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February 12, 2007

Fading contenders get back off the mat

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If you gave up on Arizona, West Virginia and Boston College this year, think again. This week proved you wrong.

The problem for those three, though, is that next week might prove you right.

Arizona looked like a Final Four contender in December before stumbling at the beginning of the Pac-10 schedule. With three wins in a row, the Wildcats are looking like a tournament team again. USC and UCLA will find out how much Arizona has improved this week.

After Elite Eight and Sweet 16 appearances in the last two years, West Virginia is proving it can still win without any of the key players from those teams. The Mountaineers shocked No. 2 UCLA in Morgantown on Saturday, but John Beilein's squad still has something to prove.

Boston College appeared to be in dire straits after the dismissal of starting center Sean Williams in January. However, the Eagles are in first place in the ACC. Boston College's hold on the top spot will be tested this week with visits from Duke and North Carolina.

We'll recap how those three teams returned to the spotlight and what's in store next week for those teams in this week's A Look Back:

All Eyes On ...
Arizona (17-7, 8-5 Pac-10)
The Good: After a 2-6 swoon, including a drubbing at home by North Carolina, Arizona appears to be back on track with three wins in a row. The Wildcats swept the Oregon schools on the road this week, including a 77-74 win over the Ducks on Saturday. Lute Olson has found a good mix with freshman Jordan Hill joining the starting lineup and guard Jawann McClellan coming off the bench. The Wildcats showed some resiliency by rallying from a 10-point halftime deficit in Eugene to avenge a 79-77 loss to Oregon earlier this year. Arizona will have a chance to put that midseason slump further into the past when the Wildcats play host to USC and UCLA this week.
The Bad: The Wildcats' three-game win streak should build some confidence, but don't overinflate its importance. Washington looks to be headed to the NIT. Oregon State's only two conference wins have come over Pac-10 doormat Arizona State. And Oregon is in a slump of its own, losing four of its last six.
The Ugly: Its recent surge will be for naught if Arizona drops its next two against the Trojans and Bruins.
West Virginia (19-5, 7-4 Big East)
The Good: John Beilein continues to work his magic in Morgantown. The Mountaineers, who were picked near the bottom of the Big East after losing five of their top six scorers from last year's team, are one of the surprises of the season. West Virginia got a split in its toughest week of the year with a 60-47 loss at Pittsburgh on Wednesday and a 70-65 upset of No. 2 UCLA on Saturday. Freshman forward Da'Sean Butler (16.3 points per game in his last four) is becoming more consistent off the bench.
The Bad: The absence of UCLA starting point guard Darren Collison (shoulder) puts a damper on Saturday's upset. Beat Georgetown on the road Monday, and the Mountaineers will have plenty of new believers.
The Ugly: West Virginia still seems to be winning with smoke and mirrors. The Mountaineers were outrebounded 76-55 by Pittsburgh and Beilein's team went scoreless for more than five minutes against UCLA.
Boston College (18-6, 9-2 ACC)
The Good: The Eagles swept Miami and Florida State in the Sunshine State this week. So what, you ask? Boston College remains in first place in the ACC despite dismissing starting center Sean Williams on Jan. 17. Since then, Boston College is 5-2. In Tallahassee on Sunday, Boston College eked out a 68-67 win in the in final 3.3 seconds. The ACC's leading scorer, Jared Dudley has averaged 26.3 points per game in February.
The Bad: Boston College's hold on first place in the conference is tenuous with North Carolina trailing only by 1/2 game. The Eagles' remaining schedule includes home games against Duke and North Carolina this week before finishing at Virginia Tech, at home against Clemson and at Georgia Tech.
The Ugly: Dudley and guard Tyrese Rice accounted for 65 percent of Boston College's offense in the two victories. The Eagles' bench scored a paltry eight points for the week.
Elsewhere ...
• Bob Knight has seen better days, and he only has to look back to mid-January. Since Texas Tech defeated Kansas and Texas A&M in back-to-back games, the Red Raiders (15-10, 4-6 Big 12) have lost five in a row. That is Knight's longest losing streak since his first season at Indiana. After Texas Tech's 93-91 loss in double overtime to Oklahoma State, it doesn't get any easier. Two of the Raiders' next three games are road trips to Texas A&M and Texas.
• Speaking of Oklahoma State (19-5, 5-4 Big 12), the Cowboys will have a rematch with Texas in Austin on Monday. The Cowboys defeated the Longhorns 105-103 in triple overtime in one of the most thrilling games of the year. Forward Mario Boggan scored 35 points with 10 rebounds against Texas Tech.
• Gonzaga (18-8, 8-2 West Coast Conference) will likely continue its brutal non-conference schedule without leading scorer Josh Heytvelt and Theo Davis, who were suspended indefinitely after police said they found marijuana and psychedelic mushrooms in their car during a traffic stop. The Bulldogs face No. 8 Memphis on Saturday. Gonzaga has already lost non-conference games to Butler, Georgia, Nevada and Virginia. The Bulldogs have defeated Stanford and Washington.
• Wright State (19-8, 12-2 Horizon League) took a 1?2-game lead in the Horizon League with a 77-65 win over No. 10 Butler on Saturday. Wright State guard Dashaun Wood scored 30 points while making all 12 of his free throws in the victory. Butler will try to recover out of conference Saturday against Missouri Valley Conference leader Southern Illinois.
Individual Spotlight
• Georgetown center Roy Hibbert had two double-doubles this week to give him three in the last four games. In a 76-58 win over No. 11 Marquette, he scored 23 points with 11 rebounds. Against Louisville on Wednesday, he scored 20 points and grabbed 11 boards. Forward Jeff Green, who is averaging 20 points per game over his last five, is also carrying the Hoyas during their seven-game winning streak.
• Acie Law wasn't the most productive Texas A&M guard this week. That distinction goes to Josh Carter. Against Texas on Monday, Carter had 24 points and 10 rebounds in a 100-82 win. He added 26 points with eight 3-pointers in a 66-55 win at Nebraska on Saturday.
• Wisconsin forward and national player of the year candidate Alando Tucker scored 21 points in a 74-62 win over Iowa on Saturday to become the second Badger to eclipse the 2,000-point mark. Michael Finley is the school's career scoring leader with 2,147 points.
• Ole Miss guard Clarence Sanders put the Rebels (16-8, 5-5 SEC) into a tie for the SEC West lead this week by scoring 11 of the Rebels' last 12 points in a 75-69 win over Alabama. His 16 points and two key steals ignited Ole Miss' first win over a ranked team since 2003. He scored 21 points, including seven 3-pointers, in an 82-59 win at Auburn on Feb. 3.
• Kansas sophomore Julian Wright had a career day with 33 points and 12 rebounds in a 92-74 win at Missouri on Saturday.
Freshmen Spotlight
• Arizona guard Chase Budinger regained his early season form with 30 points and 10 rebounds in the Wildcats' victory at Oregon. Budinger was 12 of 21 from the field – both figures were career highs.
• Kevin Durant isn't the only star freshman at Texas. Guard D.J. Augustin was the Longhorns' leading scorer this week with 23 points and nine assists in the loss to Texas A&M on Monday. He scored a career-high 31 points with six assists in a 77-68 win over Iowa State on Saturday. He was 22 of 23 from the free-throw line this week.
• North Carolina's Brandan Wright, the third-ranked prospect in the 2006 class behind Greg Oden and Durant, wasn't in awe of Cameron Indoor Stadium. Wright scored 19 points and added nine rebounds in a 79-73 at Duke. He added 15 points, seven rebounds and five assists in a 104-67 rout of Wake Forest on Saturday. He had only two fouls this week.
• Louisville center Derrick Caracter returned from a six-game suspension for his first career double-double with 16 points and 10 rebounds in an 83-63 win over South Florida. Caracter was a surprise contributor to the win over the Bulls. He was forced to play 18 minutes after center David Padgett left the game midway through the first half with a sprained left foot.

David Fox is a national college basketball writer for Rivals.com.

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