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Pac-10 Notebook

December 27, 2002 Conference Notes No Comments

Pac-10 Notebook

by Joaquin Mesa

Advice for the ranked and rankled

Arizona has been unseated as the number one team in the nation, Oregon has been spanked by Cincinnati, and Stanford lost two of their last three games heading into conference play. It seems that my once unbalanced Pac-10 is trying to humiliate me by proving me wrong once again. After Arizona stumbled to wins against Texas and San Diego St., they almost got an early Christmas present from the LSU Tigers, but alas, it was not meant to be. Despite LSU handing the Wildcats the game in the closing minutes, Arizona proved that they too had Christmas spirit, and handed the game right back to their opponents with an errant in-bounds pass. It seems that Luke Walton was missed sorely.

My suggestion to Zona Cats fans is to tie Gardner up in the basement when Walton is out of the lineup, because the guy thinks that he has to take over the games. The reality is that he has a host of guys on the floor that can do the same things as he can, if not more. I like Stoudamire and Will Bynum, but their cold shooting, combined with Gardner’s lack of team play caused Arizona to lose that game. I mean, when a team’s point guard plays thirty-six minutes and only gets one assist, there is something rotten in Denmark. I remember thinking to myself last year when the Wildcats were playing Troy and Stoudamire was lighting up the nets, ‘I wish he would pass it to Gardner more.’ I really wish they would have waited to grant my wish until conference play started.

For Arizona this is not a bad thing. Being pre-season number one is nice, but it never lasts, and this is just the kick in the pants they need to perform well in conference play before their showdown with Kansas, mid-season style.

Oregon’s loss to Cincinnati left a rather bitter taste in my mouth. I think I saw more bricks in that game then when I was playing with my four year old cousin on the regulation basket. Luke Ridnour, Luke Jackson, Justin Davis and Andre Joseph looked just awful trying to get shots while being pressured by the Cincinnati defense, scrappy as it was. They did redeem themselves with a big win over Minnesota, a Golden Gopher team that is as good as any in the nation.

I think that Oregon’s fast paced style makes it easy for blow-outs of that sort to occur, but I didn’t see any change in game plan once Ernie Kent realized that his team wasn’t going to make any three-point baskets against Cincinnati. I wanted to see Kent tell his players to buckle down inside, but it didn’t happen. I didn’t see plays run for Crosswhite, Helquist or Jackson…not inside anyway. I saw Jackson throw up some threes that I wouldn’t have recommended. I even saw Crosswhite fling one up from downtown, all seven feet of him. Believe me when I say that he is no Rory Oneil. Crosswhite is still trying to find his game at a college level, and making him believe that he can hit outside shots is something that Kent shouldn’t get in the habit of doing.

California and Arizona State

Ben Braun’s squad of ex-soldiers and freshmen has performed well in the early season, with just one loss to Georgia. Even this game was a close one until California’s young team lost composure down the stretch. I don’t think anybody would have placed California high in the conference before the Pac-10 started its twelve round boxing match. After all, they did lose their starting point guard to Fresno State for his senior season, and their top recruit to the NBA. Not to mention the fact that its top incoming recruit this season pulled out after hearing of his mother’s ill health, a noble reason.

Honestly, I want to give my pre-season top team award to California for sheer heart and guts. I understand that some would say that California’s schedule outside of their game against Georgia has been somewhat easy, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t deserving of the award. Arizona beat the tough ones and lost to LSU, is that better or worse? The true test for California is its upcoming game against Kansas. This game is the third for Kansas against Pac-10 foes, and if California would win it would take a little pressure off of Arizona in January.

Arizona State, with wins against Utah and Purdue, has me rethinking my poor assessment of their team. They played a couple of games without Curtis Millage early on, and still are in striking distance of the Pac-10 lead. I don’t like them, but I have to give praise where praise is due. Congratulations.

UCLA versus USC

I have to do it; I have to compare the two teams before they butt heads (Jan.8 and Feb.5). So far, UCLA has disappointed everyone who follows the program. They lost to San Diego, and followed that with a loss to Northern Arizona. The losses to Duke and Kansas are understandable; after all, this is a young team being lead by a senior walk-on (Crispin) and Jason Kapono (Lavin’s words, not mine). USC is also young, with their experience coming in the form of flashy Desmon Farmer (junior), a player whom people consider reckless but talented. They also have found stability in Robert Hutchinson, a senior point guard who has been backing up Brandon Granville for three years. However, they lost Hutchinson recently to the devil’s work, a sprained ankle. USC has played up to expectations, which were not high. Their 4-3 record is unimpressive. So, USC versus UCLA, I imagine, would play out a little bit like this…

Errick Craven opens up with a drive to the hoop that extends over the top of Cedric Bozeman’s hands. He goes cold immediately afterwards, with Roydell Smiley filling in the scoring void when Craven exits. Kapono drains a couple of threes early, but is stifled by the fouling defense of Henry Bibby. Rory Oneil imitates a big man and tries to go inside, where he finds T.J. Cummings, who promptly sends him packing. Oneil then realizes his role on the team, and begins to drain twenty-foot jumpers. Jerry Dupree, after missing much of the early season greets Andre Patterson, as the two are subbed in simultaneously so as to keep the balance of intelligence on the court. Dupree immediately dunks over Patterson, screaming too loud, getting a technical, and forcing Bibby to sit him on the bench until the next UCLA game. Patterson scores the next ten points. At halftime, the score is 45-40 in UCLA’s favor. The second half is a collection of blunders. The teams shoot a combined thirty-five percent; UCLA because of USC’s defense, and USC because they can’t shoot. It is not until the closing minute that the senior savor of UCLA comes onto the court to provide the Bruins with clutch three-point shooting. Jon Crispin enters the game with forty-five seconds remaining. He nails two three-pointers, one with time running out to win the game for UCLA.

It’s a tough loss for USC, but they always have football to hold on to.


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