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Pac-10 standings are far from set

Trojans and Bears haven't exactly gone according to their predictions, but they still could wind up anywhere in the final two weeks.

February 26, 2009|Chris Foster

California, picked to finish eighth in the Pacific 10 Conference, is tied for third place . . . but could still finish eighth.

USC, picked to finish third, sits in sixth . . . but could still rise like the tide or sink into the abyss.

Does that clear things up?

Welcome to the last two weeks of the Pac-10's regular season, which for USC (16-10 overall, 7-7 in conference play) and California (20-7, 9-5) begins tonight in Berkeley.

Confusion stretches from Mt. Rainier, near Seattle, to the Mexican border, south of Tucson. Even the weekly media conference call has the virus.

Radio reporter: "So in what is, I'm sure, been a somewhat disappointing season, other than the obvious goal of trying to win these games going forward, is there something you guys are focusing on in these final four games that you can use later on, even going into next year?"

Cal Coach Mike Montgomery: "What was your first statement, 'A disappointing season?' "

Reporter: "Well, in a season that has not been exactly what you hoped, I'm assuming, other than the goal of trying to win each game, is there something you're focusing on going forward?"

Montgomery: "Uh . . . I thought 20 wins was pretty good, third place. I guess I have this thing out of whack a little bit."

Out of whack pretty much covers it this season.

Over at Stanford, UCLA, the nearly unanimous pick to be conference champ, tries to keep up with the conference leaders. Up north, Washington, picked to finish fifth, can move a step closer to securing its first conference title since 1985 by beating second-place Arizona State. And Oregon State, winless in conference play a year ago, has seven victories.

Meanwhile, USC will be trying to polish its resume for the NCAA tournament selection committee. Coach Tim Floyd has refused to play what he calls "the speculation game," but teams that stumble to the finish often play in the NIT.

Asked if the team is feeling pressure, USC forward Taj Gibson said, "Yes, but I don't think we're the only team feeling that way. There are only a couple of games left and everyone is still jockeying for position."

Cal is tied with UCLA and is still in the same area code as the conference leaders, but with USC and UCLA this week plus road games against Arizona State and Arizona to follow, the Bears could finish where predicted.

Montgomery walked into a program that had lost its top two scorers to the NBA and finished eighth or lower in the conference three times in four seasons.

Yet, with a break, or two, the Bears can still run down Washington and Arizona State. Such has been the conference's slip into parity.

"There has always been at least one team ranked very high, and the rest competed but were not in the hunt," Montgomery said. "I think it's more even among five, six, even seven teams -- counting Oregon State -- than it has ever been."

Oregon State sits half a game behind USC with a 7-8 record, which could be problematic for the Trojans. The bottom four teams play opening day in the Pac-10 tournament and need four victories to win it.

The Beavers haven't finished at .500 in conference play since 1992-93, when they were 9-9 and the University of Chicago had a law professor named Barack Obama. But Coach Craig Robinson, the president's brother-in-law, seems to have effectively stimulated the Oregon State program.

USC closes the regular season against the Beavers -- a game that could decide sixth place. The Trojans, though, are not looking over their shoulders.

"We're still alive, this team is still alive, there is still life," guard Daniel Hackett said.

In other words, hold the autopsy; the Trojans still have a chance to be every bit as disappointing as California.

Or, as Montgomery joked, "If this is disappointing, then we have a long ways to go."

Nope, just two weeks.

--

chris.foster@latimes.com

--

USC tonight

AT CALIFORNIA

Time: 7:30 p.m.

On the air: Radio: 710; TV: none.

Site: Haas Pavilion, Berkeley.

Records: USC 16-10, 7-7 Pac-10; California 20-7, 9-5.

Update: California leads the nation in three-point shooting at 44.2%, led by Theo Robertson (54%) and Jerome Randle (45.1%). The Trojans handled both last time, as California made only two of 16 three-pointers in a 73-62 USC victory.

-- Chris Foster

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