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March 7, 2008

Wildcats, Ducks both need victories

MORE BREAKDOWNS: ACC | Big 12 | Big East | Big Ten | SEC

UPCOMING GAMES
Saturday
Stanford at USC
California at UCLA
Arizona State at Oregon State
Washington at Washington State
Arizona at Oregon

Best matchup: Arizona at Oregon. This is a battle between the desperate (Arizona) and the extremely desperate (Oregon). The Wildcats (18-12, 8-9 Pac-10) sit squarely on the NCAA Tournament bubble, and a loss here would put their chances of getting into the field of 65 in serious doubt. Oregon (17-12, 8-9), picked to finish third in the league's preseason poll, must win to keep any hopes of landing an at-large bid alive. The Ducks won the last meeting 84-74 in Tucson on Jan. 5 behind a 29-point performance from Malik Hairston. However, Wildcats star freshman Jerryd Bayless did not play in that game because of a knee injury. With a healthy Bayless back in the mix and what should be an emotional senior night for Oregon, expect a hard-fought contest that comes down to the final minute. The Ducks are saying goodbye to a trio of longtime starters Maarty Leunen, Bryce Taylor and Hairston.

The pressure is on: Arizona. The Wildcats own the nation's longest current streak of NCAA Tournament trips at 23 in a row, and no player wants to be on the team that ended that run. A victory at Oregon would go a long way toward making sure that doesn't happen, but that's a difficult task. McArthur Court may be the toughest venue in the league, and the Ducks are one of the most experienced teams in the conference. Just winning in Eugene may not be enough, either. If other bubble teams do well or there are more than a couple of surprise winners in league tournaments, the Wildcats may need to win a game or two in the Pac-10 tourney to feel safe on Selection Sunday.

Upset alert: USC over Stanford. Stanford (24-5, 13-4) should be coming off a emotional letdown after its overtime loss at UCLA (27-3, 15-2) two days earlier. The Cardinal also are running into the hottest player in the league in USC's O.J. Mayo, who is averaging 26.4 points over his last five games. Mayo has shot 65.7 percent (23 of 35) from 3-point range over that stretch. Look for the combination of Mayo and some defensive adjustments from USC's Tim Floyd - who uses a variety of zones - to carry the Trojans to a narrow victory.

RPI watch: The Pac-10 edged back ahead of the Big 12 for second place in the conference ratings. UCLA moved up two spots, to seventh, followed by Stanford at 17th and Washington State at 22nd. Arizona, which was No. 1 a month ago, has fallen seven more spots, to 24th. USC (40th), aided largely by the second-strongest strength of schedule in the league (ranks 21st nationally), remains comfortably in the top 50. Arizona State remains well outside the top 50 at 69th. Oregon State has fallen to 258th in the RPI by far the lowest of all high-major teams.

Key stat: Arizona will not have 10 wins in Pac-10 play for the first time since the 1983-84 season.

Freshmen to watch: Mayo has led USC to the verge of locking up an NCAA bid, but the Trojans wouldn't be in that position if it not for another freshman. Small forward Davon Jefferson quietly has put together a solid season in the shadow of his high-profile classmate, ranking second on the team in scoring (12.1 ppg) and rebounding (6.2 rpg). Jefferson put together perhaps his best game of the season in the Trojans' 70-58 victory over Arizona last week, scoring 15 points and grabbing a career-high 14 boards.

Who's hot: Oregon's Leunen has made 13 of his past 16 (81.3 percent) attempts from 3-point range. Mayo has shot 68 percent (19 of 28) from 3-point range over his past four games. Arizona's Jordan Hill has scored in double figures in five consecutive games and is shooting 67 percent (33 of 49) from the field over that stretch. Stanford's Robin Lopez has scored in double-figures in six consecutive games after being held to single digits in 11 of his previous 12 games.

Who's not: Washington's Venoy Overton has missed his past 13 attempts from 3-point range, a streak that dates back 17 games. Oregon's Bryce Taylor has missed 13 of his past 15 attempts (13.3 percent) from beyond the arc over his past five games.

Worth noting: Home teams are 41-40 in league games this year. Stanford's 16 home wins are the most in a season in school history. UCLA has reached the 25-win plateau for the third consecutive year. UCLA's Kevin Love's 333 rebounds are the most by a UCLA player since Bill Walton grabbed 398 in 1974. Washington's Jon Brockman's 347 rebounds are the most by a Husky since Steve Hawes pulled down 365 boards in 1972. Steve's nephew, Spencer, was Brockman's teammate with the Huskies last season. Arizona's Jerryd Bayless needs 48 more points to break the school's freshman scoring record set by Coniel Norman in 1973. Oregon State has lost 19 consecutive Pac-10 games dating to last season. Oregon coach Ernie Kent needs one more win to reach 300 for his career. Arizona State junior forward Jeff Pendergraph became the 30th player in school history to reach 1,000 points.

MORE BREAKDOWNS: ACC | Big 12 | Big East | Big Ten | SEC

Andrew Skwara is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at askwara@rivals.com.



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