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January 1, 2007

Week in review: And then there were three

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And then there were three.

Connecticut (11-1) failed in its first major test, losing 81-71 at West Virginia (11-1) on Saturday. That leaves just three undefeated teams in the Division-I ranks.

Oregon (13-0) remained part of that dwindling group thanks to a 76-73 win over rival Oregon State. Top-ranked UCLA (13-0) and No. 24 Clemson (14-0) still don't have a blemish on their records.

Nevada (12-1) isn't as fortunate, but it can make a case for being one of the top one-loss teams after an impressive 82-74 comeback win over Gonzaga (9-5) in Seattle.

We take an in-depth review at what each of those games mean to the Huskies, Ducks and Wolf Pack in A Look Back at last week's biggest developments in college basketball.

All Eyes On ...
No. 12 Connecticut (11-1)
The Good: Nobody is worried in Storrs, and with good reason. The Huskies' extreme level of inexperience they are one of the youngest teams in the nation and their weak non-conference schedule made them an ideal target for West Virginia's sophisticated offense and unique 1-3-1 zone defense. No other opponent can really replicate that style, so it's not as if the Mountaineers created a blueprint on how to beat the Huskies. Plus, the Huskies are so talented they are a safe bet to improve and grow more prepared at a rapid rate. We won't really know how good this team can be until late February.
The Bad: A game-high 22 points from West Virginia senior Frank Young (it was just the second time Young has broken the 20-point barrier in his career) should concern Jim Calhoun and the Husky faithful. There are at least a dozen players in the Big East who are more talented offensively. What will happen when they get to play UConn?
The Ugly: You hate to question a Hall-of-Fame coach, but Calhoun certainly deserves some blame here. Calhoun put his squad in a precarious situation by scheduling a long line of small schools leading up to the conference opener. It would be tough for anybody to get ready for WVU after facing Quinnipiac, Central Arkansas, Fairfield, Ole Miss, Albany, Sacred Heart, Texas Southern, Northeastern, Saint Mary's, Pepperdine and Coppin State.
No. 24 Nevada (12-1)
The Good: Nobody can call the Wolf Pack a one-man team anymore. Star Nick Fazekas fouled out with 5:15 left and the score tied at 61 against the 'Zags. The defending WAC champs proceeded to close the game with a 21-13 run. That will provide a giant confident boost for Fazekas' supporting cast, particularly point guard Ramon Sessions - who scored all 20 of his points in the second half. Sessions and Marcelus Kemp, who scored 21 points, give the Wolf Pack one of the nation's top backcourts. They'll keep opponents from double-teaming Fazekas when the postseason begins.
The Bad: The first half was loaded with some ugly basketball, especially from the Wolf Pack. Nevada made just five field goals in the first 15 minutes. They looked lost offensively and were giving up too many easy baskets in transition. Every good team has similar lapses, but the Wolf Pack doesn't have the kind of firepower to cover it up against an elite program.
The Ugly: Fazekas has always been noted for his savvy and high basketball I.Q. So, you don't expect the four-year starter to foul out of the biggest game of the season with more than five minutes to play. If it happens against a better opponent don't expect his teammates to bail him out again.
No. 20 Oregon (13-0)
The Good: The Ducks were in dire need of a tough, down-to-the-wire battle after winning their last five games by 20 or more points. They got exactly that against an in-state rival on the road, and did all the things needed to win down the stretch. Unlike the past when Malik Hairston or Aaron Brooks seemed to take every big shot, the Ducks are playing with remarkable balance and unselfishness. Four players scored in double figures against the Beavers and six are averaging in double figures for the season. In a given game any starter can handle the scoring load.
The Bad: The Ducks' undefeated run has overshadowed Hairston's health problems. The five-star recruit missed the first five games with a groin injury and missed the last three with a heel injury. They haven't missed him yet, but they need his athleticism and versatility now that Pac-10 play has begun.
The Ugly: The rest of the schedule suddenly looks a lot tougher. UCLA (13-0) and Arizona (11-1) have proven they belong among the truly elite teams. Washington (10-3) will keep improving with its abundance of youth and talent and Washington State (12-2) is much better than anyone believed.
Individual Spotlight
  • When the UCLA coaches grade the film of their Pac-10 opener against Washington on Sunday they'll have a difficult time finding fault with Arron Afflalo's play. Afflalo put together what may be the signature game of his career. He scored 27 points, passed out eight assists, grabbed five rebounds and made two steals in the Bruins' 96-74 rout. He was 11-of-15 (73 percent) from the field and 5-for-8 (62 percent) from 3-point range. But the most remarkable stat may have been his number of turnovers - zero.
  • Boston College guard Tyrese Rice put together a pair of great games in a four-day span, scoring 29 points in a loss to Duquesne (98-93) and 25 more in a win over Northeastern (87-82). Rice made 10 field goals in each game and combined to rack up 13 assists as well.
  • N.C. State coach Sidney Lowe may have found someone to build his first team around. Forward Brandon Costner, just a role player in Herb Sendek's system last season, played like an emerging star in a win over UNC-Wilmington (72-51). The 6-foot-9 Costner hit 9-of-11 3-pointers, scored 27 points and grabbed 19 rebounds. With his size and long-distance shooting ability, the former five-star recruit will create some huge matchup problems.
  • Andrew Skwara is the national college basketball writer for Rivals.com. Click here to send him a question or comment for his Mailbag.

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