A Pacific-10 Conference tournament full of questions will open today with a pair of games whose stakes are dead certain: The losers have no shot at playing in the NCAA tournament.
The four-day Pac-10 tournament tips off at Staples Center in Los Angeles at 6 p.m. with No. 8 seed Stanford meeting No. 9 Oregon State. That will be followed by No. 7 Oregon meeting No. 10 Arizona State.
Those might be the only teams among the 10 who know that their only path to the NCAA tournament is though the automatic bid that goes to the champion.
“There is some added motivation if you’re not definitely in the tournament or the experts don’t have you in,” Oregon coach Dana Altman said. “I’m sure that is extra motivation, but it also could cause some tension that weighs on a team.”
The league’s other six teams join the party Thursday. Of those, Arizona and UCLA seem certain of a joyful Selection Sunday, even if they’re one-and-done this week.
Washington also might be in regardless of result, but the Huskies say they don’t want to test that theory. And Washington State, California and USC all hope that they still have enough of a pulse to play their way to an at-large bid.
Those hopes will end early for either the Trojans or Golden Bears, who are paired in the first game Thursday.
“I think that SC could probably look at a couple of games on their schedule that they might have won and certainly we could do the same thing that would have given us a better résumé going into this thing,” Cal coach Mike Montgomery said. “But if the top three teams, for example, are not highly considered, then it’s going to make it tougher for four and five to get in. I would think in both our cases, we’re probably looking to win a couple of games.”
The Cal-USC elimination game will be followed by regular-season champion Arizona meeting the Stanford-OSU winner before No. 2 seed UCLA meets the Oregon-ASU winner.
Arizona and UCLA are certain to go dancing even with early exits. However, that is not they way the Wildcats and Bruins want it to happen.
“The (Pac-10) tournament is an opportunity to see what life is like on a neutral court on a really big stage in a single-elimination environment,” Arizona coach Sean Miller said. “ The more games we play, the better for our team. And I think, like any team, we enter the conference tournament hoping you can play well enough to win it.”
The Thursday nightcap pairs UW and WSU for the third time, after Cougars swept the regular-season series.
The semifinals will be played at 6 and 8:30 p.m. Friday, and the survivors will meet in the championship game at 3 p.m. Saturday.
“I think you have to go with Arizona, just because they won the league, and their athleticism makes them a real threat in a three-day tournament because they have good depth,” Altman said. “I think Washington is another team, simply because they won it a year ago and they are deep and athletic. USC is playing awfully well, so they’re also a team that you have to look out for.”
Don Ruiz, 253-597-8808 firstname.lastname@example.org twitter/donruiztnt blog.thenewstribune.com/uwsports
PACIFIC-10 men’s TOURNAMENT
TODAY THROUGH SATURDAY, LOS ANGELES (STAPLES CENTER)
CHAMPIONSHIP GAME: 3 p.m. Saturday, Ch. 7
REGULAR-SEASON CHAMPION: Arizona
FORMAT: All 10 teams participate. The top six seeds get byes into the second round. The No. 7 seed plays the No. 10 seed, and No. 8 plays No. 9 in the first round.
PROJECTED NCAA BIDS: 2-4
TODAY’S SCHEDULE: No. 8 Stanford vs. No. 9 Oregon State at 6 p.m.; No. 7 Oregon vs. No. 10 Arizona State at 8:30 p.m.; both on FSN.
THE BUZZ: Arizona won the regular-season title by a game over UCLA. Those teams look like NCAA locks and are playing for seeding. After that, it gets interesting. Washington, fourth-seeded USC and sixth-seeded Washington State have at-large hopes. Washington is seeded third, swept UCLA and split with Arizona, with the loss coming by one point in Tucson. But the Huskies also split with USC and were swept by archrival Washington State. Washington’s first opponent in this tourney? It’s Washington State in the 8:30 p.m. Thursday quarterfinal. The Cougars were swept by Arizona and UCLA and split with USC. The Trojans have lost 13 games, but they own résumé-boosting wins over Tennessee and Texas and split with Arizona, UCLA, Washington and Washington State. USC’s win over Arizona came by eight at home on Feb. 24. If USC gets past California in a quarterfinal (those teams split as well), the Trojans likely would get Arizona in a semifinal. If Washington gets past WSU, the Huskies probably get an at-large NCAA bid. USC and WSU likely need to get to the tourney final to truly feel good about their at-large chances.
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