It's game day on the Palouse and the outlook has brightened considerably since Tuesday. Not in the basketball sense. No, with USC (the second-hottest team in the Pac-10) coming to town tonight at 7 (no TV, but there is a web feed from Washington State) and UCLA (the hottest team) headed here Saturday afternoon at 2:30 (FSN), the road to earning a bye in the tournament is as snow-covered as ever. No, we're referring to the real roads around here. They've gotten so much better in the past 48 hours, it's actually simple to get around. That couldn't have been said Tuesday. Read on.
• Washington State: We wrote about the USC bigs today for the paper, just because they happen to be the guys that make the Trojans offense go. But how about the defense, which, statistically at least, is among the best in the conference? They are physical, led by wing Marcus Simmons, a 6-foot-6, long-armed defensive specialist that USC coach Kevin O'Neill calls the best lock-down defender in the country. It will be Simmons' job to try to lock-down Klay Thompson. The thing is, when these teams played in Los Angeles an epoch ago, Thompson was 6 of 18 from the floor en route to 17 points. And afterward, to a man, there was more talk of missing open shots than there was praise of Simmons' defense. When you look at Reggie Moore and Faisal Aden each going 2 for 11 from the floor, you can understand why. Simmons wasn't guarding them. Besides, Thompson was 4 of 5 from beyond the arc which means, by my awful math, he was 2 of 13 inside. Even under duress, he usually is better than that. He also got to the line just once, something that probably won't happen tonight. ... Though it's easy to get myopic and think of tonight's game in terms of WSU's NCAA chances, the other team has a legitimate at-large chance as well if it wins its two games this weekend. The things killing the Trojans? A couple of really bad – worse than Arizona State – non-conference losses. ... One football note. There will be another kicker trying to earn a spot on the team when spring ball opens Monday with walk-on tryouts.
• Around the Pac-10: We're going to start with some conference NCAA thoughts from San Jose's Jon Wilner. He believes, with the resume they are sporting, the Huskies are firmly on the bubble. If they don't make the tournament, and USC, California and WSU take turns beating themselves up over the next two weeks, it would mean two conference teams in the Dance. Again. Not good. ... UCLA will make it, even if the Bruins don't win tonight against UW. A lot of good Husky memories have been built at UCLA's expense. My guess is, Josh Smith won't have a lot of fond memories from tonight. ... Believe it or not, Arizona State is favored in tonight's matchup with Oregon. That's hard to fathom. So is the fact Ty Abbott is playing his final weekend at home for the Sun Devils. It seems like he's been there for a decade at least. ... Want to know the only Pac-10 team Sean Miller has yet to beat in his short tenure at Arizona? Yep, tonight's foe, Oregon State. Will the streak, now at three, continue? The Wildcats hope their two-game losing streak ends. ... A couple football notes. The Pac-12 has already shaken up the officiating ranks according to this fine story from the Times' Bob Condotta. Some officials are out and a bunch of new ones is in. ... Finally, the Register-Guard's George Schroeder talks arrests.
• That's it for this morning. But before we leave, we want to apologize. We said yesterday we would have something up later in the day (that would be the advance) but never got around to it. I have a reason, but it sounds like and excuse, so we'll keep it to ourselves and just say this: We promise we'll have something up this evening. Before the game. Until then ...