A case for Washington is a case for the Pacific-10 Conference, the theory being that the Huskies haven’t done enough outside the conference to make a compelling case for an NCAA Tournament berth.
The rationale goes something like this:
So what if the Huskies’ most impressive non-conference victory came against Brewster Packing?
The Pac-10 has produced two of the last three national champs and four Pac-10 teams made the Sweet 16 last season. Washington, as the fourth-place team this year, deserves a shot.
Call it merit by association, momentarily forgetting that Stanford was drilled by Connecticut, or that UCLA lost by 34 at Duke. Of course, Washington may have no NCAA case without a victory at Washington State in the regular-season finale Saturday. Beating the Cougars would up the Huskies’ record to 18-7, including 10-7 in the Pac-10.
No. 2 Arizona, No. 11 Stanford and No. 19 UCLA are sure bets. Washington and Arizona State (18-11, 8-8) are not.
If the NCAA selection committee rewards only four Pac-10 teams when pairings are announced Sunday, ASU has the edge, assuming the Sun Devils earn at least a split in Los Angeles this weekend.
ASU has road victories over Stanford and Cincinnati. ASU also took Kansas and Arizona to overtime. The Huskies, meanwhile, lacked anything close to a big win until Saturday’s home victory over fading UCLA.
Several Pac-10 coaches used Tuesday’s weekly conference call to make cases for Washington and ASU. Mostly, they made cases for the Pac-10.
“Washington and Arizona State have had very, very good years and they are probably deserving to get there,” USC’s Henry Bibby said.
“You know, the Pac-10 is one of the toughest conferences in the country,” he added.
Two losses will stand out if Washington fails to earn a berth: Jan. 24 against Stanford, when Kris Weems hit a last-second 3-pointer for a 74-72 Cardinal win; and Feb. 21 at Cal, when the Huskies mysteriously quit in the final minutes of an 84-67 defeat.
Cal coach Ben Braun dismissed the Feb. 21 game while making his case for Washington.
“Just because you lose to us and lose a couple of games in this league doesn’t mean you’re not a tournament team,” said Braun, who took the Bears to the Sweet 16 last season. “This is a tough league and there are a bunch of (tournament-bound) teams that we’d love to play at our place, and we’d have some pretty good success against those teams.”
Arizona’s Lute Olson argued most passionately, scoffing at those who would send six or more teams from the Big Ten or ACC while sending just three from the Pac-10.
“Take a look at the Big Ten, for example,” Olson said. “I think Minnesota and maybe Purdue got through a couple rounds last year, but good grief, they talk like they should get six and we’re talking about whether we deserve five.
“I just think we need to be much stronger in our approach to this thing.”
Washington’s non-conference schedule doesn’t help. The Huskies won home games against Saint Mary’s, Boise State, James Madison, Old Dominion and Gonzaga.
They beat Portland and BYU on the road, but lost at Oklahoma State and South Alabama.
“We need to stay in fourth place, and that’s what Saturday’s game is going to come down to,” coach Bob Bender said. “This league deserves five.”
Around the conference
The Jerry Green Fan Club keeps growing in Eugene. Said Oregon forward Henry Madden: “I don’t know if we’ve achieved more than we expected, but Coach Green had taken away the confidence of a lot of people. We could see him let things go last year because he wanted out. He had no faith in the people coming back that they could compete and fulfill his needs.” Green is in his first season at Tennessee, where the Vols are 19-7 and headed to the NCAAs.
Stanford’s 32-point loss at Arizona last week left forward Mark Madsen undeterred. “This is a huge positive for us,” Madsen said after the 90-58 trouncing. “We haven’t felt this feeling for awhile. This will give us a lot of motivation to work harder.”
ASU fans made their case for interim coach Don Newman by chanting, “We want Newman!” during last week’s victory over Cal. Athletic director Kevin White, who has yet to name a permanent coach, showed little expression from his seat near courtside. After the game, Newman thanked fans in the student section, many of whom wore shirts bearing the former WSU assistant’s name. Newman is not considered a favorite for the full-time position.
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