Though they’re in the midst of their best start in school history, the No. 14 Utah Utes appear far from complacent — they’re still in the Pac-12, after all.
With upcoming meetings with No. 4 (and first-place) Oregon tonight and No. 9 Oregon State on Sunday, keeping the momentum of their historic season alive means grabbing at least one win in two very difficult locations to play: Eugene, where the Ducks are 10-0 this season, and Corvallis, where the Beavers have lost just once on the year.
That said, the Utes are coming into this weekend with some excellent energy in the form of Sunday’s 75-68 upset victory over then-No. 6 Stanford, marking the Utes’ first win over the Cardinal in school history. Normally a 46.1 percent-shooting team, Stanford was held to just 38.5 percent from the floor — their second-lowest outing of the year — and 28.6 percent from three. On the other end of the floor, Utah saw Erika Bean convert a career-high 5 three-pointers en route to a career-high 23 points, while Megan Huff notched her tenth double-double of the season with 17 points and 13 rebounds.
But Utah will have its hands full right away on Friday against Oregon, whose entire roster — including triple-double queen Sabrina Ionescu — is jam-packed with stars. The Ducks are the lone undefeated team in Pac-12 games, not having lost since Dec. 9 at Michigan State. In conference play, the Ducks average 84 points per game on 43.1 percent shooting, topping the Pac-12 in both areas.
However, Oregon’s closest game of conference play came to the only ranked opponent they’ve faced in those eight games, a 77-71 home win over then-No. 19 Arizona State. Otherwise, the Ducks have coasted through games against teams in the bottom half of the standings. As improbable as it may sound, especially compared to last season’s results, Utah will be Oregon’s biggest test of their Pac-12 campaign so far.
The Utes take a bevy of their own top-five statistics in conference play — including second in field goal percentage, assists and three-point defense — to face Oregon State on Sunday. Like their in-state rivals, the Beavers won the one and only meeting against Utah last season, and they’ve similarly only played one ranked team in Pac-12 play. But unlike the Ducks, Oregon State didn’t fare so well against Arizona State, dropping a three-point decision for their sole loss in the conference.
This could be a hallmark weekend for Utah if they can pull off even one upset, much less two, against two of the Pac-12’s recent superstar teams. But considering the down-and-out seasons the Utes have had lately, playing either of these teams close would speak volumes about the growing strength of their program.
Battle of the Bay returns
The No. 8 Stanford Cardinal and California Golden Bears are in the midst of a rare Thursday/Saturday pair of games, playing a home-and-home that began last night in Berkeley. An Asha Thomas buzzer-beater was the difference in a contest that was close the whole way, as Cal took the first game at home, 81-80.
This matchup pits two of the conference’s top players against one another in Cal’s Kristine Anigwe, the country’s leading rebounder and Pac-12’s second-leading scorer, and Stanford’s Alanna Smith, the Pac-12’s third-leading scorer and top three-point shooter.
Last night, Anigwe led everyone with 25 points and 24 rebounds — which was somehow still one off her career-high of 25 rebounds — before fouling out with just over seven seconds to play. Smith, meanwhile, had 21 points for the Cardinal, as her teammate DiJonai Carrington led the team with 23 points and 12 rebounds.
While Stanford is still the favorite going into Saturday’s game, having neither dropped a home contest with the Golden Bears since 2015 nor been swept by them since 1986, the Cardinal will also be trying to avoid their first three-game skid since the 2000-01 season, where they had two stretches of losing three games in a row twice.
Elsewhere in the Pac-12:
- The Pac-12 Player of the Week is Utah senior forward Megan Huff, who has not only scored double digits in every game this season, but also put up 41 combined points in last weekend’s wins against Cal and Stanford.
- Arizona forward Cate Reese is the Pac-12 Freshman of the Week, after grabbing her fifth double-double on the season in the Wildcats’ Jan. 27 loss to UCLA. Five double-doubles is the most in a season for an Arizona player since the 2012-13 season.
- One-fifth of the AP Top 25 is Pac-12 teams once more, with Oregon, Stanford and Oregon State leading the way in the top 10 and Arizona State holding steady at No. 21, while Utah surged to their highest ranking, No. 14, since 1998.
- The Pac-12 is the highest-scoring conference in the country, averaging 73.1 points per game on a nation’s-best 44.2 percent shooting and 34.5 percent from three.
- UCLA’s three-overtime win over Arizona on Sunday was the first in Pac-12 history since 2001. Interestingly, Arizona has been the only Pac-12 team involved in a three-overtime game at all since then, beating Loyola Marymount in 2008.
Pac-12 games of the week
No. 14 Utah Utes (18-1) at No. 4 Oregon Ducks (19-1)
When: Friday, Feb. 1, at 10 p.m. ET
Where: Matthew Knight Arena, Eugene, OR
How to watch: Pac-12 Network, Pac-12 Mountain
California Golden Bears (13-6) at No. 8 Stanford Cardinal (17-2)
When: Saturday, Feb. 2, at 7 p.m. ET
Where: Maples Pavilion, Stanford, CA
How to watch: Pac-12 Bay Area
No. 14 Utah Utes (18-1) at No. 9 Oregon State Beavers (17-3)
When: Sunday, Feb. 3, at 3 p.m. ET
Where: Gill Coliseum, Corvallis, OR
How to watch: Oregon State Live Stream