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Looking ahead to Pac-10 season


COUGARS

Just got done watching the Pac-10 even its bowl record at 2-2 with UCLA's win in ice-cold Washington, D.C. A win in Pullman and one in the nation's capital. The Bruins are becoming real cold weather warriors. But I digress. This post is basketball oriented. We have some notes from Ken Bone's press conference and then our Pac-10 preview that will appear in tomorrow's S-R. Read on.

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• Bone took a chance today. He tested the basketball gods. During the press conference, when asked if we happy with where his team was starting conference play, he said yes, citing the continued growth and "we're relatively healthy. DeAngelo's recovered well from his knee surgery this summer. A few other kids have had some aches and pains, but for the most part we are healthy going into Pac-10 play." So what happens at practice later in the morning? ... Nope, no one was hurt. Though the thought crossed my mind that Bone should have knocked on wood after that statement when first Xavier Thames and then Nik Koprivica both went down holding their arms. But both were fine and finished practice. After watching football this year, when anytime a player went down it was probably the loss of at least a month, it was a change for me to see guys get up and back to practice. ... Bone talked about the depth the Cougars have built, though he believes guys like Reggie Moore and Klay Thompson can play entire games if the tempo is not too brisk, like the LSU game. He thinks Xavier Thames is a capable backup for Moore and James Watson's minutes will continue to grow as he gets more experience and practice time. ... He thinks DeAngelo Casto has learned quickly how to stay out of foul trouble, playing aggressively when it's called for but picking his spots because he knows he has to be on the court extended minutes for WSU to be successful. ... Though Bone believes the Cougars are about where he expected them to be in how well they are playing, he's surprised they are 10-2. He wasn't sure that was the record they would have coming out of nonconference play. ... Talking once again about Nik Koprivica's play, Bone said there are a few players on the team who are playing with more confidence this year, including Koprivica. Confident players, Bone said, usually play better. ... Someone asked on the previous post who WSU was watching at a game in the Spokane area last night. The answer given by someone a bit later was right. With so many West Side high schools in Spokane and Coeur d'Alene this week, the WSU coaches are getting a chance to see a lot of talent with a (relatively) short trip.

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• We spent the past few days looking at the Pac-10's nonconference performances and trying to project them forward into the conference season. There are some teams that have played a lot worse than expected – UCLA, Oregon State, Arizona – and then there are teams that have played a lot better – WSU, Arizona State. How that will translate into the next few weeks is what's hard to determine. A good example is UCLA, which has played a tough schedule, losing to some of the country's best teams. But the Bruins have also lost to Fullerton and Long Beach, schools that have not had a long tradition of beating UCLA. Is the UCLA team that lost five consecutive games the true one, or is it the team that's won three of four? We'll see. Anyhow, here's the story ...

PULLMAN – What's going on in the Pac-10?

UCLA loses at home to Cal-State Fullerton and by 37 to Portland – then loses its starting center.

Arizona, with 25 consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances, loses by 30 to BYU – at home.

Oregon State opens the season with a 24-point loss to Texas A&M-Corpus Christi – and loses at home to Sacramento State.

The Mountain West's top three teams, BYU, New Mexico and UNLV, are 4-1 against the conference. The WCC has six wins against Pac-10 schools, the Big West and Big Sky two apiece.

"I see it being a little bit down compared to the last few years," said Washington State University head coach Ken Bone, whose Cougars open conference play Thursday afternoon by hosting Oregon.

"When you lose so many kids to the NBA and guys are leaving early, then (the conference) is going to take a hit."

Bone's point is well taken. In the last three NBA drafts, 17 Pac-10 players were chosen in the first round, including 10 who could still be playing college basketball.

The conference has overcome draft losses before, but the 2009-10 season is one that will seemingly be dominated by youth. And be without a true favorite.

"There's no clear-cut, dominant team (in the Pac-10)," Oregon coach Ernie Kent said this week. "I think it's up for grabs because it's going to come down to consistency."

The most consistent teams so far have been in Washington, with the Huskies ranked 15th in the nation and the Cougars posting a surprising 10-2 record, with their two losses coming on the road to ranked teams.

"There are some teams, like Oregon, USC, UCLA, a few teams out there that have had their share of injuries, or, like us, very young teams," Bone said. "Now some of those teams are playing better and better as of late."

Here's a team-by-team look at the conference in predicted order of finish, along with the nonconference record and where the school was picked in the Pac-10's preseason media poll.

1. Washington Huskies (9-2)

Picked to finish: Second

So far: The defending champions haven't ventured out of the Hec Edmundson Pavilion often, with losses at Texas Tech (ranked 20th this week) and against Georgetown (13th) in Anaheim. But they've also handled then-No. 19 Texas A&M and every other foe to venture into Seattle. ... UW is ranked 15th in this week's Associated Press poll, the only Pac-10 team in the top 25.

Surprises: Highly touted freshman Abdul Gaddy has struggled, shooting 31.5 percent from the floor, 8.3 percent beyond the arc. ... Sophomore guard Scott Suggs has played well off the bench, averaging 15 minutes and hitting 40 percent of his 3-point attempts.

Scoring leader: Quincy Pondexter, 21.9; Rebounds: Pondexter, 8.4; Assists: Venoy Overton, 3.4.

2. Cal Bears (8-4)

Picked to finish: First

So far: The road hasn't been kind to Cal, perfect in five home games. The losses have come in New York (to No. 5 Syracuse and No. 15 Ohio State), at No. 19 New Mexico and last Tuesday at No. 1 Kansas, a game in which the Bears stayed close until late.

Surprises: The loss of 6-foot-8 Harper Kamp to season-ending knee surgery has stripped the Bears of inside depth. ... Jamal Boykin has become a monster on the boards, grabbing a career-best 15 rebounds in the Kansas loss.

Scoring leader: Jerome Randle, 19.2; Rebounds: Boykin, 7.7; Assists: Randle, 5.0.

3. Arizona State (10-3)

Picked to finish: Seventh

So far: The Sun Devils have had some decent wins, including routing USF and LSU, two teams that recently lost to UW and WSU, respectively. But they've also lost at home to Baylor and by 13 on road at BYU.

Surprises: Ty Abbott has found a shooting touch, hitting 43.8 percent behind the arc. He shot 32.4 from distance his first two seasons. ... Point Derek Glasser is taking care of the ball, turning it over about two times a game despite averaging more than 32 minutes.

Scoring leader: Rihards Kuksiks, 11.8; Rebounds: Eric Boateng, 6.3; Assists: Glasser, 5.7.

4. Washington State (10-2)

Picked to finish: Eighth

So far: The Cougars haven't played an overly tough schedule, but their only losses have been to ranked teams on the road (then No. 17 Gonzaga and Kansas State, now 12th). ... Wing Klay Thompson has emerged as one of the nation's best scorers, third in the NCAA in the most recent statistics. ... WSU has won four consecutive games.

Surprises: Freshman point guard Reggie Moore is not only averaging more than five assists per game, but also 12.6 points. ... Wing Marcus Capers shot 29 percent from the floor last season. The sophomore's raised that to 54 percent this year.

Scoring leader: Thompson, 25.0; Rebounds: DeAngelo Casto, 7.3; Assists: Moore, 5.1.

5. USC (8-4)

Picked to finish: Ninth

So far: The Trojans have played well recently – or since Mike Gerrity has been eligible. The transfer from North Carolina-Charlotte (and Pepperdine before that) moved into the lineup four games ago and USC has won them all, including upsets of then No. 9 Tennessee and UNLV. ... USC has won six consecutive games.

Surprises: The entire season thus far. Kevin O'Neill was hired to clean up the mess left behind by former coach Tim Floyd, accused of recruiting violations. The Trojans lost most of their recruits, and had three players leave early for the NBA. ... Dwight Lewis, last year's leading scorer, is struggling, shooting just 26.2 percent from beyond the arc. He hit 37.9 percent last season.

Scoring leader: Gerrity, 14.8; Rebounds: Nikola Vucevic, 9.8; Assists: Gerrity, 4.3.

6. Oregon (8-4)

Picked to finish: Sixth

So far: The Ducks have been hit with as many injuries as anyone in the conference, with inside presence Joevan Catron (back) having not played in more than a month and Josh Crittle (ankle) and Tajuan Porter (ankle) having missed a handful of games each. ... Oregon has won four consecutive games. ... The Ducks have played just twice on the road, losing both.

Surprises: A home loss to Montana, though neither Catron nor Michael Dunigan played. ... Dunigan, the 6-10 sophomore, slimmed down over the offseason. The lighter version is averaging 10.6 points – including a career-high 26 Monday night – and 4.4 rebounds.

Scoring leader: Porter, 11.0; Rebounds: Catron, 5.8; Assists: Malcom Armstead, 4.2.

7. Arizona (6-6)

Picked to finish: Fourth

So far: Until their final nonconference game (see below), the Wildcats have played a series of close contests. But they've fallen short in enough that the Cats' string of 25 consecutive NCAA appearances seems in real jeopardy. ... Senior Nic Wise, playing for his fourth coach, hit two game-winning shots in three days.

Surprises: A 30-point home loss to BYU on Monday in which Jimmer Fredette scored a McKale Center-record 49 points. ... Freshman Derrick Williams, who originally committed to USC, is averaging 15 points and 6.4 rebounds.

Scoring leader: Wise, 16.3; Rebounds: Jamelle Horne, 7.9; Assists: Wise, 4.0.

8. UCLA (5-7)

Picked to finish: Third

So far: At one point the Bruins lost five consecutive games, including a 74-47 blowout by the University of Portland. ... Center Drew Gordon, who led UCLA in scoring two of its first three games, has left the team and will transfer.

Surprises: UCLA opened the season with a double-overtime loss to Cal-State Fullerton in Pauley Pavilion. The Bruins also lost to Long Beach State. ... 6-9 wing Nikola Dragovic, who is facing a felony assault charge, is shooting just 21.7 percent beyond the arc.

Scoring leader: Malcolm Lee, 14.5; Rebounds: Reeves Nelson, 5.8; Assists: Jerime (CQ) Anderson, 4.3.

9. Oregon State (6-5)

Picked to finish: Fifth

So far: The Beavers struggled from the start, losing their opener to Texas A&M-Corpus Christi by 24 points. ... They've also lost at home to Sacramento State and at Illinois-Chicago Circle.

Surprises: Oregon State is turning the ball over nearly 18 times a game after averaging just more than 13 last year. ... Six different Beavers have led the team in scoring in their 12 games.

Scoring leader: Seth Tarver, 13.4; Rebounds: Tarver, 5.2; Assists: Tarver, 2.2.

10. Stanford (6-6)

Picked to finish: 10th

So far: The Cardinal started better than expected, including a win against Virginia and a near upset of then-No. 5 Kentucky ... Stanford snapped  a three-game losing streak Tuesday night. ... Senior forward Landry Fields is sixth in the nation in scoring.

Surprises: Sophomore Jarrett Mann has filed a void at point guard after playing no more than 15 minutes in a game last season. ... Senior Drew Shiller has found the range from outside, hitting 52.2 percent of his 3-point shots.

Scoring leader: Fields, 23.4; Rebounds: Fields, 9.0; Assists: Mann, 5.6.

 

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• That's it for today. We'll be back in the morning. Until then ...




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Vince Grippi
Vince Grippi is a freelance local sports blogger for spokesman.com. He also contributes to the SportsLink Blog.

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