A look at things to watch this week in Pac-12 Conference basketball:
GAME OF THE WEEK: Arizona State at UCLA, Thursday. Two teams that had earlier struggles have put themselves in position to win the conference regular-season title. The Sun Devils (19-8, 10-4) have a half-game lead over three teams, including the Bruins. Arizona State opened the Pac-12 season 1-3, but has reeled off seven straight wins to move atop the conference this late in a season for the first time since joining the Pac-12 in 1978-79. UCLA (17-11, 10-5) labored early in its first season coach Mick Cronin, losing seven of eight at one point, including three straight in conference play. The Bruins have found their footing over the past month, winning seven of eight to climb within reach of the Pac-12 title. Pauley Pavilion has been quiet this season, but that could change Thursday.
LOOKING AHEAD: The Pac-12 has the closest conference race in the country with one game separating the top five teams. The top four teams get a coveted bye at the Pac-12 Tournament, so this will be a big week. No. 14 Oregon and No. 21 Colorado still have a shot at catching the Sun Devils, both at 10-5 in the Pac-12. The Ducks have an always-tough rivalry game against Oregon State, while the Buffaloes head to the Bay Area to face Stanford and California. Arizona, at 9-5 in conference, still has a chance at making a run to the top and faces the Southern California schools on the road.
INSIDE THE NUMBERS: Arizona State is the sixth team to hold at least a share of the Pac-12 lead through eight weeks this season. … The Pac-12 has had nine overtime games so far this season, sixth-most in a season during the conference’s 18-game era (1978-79). The record is 13 in 2013-14. Oregon has played in six of those, matching Arizona State in 1985-86 for most among current conference members. … Oregon State’s Wes Tinkle needs 20 points to pass Gary Payton’s school career scoring record of 2,172.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Payton Pritchard, Oregon. The Ducks’ senior guard is not only a frontrunner for Pac-12 player of the year, he’s put himself in the conversation for national player of the year. Pritchard scored 38 points in an overtime win over Arizona last week and leads the Pac-12 in both scoring (20.1) and assists (5.5).
ON THE WOMEN’S SIDE: No. 3 Oregon, No. 4 Stanford, No. 9 UCLA and No. 13 Arizona have already locked up first-round byes for the conference tournament. The Ducks have clinched a share of the regular-season title and can claim a third straight outright title this week against the Washington schools. … The Cardinal have a tough road trip this week, facing Arizona on Friday, Arizona State Sunday. … On Monday, Oregon’s Sabrina Ionescu became the first player in NCAA history, man or woman, to have 2,000 points, 1,000 rebounds and 1,000 assists after notching her record-extending 26th triple-double against Oregon. She did it after speaking at Kobe Bryant’s memorial, as well.
Compiled by AP Basketball Writer John Marshall in Phoenix.
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