Chris Pietsch / FR24134 AP
Elaine Thompson / AP
Chances are Arizona didn’t see that coming.
After winning both the Pac-12 regular season and tournament crowns before advancing to the Elite 8 of the NCAA Tournament last year, the Oregon Ducks were widely regarded as the league favorite in 2016-17.
Oregon received 23 of 27 first-place votes in the preseason media poll but a slew of nagging injuries, including the lingering recovery from offseason foot surgery for junior Dillon Brooks, set the stage for an uneven start. The Ducks began the year 2-2, losing to an underwhelming Georgetown team, and survived surprisingly close upset bids by Boise State, Alabama, and Fresno State.
Don’t look know, but the Ducks have found their groove.
Oregon made a mockery of its showdown at home Saturday against then-No. 5 Arizona, knocking down 10-of-14 3-pointers in the first half and building a lead that reached 37 points in an 85-58 drubbing.
The Ducks leapfrogged Arizona in this week’s AP top 25 poll, jumping from No. 13 to No. 5 while the Wildcats dropped to No. 9. Oregon faces another big test in the Pac-12’s marquee game this week, visiting No. 10 UCLA on Thursday night. Oregon edged UCLA in a thriller to open league play on Dec. 28, prevailing on a Brooks 3-pointer at the buzzer.
If Oregon can win in Westwood the Ducks will have the inside track at the top seed for the Pac-12 tournament with a favorable schedule down the stretch. After a Los Angeles trip that also includes a tough match at USC, Oregon plays its final five games against Utah, Colorado, Cal, Stanford, and Oregon State, though the final three dates are on the road.
Fultz comes to town
Like the visit from UCLA and its dynamic freshman guard Lonzo Ball, Thursday’s showdown at the Coors Events Center between the Buffaloes and Washington will provide local basketball fans their what likely will be their only opportunity to watch a star in the making in Huskies freshman Markelle Fultz.
Scoring at a 23.2 points-per-game pace, Fultz has a sizeable lead on the league’s No. 2 scorer, Arizona State’s Torian Graham (18.5), and he is on track to become the first freshman to lead the Pac-12 in scoring since Cal’s Shareef Adbur-Rahim did it in 1995-96 with a 21.1 scoring average.
Fultz torched the Buffs for a season-high 37 points in a Huskies overtime win on Jan. 18, which was part of a run of three consecutive games in which he scored at least 30 points. Fultz is coming off a 25-point, six-assist effort in a 107-66 loss against UCLA, meaning he accounted in one fashion or another for over half of his team’s points.
Both NBADraft.net and Sports Illustrated (among others) project Fultz as the top overall pick in this year’s NBA draft.
Oregon’s Brooks was named the Pac-12 Player of the Week after leading the Ducks’ rout of Arizona with 18 points, five rebounds, three assists, and three steals. Brooks also scored 27 points in a win against Arizona State and shot 16-for-24 in the two games…With 188 overall assists and an average of 7.8 per game, Ball is on pace to shatter the league’s record for assists by a freshman, held by former Oregon State and NBA star Gary Payton (229).