Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
Catching up on the sports world, the basketball world at least, a week into the new year . . .
What a difference a week can make for a sports team. Last week after a 40-point loss in Colorado, Utah basketball fans were worried they might have the worst basketball team in America and if the Utes would win a single game in the Pac-12 Conference. However, on Thursday night, the Utes not only competed well with Washington State, they came from behind to win in overtime 62-60. Then on Saturday they came close to beating one of the preseason favorites in the league, Washington, before losing by four.
Then there's the Utah Jazz, who were blown away in three road losses and looked to be among the worst teams in the NBA. A week later they have four straight victories to their credit and a 5-3 mark that is tied for 11th best in the league. The bad news for the Jazz is that they are playing in the toughest division in the NBA so far and are in fourth place behind Oklahoma City, Portland and Denver.
Saturday wasn't a good day if your name was C.J. Up at the Huntsman Center, former Pleasant Grove star C.J. Wilcox had his worst shooting day as a collegian, going 2 for 13 from the field, although his Washington team did edge Utah. That evening, Utah Jazz guard C.J. Miles only played four minutes and went 0-for-3 from the field in the Jazz win over Golden State.
BYU is having another terrific basketball season, sitting at 14-4. One of the Cougars' losses was to Baylor, which is one of just three unbeaten teams in the country, and another loss was to Saint Mary's which is 14-2. Except for remaining games at home against Saint Mary's on Jan. 28 and Gonzaga on Feb. 2 and at Gonzaga on Feb. 23, the Cougars should cruise in the West Coast Conference and go into the conference tournament no worse than 24-7.
Another team that should cruise through the rest of the regular season is Weber State, which is clearly the class of a mediocre Big Sky Conference at 12-3 overall. The only other team with a winning record is Montana, which pays a visit to Ogden this Saturday night. Then the two teams don't meet until the last game of the season Feb. 28 in Missoula.
Wildcat guard Damian Lillard is the best player in the state and his numbers this year are astounding. He leads the nation in scoring at 26.3 points per game, shoots 48.9 percent from the field, 47.4 percent from 3-point range (14th in the nation) and 90.9 percent (16th in the nation) from the foul line. He also leads his team in assists per game and steals per game.
Former BYU star Jimmer Fredette is off to a decent, though not great start to his NBA career. After nine games, he is fourth on the Sacramento Kings in scoring at 9.4 points per game. However, his shooting is not up to par, just 36.7 percent from the field and 31.4 percent from 3-point range.
Utah's next opponent is Stanford, which is one of the surprise teams in the Pac-12 this year with a league-best 13-3 record to date. Normally you'd like playing a team coming off a four-overtime game, but after their 4-OT 103-101 win at Oregon State, the Cardinal should be well-rested by Thursday when the Utes pay a visit to Maples Pavilion.
The biggest surprise of the Pac-12 this year is Colorado, which was picked for 10th, but currently sits at the top of the league as the only unbeaten team at 3-0. Besides blowing out Utah by 40, the Buffs beat Washington by 18 and Washington State by 11. Former Ute Carlon Brown, who was never known as a shooter at Utah, is Colorado's leading scorer (14.1 ppg) and is coming off a 28-point game where he made 6 of 12 from 3-point range. We'll see how the Buffs do out on the road.
The best league in college basketball is the Big Ten. Every team in the league has a winning record, led by Indiana at 15-1. Overall the league has an impressive 125-28 non-conference record.
The worst conference in America, without a doubt, is the Southwestern Athletic Conference or SWAC. How bad is it? Well, no team has a winning record and overall the league is a dreadful 21-97 in non-conference games.
Did you notice that game last week, which featured four former Jazz players in the starting lineup for New Jersey? In Friday night's win over Toronto, besides Deron Williams, the Nets had Kris Humphries at power forward, Mehmet Okur at center and DeShawn Stevenson as a guard. If the Nets would have started Sundiata Gaines instead of Anthony Morrow, it could have been an all-ex-Jazzmen starting lineup.
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