Southern California’s hiring of now-former Oklahoma football coach Lincoln Riley has provided a huge jolt of excitement and optimism surrounding one of the Pac-12 Conference’s biggest brands.
The early portion of the men’s basketball season has perhaps also revealed one turn of events that could provide a similar lift to the league. Another traditional league power, Arizona basketball, is showing signs of a return to form under first-year coach Tommy Lloyd.
The Wildcats improved to 6-0 on Saturday with a thorough rout of Sacramento State. Arizona’s start was highlighted by a championship at the Main Event in Las Vegas, which culminated with an 18-point win against then-No. 4 Michigan.
Lloyd, formerly a top assistant at Gonzaga, has the Wildcats humming going into their Pac-12 opener on Thursday at home against Washington (6:30 p.m. MT, Pac-12 Networks). Azuolas Tubelis (16.5 ppg, 6.5 rpg) and 7-foot-1 Christian Koloko (16.2 ppg, 7.5 rpg) have emerged as a formidable frontcourt tandem. Yet perhaps the biggest key to the Wildcats’ early success has been the play of point guard Kerr Kriisa.
Kriisa appeared in only eight games last year after working through NCAA eligibility issues after arriving from Estonia. While he begins the week shooting just .357 from the floor, Kriisa has directed Arizona’s attack superbly, posting 32 assists against just six turnovers through the first six games.
“I think it was really cool to see his effort and energy,” Lloyd said of Kriisa’s play following the Wildcats’ 105-59 dismantling of Sacramento State. “He really broke that game open in the first half. He got us going up and down and he’s trying to get the crowd in the game — then you look at the end of the day, I think he made one basket.”
Arizona jumped from No. 17 to No. 11 in the latest AP Top 25 poll released on Monday.
UW’s Brown honored
Washington guard Terrell Brown Jr was named the Pac-12 player of the week on Monday.
The Huskies split four games but Brown, a transfer from Arizona, was a constant threat throughout, shooting .548 (34-for-62) overall with a 3-for-5 mark on 3-pointers. Brown also averaged 5.3 rebounds and 4.0 assists. Brown’s biggest game was a 13-for-18, 32-point performance in a win against South Dakota State, and he scored 23 points as UW knocked off George Mason and its contingent of former Buffs.
Colorado got its first look at one of the Pac-12’s top freshmen on Sunday in Stanford’s Harrison Ingram. The Buffaloes will see another one on Wednesday in UCLA rookie Peyton Watson.
A 6-foot-8 combo shooting guard/small forward out of Long Beach, Watson hasn’t made quite the same early splash as Ingram, in large part because Watson is further down a rotation top-heavy with accomplished veterans. In seven games off the bench, Watson has averaged 14.9 minutes while shooting .341 overall and 1-for-9 on 3-pointers. However, Watson broke out with a 9-for-12, 19-point performance last week during a win against Bellarmine.
Watson was ranked among the top 10 recruits in the nation for the 2021 freshman class by Rivals.com and 247Sports.com.
The Pac-12’s rankings as of Monday morning at KenPom.com: UCLA (8), USC (12), Arizona (16), Oregon (52), Colorado (54), Washington State (57), Utah (70), Arizona State (85), Stanford (88), Oregon State (115), Cal (121), and Washington (147)…UCLA dropped three spots to No. 5 in this week’s AP Top 25, while USC climbed four spots to No. 20. Those two teams and No. 11 Arizona were the only Pac-12 teams to collect points in this week’s vote.