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Star freshmen Terry, Nnaji, Okongwu lift Pac-12 basketball

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The freshmen were supposed to help haul the Pac-12 back to prominence this season, and they have.

Those freshmen, of course, but also the other freshmen.

Those freshmen, of course, are Washington’s Jaden McDaniels and Isaiah Stewart, USC’s Isaiah Mobley, Oregon’s C.J. Walker, and Arizona’s Josh Green and Nico Mannion — the many-starred, heavily-hyped, presumptive one-and-done prospects.

But the other freshmen have been just as impressive.

We’re referring to Arizona forward Zeke Nnaji, USC forward Onyeka Okongwu, Stanford guard Tyrell Terry, UCLA wing Jaime Jaquez Jr., Utah guard Rylan Jones and ASU guard Jaelen House.

All six are contributing in various facets and given every indication they can maximize opportunities through conference play.

Nnaji, Okongwu and Terry, in particular, have been as impactful as any three of their higher-profile peers:

* Terry, a 4-star prospect from Minneapolis, is averaging 15.7 points and fusing the diverse pieces in Stanford’s rotation — he’s the point guard coach Jerod Haase had been missing.

There’s a dash of Trae Young in his game, with the movement and perimeter stroke (41.5 percent from 3-point range) and the knack for breaking down the defense.

* Nnaji, a 4-star forward from Hopkins, Minn., — the Minnesota pipeline at work again — is averaging 17.1 points and 6.8 rebounds in just 27 minutes per game.

His athleticism provides needed defensive versatility for the Wildcats along the frontline.

* Okongwu, from Southern California, was a 5-star recruit. It’s just that his stars were caught in the long shadow cast by the Mobley family: Isaiah and Evan, who’s bound for USC as the No. 1 prospects in the class of 2020.

Currently, he’s seventh in the conference in scoring (17.9 ppg), second in rebounding (9.0 rpg), second in blocked shots (2.9 bpg) and sixth in field goal percentage (61.6).

Pick a five-player all-conference team for November, and Okongwu is on it.

The emergence of Okongwu, Nnaji and Terry — and the others listed above — has a fortifying effect on the Pac-12, making it less susceptible to a collective downturn in the event of a few key injuries to the top returnees or the better known rookies.

They will undoubtedly experience a rough stretch or two. If that comes after the conclusion of non-conference play, all the better for the conference.

1. Oregon (6-2)
Last week: 1
Results: Beat Seton Hall 71-69, lost to Gonzaga 73-72, lost to UNC 78-74
Next up: vs. Hawaii (Saturday)
Comment: Payton Pritchard is playing like an All-American: 18.6 ppg, 4.4 rpg, 5.5 apg, 1.6 spg, 47.7% FG, 38% 3FGs. And clutch playmaking.

2. Washington (6-1)
Last week: 2
Result: Beat South Dakota 75-55
Next up: vs. Eastern Washington (Wednesday)
Comment: Two post-Thanksgiving tune-ups, then the Zags pay a visit Sunday afternoon.

3. Colorado (6-0)
Last week: 3
Results: Beat Clemson 71-67, beat Sacramento State 59-45
Next up: vs. LMU (Wednesday)
Comment: Even a few Clemson victories over teams in the top half of the ACC would provide collateral benefits to CU’s resume. Or the Buffaloes could just beat Kansas this weekend and reap the rewards.

4. Stanford (8-1)
Last week: 4
Results: Lost to Butler 68-67, beat UNC-Wilmington 72-54
Next up: at San Jose State (Dec. 14)
Comment: At this rate, only an upset loss would prevent the Cardinal from rolling into conference play with an 11-2 record, and an upset win (over Kansas) could push that mark to 12-1.

5. Arizona (9-0)
Last week: 5
Results: Beat Pepperdine 93-91, beat Penn 92-82, beat Wake Forest 73-66
Next up: at Baylor (Saturday)
Comment: Trip to Waco is the first true road game for the Wildcats’ rookies. Our guess: Victory comes only if the upperclassmen lead the way.

6. Arizona State (4-2)
Last week: 6
Results: Beat Princeton 67-65
Next up: at USF (Tuesday)
Comment: Remy Martin’s numbers look like Payton Pritchard’s — only better. The difference: Pritchard has faced far more challenging competition.

7. Oregon State (7-1)
Last week: 7
Results: Beat San Jose State 83-48, beat Portland State 81-76
Next up: vs. Arkansas-Pine Buff (Dec. 14)
Comment: Beavers continue their no-win stretch: Victories don’t help their resume, and losses are a gut punch.

8. UCLA (6-3)
Last week: 8
Results: Beat Chaminade 74-48, lost to Michigan State 75-62, beat San Jose State 93-64
Next up: vs. Denver (Sunday)
Comment: The 13-point loss to Michigan State in Maui stands as the best of the Bruins’ three defeats.



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