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No Call to Be Snooty About It

Arizona, Stanford won't thumb noses at Pac-10 tournament this year; they have need for seeds.

March 08, 2004|Paul Gutierrez | Times Staff Writer

Lute Olson and Mike Montgomery traditionally have thumbed their noses at the made-for-TV hoedown that the Pacific 10 packaged as a conference tournament and resurrected two years ago.

Too dangerous, the Arizona coach would say, because an upset loss could hurt a team's seeding in the NCAA tournament.

Too much missed class time, the Stanford coach would add, leaning on that old and reliable notion that academics takes precedence over athletics.

The Wildcats' and Cardinal's showings at Staples Center have reflected their coaches' feelings as well.

Though Arizona won the tournament in 2002, Olson and his team seemed to drag their feet the entire way.

Then last year, with its No. 1 seed in the NCAA West Regional secured, Arizona flamed out in the Pac-10 tournament with a first-round, overtime loss to UCLA.

Stanford, meanwhile, has two first-round losses to USC to show for its time and, ahem, effort.

But with the tournament beginning Thursday at Staples Center, could the philosophies of Olson and Montgomery switch from nose thumbing to thumbs up?

"I'm positive Lute's attitude's going to change," USC Coach Henry Bibby said Saturday after the Trojans' season-ending win at Oregon State gave them the No. 6 seeding and a first-round game against Arizona.

"They're going to have to win some games."

Not to get into the NCAAs, but, presumably, to better their seeding in it.

According to the latest mock bracket at, the Wildcats are projected for a ghastly No. 9 seeding in the Midwest, which would carry with it the unenviable prospect of playing a top-seeded team in the second round.

Stanford, which lost for the first time this season Saturday at Washington, is in danger of losing its No. 1 seeding, at least according to ESPN commentator Jay Bilas. He said that the Cardinal would not deserve a top seeding if it entered the NCAA tournament with two consecutive losses, which would be the case if Stanford fell Thursday to Washington State.

Plus, Stanford has to worry about Gonzaga, lying in the weeds and hoping to run the table in the West Coast Conference tournament and possibly steal the Cardinal's No. 1 seeding.

It all makes for potentially the most competitive and entertaining Pac-10 tournament since its 2002 return.

Especially with the conference so even, Stanford notwithstanding. Only four teams had winning records in Pac-10 play, and six teams had losing records overall.

"It doesn't matter," USC guard Errick Craven said. "Arizona's a good team ... Stanford was No. 1 and Washington's playing like a top-10 team right now."

It is USC, though, that has advanced to the Pac-10 title game two years running, and with the Trojans' having won four of their last six games, they seem to think they have enough left to make another run.

"We're starting to play well," Bibby said. "This reminds me of the kind of teams I've had in the past when we get the momentum going."

Sounds like a vocal and hearty thumbs up.

Here, then, is an early primer to Thursday's first-round games.

No. 1 STANFORD vs.


The Cardinal may have swept the Cougars this season, but had it not been for an improbable rally in the last 25 seconds capped by Matt Lottich's buzzer-beating three-pointer, Stanford's winning streak would have ended last Thursday in Pullman, Wash., rather than Saturday in Seattle.



The Golden Bears and Ducks split their meetings this year, each winning on its home court, though Cal needed overtime to defeat Oregon in Berkeley. Cal got the No. 4 seeding because it split with Arizona while Oregon was swept by the Wildcats.


No. 7 UCLA

These are two teams seemingly headed in opposite directions, with the Huskies having won 12 of their last 14 and the Bruins having lost 13 of 15. Still, UCLA swept Washington and, in some corners, the Huskies still need to polish their resume to get an at-large NCAA bid. Do the Bruins have a Lavin-esque run left in them?

No. 3 ARIZONA vs.

No. 6 USC

Having punished the Wildcats down low in a 99-90 win at the Sports Arena in January, the Trojans are feeling confident, even with the subsequent 97-70 blowout loss they endured in Tucson.

That's because USC had a nine-point lead in the first half of that game before a second-half collapse.



First round Thursday at Staples Center. TV: Fox Sports Net.

* No. 1 Stanford vs. No. 8 Wash. St., 12:20 p.m.

* No. 4 California vs. No. 5 Oregon, 2:50 p.m.

* No. 2 Washington vs. No. 7 UCLA, 6:15 p.m.

* No. 3 Arizona vs. No. 6 USC, 8:45 p.m.

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