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January 4, 2008

Cougars ready to be tested on the road

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

Oregon at Arizona
Oregon State at Arizona State
USC at Stanford
UCLA at California
Washington State at Washington
Arizona at Arizona State
Washington State at USC
Washington at UCLA
California at Oregon
Stanford at Oregon State

Best matchup: No. 4 Washington State (12-0) at No. 22 USC (9-4, 0-1). The Cougars, one of six unbeaten teams remaining, face the Trojans in the middle of a brutal three-game road trip that begins at rival Washington and ends at No. 5 UCLA. The Trojans are one of the nation's most inexperienced teams, starting two freshmen and three sophomores, while the Cougars are one of the most experienced, starting three seniors and two juniors. Both teams rely heavily on defense. The Trojans have held 10 opponents to under 39 percent shooting from the field. The Cougars haven't allowed an opponent to score more than 45 points in their last three games and lead the nation by giving up just 49.7 points a game.

The pressure is on: Arizona and sophomore point guard Nic Wise. A team that is already playing without a Hall-of-Fame coach will now likely be without one of its best players. Star freshman guard Jerryd Bayless, who suffered a sprained knee ligament last week, is doubtful for their home game against veteran-laden Oregon (9-4, 0-1) on Saturday and his status is uncertain for their road trip on Wednesday to rival Arizona State (11-2, 1-0), which is riding a seven-game winning streak. A dynamic playmaker, Bayless is leading the team with 18.5 ppg and 4.2 apg. If Bayless cannot play, Wise probably will start in his place. A more traditional, pass-first style of point guard, Wise focuses on penetrating to the hoop and creating shots for teammates.

Upset alert: No. 5 UCLA (13-1, 1-0) at California (10-2, 1-0). Sophomore forward Ryan Anderson makes the Bears a dangerous opponent for anyone. Anderson has been the best player in the Pac-10 so far, averaging a league-high 21.6 ppg and pulling down 9.3 rpg. He scored a career-high 36 points in a win over Nevada earlier this season. The Bears also boast 6-11 center DeVon Hardin, who should leave little room to maneuver in the paint for UCLA's Kevin Love, who leads the Bruins with 16.3 ppg and 9.9 rpg.

RPI watch: The conference RPI ranks third, in part due to some watered-down non-conference schedules, and in part because lowly Oregon State (6-7, 0-1) has dipped to 276th. Arizona is third, thanks to the nation's strongest strength of schedule. UCLA is 25th, Washington State is 39th and Stanford is 45th.

Key stat: Nine Pac-10 teams have at least nine non-conference wins. Prior to this season, the league has never had more than six teams with nine non-conference wins, which happened in 1991, 2000, 2001 and 2007.

Freshman to watch: Arizona State guard James Harden. This former five-star recruit has shot the ball extraordinary well, making 55.3 percent of his field goal attempts (73 of 132), 45.2 percent of his 3-pointers (14 of 31) and 81.8 percent of his free throws (63 of 77). He is averaging a team-high 17.2 ppg, 5.4 rpg and 1.9 spg.

Who's hot: Cal sophomore point guard Jerome Randle has made 13-of-21 shots (61.9 percent) from 3-point range in the Bears' last three games. Stanford sophomore power forward Brook Lopez is averaging 17.8 ppg and 7.5 rpg in four games since returning from an academic suspension.

Who's not: Oregon sophomore guard Tajuan Porter, who has a reputation as a streaky shooter, is 6-of-27 (22.2 percent) from the field and just 2-of-18 (11.1 percent) from 3-point range in the Ducks' last three games. Stanford junior forward Lawrence Hill is 5-of-24 (20.8 percent) from the field in the Cardinal's last three games, including a 2-of-12 performance (16.6 percent) in a win over Fresno State.

Worth noting: The Pac-10 has set a league record with 95 non-conference wins. Cal set a school record with 16 3-pointers in its 102-65 win over Long Beach State last week. Washington State has won five consecutive games in its series with Washington, the longest streak for the Cougars in a rivalry that began in 1909. Four Pac-10 players are nearing the 1,000-point benchmark, including UCLA's Josh Shipp (987), Oregon's Maarty Leunen (971), Washington's Jon Brockman (954) and Washington State's Derrick Low (952).

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

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