College Hoops Player of the Day for Thursday, February 24, 2011
Perhaps it's a bit late in the season, but the PAC-10 is beginning to evolve. What looked like a three-horse race became a quartet on Thursday as USC upset #10 Arizona, 65-57, snapping the Wildcats' 8-game win streak, in a must-win situation for the Trojans.
USC was in danger of falling below .500 in the conference, a move that might have put a permanent mark on their resume for inclusion in the post-season proceedings, but junior forward Nikola Vucevic made certain the Trojans would live to fight another day with his fifth straight double-double, pouring in 25 points and ripping down 12 rebounds. It was his 16th double-double of the season and above his average of 17.4 points and 10.3 rebounds.
The win brought USC to 8-7 in the conference, and, combined with earlier out-of-conference wins over Texas and Tennessee, the Trojans - winners of three straight - now appear poised to receive an NCAA invitation, despite their perplexing 16-12 record.
With Arizona falling to 12-3 in the conference, their path to the regular season title becomes a bit more complex, especially with UCLA - 71-53 winners over Arizona State - now just one game back at 11-4. Arizona plays at UCLA on Saturday.
NOTABLE: Another team needing a signature win on Thursday night was Marquette, and the Golden Eagles made their most of their trip to Connecticut, dropping the Huskies, 74-67, in overtime. The result put both teams at 8-7 in the crowded Big East, where the top 11 teams are 8-7 or better and all have a chance of making the NCAA tournament.
Atop the Big East standings, Pitt retained their two-game lead over Notre Dame, with a 71-58 win over West Virginia, another 8-7 team.
The #13 Florida Gators virtually ensured that they would win the SEC East with a 71-62 home win over Georgia. The Gators are 11-2 in the conference, three games ahead of Vanderbilt (8-5), though the Gators still have to play three of the best teams in the SEC - Kentucky, Alabama and Vandy - to close out the regular season.