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Little separates Pac pack


So who is the favorite here?

The California Golden Bears won the conference with a 13-5 mark (21-9 overall), but even Cal coach Mike Montgomery admits this year is like none other.

“There isn’t anybody in this league,” Montgomery said Tuesday, “that’s invulnerable to anybody at any given time.”

When you consider the last-place team, Washington State, had the most conference wins (six) and most overall wins (16) of any last-place team in Pac-10 history, then it’s obvious not much separates the nine teams playing for the automatic NCAA berth the next four days.

There are hot teams – Cal and third-seed Washington have won four consecutive games coming in, No. 4 Arizona three; second-seeded Arizona State six of seven – and there are three matchups between teams that played last weekend.

The quarterfinals get under way today, with UCLA (13-17) facing Arizona (16-14); Cal vs. Oregon; ASU (22-9) playing Stanford (13-17); and Washington (21-9) against OSU (14-16).

“For us, it just depends on the matchup,” Oregon State coach Craig Robinson said of a quick turnaround, playing UW in a rematch of last Saturday’s game. “It’s helpful in preparation. The scouting is fresh, the game plan is fresh.”

ASU and Washington could meet in Friday’s semifinals, in a game some call a virtual play-in for the NCAA tournament. But Sun Devils coach Herb Sendek isn’t buying it.

“We don’t know with any absolute certainty where teams are headed,” the Pac-10’s coach of the year said.

Maybe not, but Cal seems to be a lock, especially since the Bears play Oregon about 16 hours after their first game ends.

“I do feel like (the tournament) is as wide open as its ever been,” Oregon coach Ernie Kent said. “But you’ve got to give Cal the nod.”

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