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Pac-10 Notebook

December 10, 2002 Conference Notes No Comments



Pac-10 Notebook

by Joaquin Mesa

With Stanford and Oregon beating up on ranked opponents, and Arizona poised for big games against Texas and Kansas, the Pac-10 might not be so bad off after all. Well, look again. If it weren’t for the success of those three teams, the Pac-10 would be laughable, with no wins against ranked opponents, and losses to San Diego (which finished 5th in the powerful Mountain West Conference last year), Rhode Island (a team that had two wins last year), Montana State (a proud .500 Big Sky team) and Texas Christian University (a team that couldn’t handle the Southern Methodist Mustangs).

With the woes of UCLA, USC and Washington, the Pac-10 is struggling for credibility outside of its big two. Despite Stanford’s powerful start, if they were to lose to a weaker USC, it would take away from what they accomplished because USC couldn’t beat UC Santa Barbara. When the Pac-10 got to conference play last season, they were widely regarded as the toughest conference, and they proved it with one of the most closely contested conference seasons ever. Now, if Stanford, Arizona and Oregon don’t run away with the conference, then they surely won’t receive number one seeds in the tourney, and most certainly will not be playing in the West bracket.

What is so upsetting about the Pac-10 this year is that USC, UCLA, Arizona, California, Arizona State and Washington have very young teams. Yes, Kapono, Wrenn, Shipp, Walton and Gardner are seniors, but everyone else is mostly sophomores and freshmen. This means that there will be a lot of erratic play during the conference season, and any team can win. UCLA can lose to San Diego, but they can also beat Oregon if Josiah Johnson were to heat up; Washington State can lose to Idaho, but can beat Arizona if Milton Riley and Shami Gill were to grab ten boards apiece. It’s anybody’s game.

Now don’t get me wrong, Arizona and Oregon are going to end up on top. What is of importance is that they do it by handing other Pac-10 foes their hats, and quickly. They cannot afford to lose to mediocre Pac-10 teams. The next question I have is whether the Pac-10 will put five teams in the tourney this year. It doesn’t look very good for the conference. After putting six teams in the tournament last season, four is looking awful good this year.

Wooden Classic turns Ugly

California and USC lost close games to quality opponents in Georgia and Missouri. What was upsetting is that each team couldn’t hold a lead, and choked down the stretch. This is very telling of young teams. California’s numerous freshmen forced Coach Ben Braun to get trying minutes out of Amit Tamir, A.J. Diggs and Joe Shipp. Tamir had a costly turnover at the end of overtime, caused by fatigue and his lack of desire to body up inside. Let’s not forget that Tamir is in fact only a sophomore, despite his two years in the Israeli army. Playing forty-five minutes a game is something that might cause some mental lapses in young players. USC had a lead in the second half, and lost control in the last ten minutes when Craven became a force. The young USC star tried to take over a game that needed no taking over. Instead, it needed someone to slow down the offense and provide good looks at the basket. He did neither. A promising freshman last year, Craven might look to be having a sophomore slump this season.

UCLA and the Win Column

A beautiful Hollywood love story or the embarrassing beginning to a once storied University’s season? UCLA beat up on Long Beach State in the hopes that it will build upon its lackluster play. They get two more practice games against Portland and Northern Arizona before defining the season with games against Kansas and Michigan. How might UCLA fare? It depends on the competence of Bozeman, the shooting of Kapono, and the contributions of Johnson, Cummings, Thompson and eventually Patterson (out due to his own mental lapses). Ultimately, it depends on how quickly Coach Steve Lavin can get his players to listen to him. Lavin does not lack basketball knowledge. It is his soft discipline that causes his teams to have poor beginnings to seasons. Let’s hope that he can continue to be successful in the tourney, because as the ouster of Bob Toledo has proved, it only takes one mediocre season to have the Bruin administration buying out the entirety of your contract. Good luck Steve, and give my regards to Bob.

     

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