies last week.
Arizona State clinched a first-round bye and Washington State will finish 11th for the second consecutive season.
But there’s still plenty of jockeying in the standings as eight teams still are in contention for a coveted top-four finish, which secures a spot in the quarterfinals.
If the season ended today, here a look at the seedings for the Pac-12 Tournament.
Wednesday, March 13
Game 1: No. 8 Oregon (17-12, 8-8) vs. No. 9 Arizona (17-13, 8-9), noon PT (Pac-12 Network).
Game 2: No. 5 UCLA (16-13, 9-7) vs. No. 12 California (7-22, 2-15), 2:30 p.m. PT (Pac-12 Network).
Game 3: No. 7 USC (15-14, 8-8) vs. No. 10 Stanford (15-14, 8-9), 6 p.m. PT (Pac-12 Network).
Game 4: No. 6 Colorado (17-11, 8-8) vs. No. 11 Washington State (11-18, 4-12), 8:30 p.m. PT (Pac-12 Network).
Thursday, March 14
Game 5: Game 1 winner vs. No. 1 Washington (23-6, 14-2), noon PT (Pac-12 Network).
Game 6: Game 2 winner vs. No. 4 Utah (15-13, 9-7), 2:30 p.m. PT (Pac-12 Network).
Game 7: Game 3 winner vs. No. 2 Arizona State (20-9, 11-6), 6 p.m. PT (Pac-12 Network).
Game 8: Game 4 winner vs. No. 3 Oregon State (17-11, 9-7), 8:30 p.m. PT (ESPN).
Friday, March 15
Game 9: Semifinal 1, 6 p.m. PT (Pac-12 Network).
Game 10: Semifinal 2, 8:30 p.m. PT (ESPN).
Saturday, March 16
Game 11: Pac-12 Championship, 7 p.m. PT (ESPN).