Arizona, Washington, Stanford Will Try To Revive Pac-10's Reputation

Nov. 11, 2004

Last in a four-part series of regional college basketball previews.
AP Sports Writer

The Pac-10's reputation took a hit last season.

Only three teams represented the conference in the NCAA tournament and nonemade it past the opening weekend for the first time since 1999. Stanford lostin the second round, despite being ranked No. 1 and owning a 29-1 record;Arizona and Washington lost in the first round.

Six of the conference's teams had losing records, including UCLA for justthe second time in 62 years.

The Pac-10 lost its three top players to the NBA draft: Stanford's JoshChildress, Arizona's Andre Iguodala and Oregon's Luke Jackson. Rising starTrevor Ariza left UCLA after one season for the draft. Stanford's MikeMontgomery shocked everyone by leaving for the NBA, too, becoming coach of theGolden State Warriors.

Things should be better this season, with traditional power Arizona, ranked10th in the AP's preseason Top 25, poised to add to its 10 conference titles inthe last 18 seasons under coach Lute Olson.

'The conference definitely will be better this year,' Oregon coach ErnieKent said. 'Every team has done something to improve itself. I don't thinkyou're going to skate through on any game.'

Eighty percent of the league's starters return, including Arizona State'sIke Diogu, Washington's Nate Robinson, Stanford's Chris Hernandez and theArizona quartet of Hassan Adams, Channing Frye, Mustafa Shakur and SalimStoudamire.

'The conference is from top to bottom the best it's been in the 22 yearsthat I've been here,' Olson said. 'I don't think there's a gimme gameanywhere. There's just so many good teams and so many experienced teams.'

After years of mediocrity, No. 22 Washington is expected to challengeArizona under coach Lorenzo Romar. They started conference play with an 0-5record last season before ending Stanford's undefeated streak at 26 games andgot into the NCAA tournament.

'It does mean something to our program because we have been down for solong,' Romar said. 'It shows there is progress. It could be worse. It couldbe like before when no one cared.'

Stanford, along with Arizona, has dominated the Pac-10 in recent years. Butthe Cardinal will have to get used to new coach Trent Johnson and the losses ofChildress and shooter Matt Lottich.

Freshman Malik Hairston will try to ease the loss of Jackson at Oregon. Heis expected to contribute immediately after coming in as one of the nation'stop 10 prep players.

Ben Howland starts his second season at UCLA in a rebuilding mode, but heattracted a stellar recruiting class that gives the Bruins the potential tobeat any team in the Pac-10. Freshman Jordan Farmar will take over the startingpoint guard role from Cedric Bozeman, who will miss his entire senior seasonwith a torn knee ligament.

Southern California lost a ton of scoring with Desmon Farmer's graduation,but the Trojans return six seniors and added junior college transfer DwayneShackleford and freshman Gabriel Pruitt.

California center Leon Powe, last season's Pac-10 freshman of the year, willredshirt while recovering from multiple knee surgeries, coach Ben Braun said.

'The league won't be decided until that final weekend and I would not be abit surprised if the winning team doesn't have five losses,' Olson said.'That's how closely matched a lot of the teams are.'

Gonzaga is ranked 25th in the preseason poll. The Zags won all 17 of theirWest Coast Conference games last season by an average of 18 points. They earneda No. 2 seed in the NCAA tournament, but lost to Nevada in the second round.

Coach Mark Few lost three key players in Blake Stepp, Cory Violette and KyleBankhead, who started at least 30 games each last season. Anchoring the Zags'frontline is senior Ronny Turiaf, who averaged 15.5 points and 6.4 reboundslast season, and decided not to enter the NBA draft.

Gonzaga will play a tough nonconference schedule, including games againstNo. 3 Georgia Tech, No. 5 Illinois, No. 7 Oklahoma State and No. 22 Washington.

In the Big Sky, Eastern Washington made its first trip to the NCAAtournament last season and should win the league. The Eagles lost coach of theyear Ray Giacoletti, who left for Utah. Montana replaced coach Pat Kennedy withalum and former NBA player Larry Krystkowiak.

Utah and UNLV will contend for the Mountain West title. Last season, theUtes went 24-9 and won the conference tournament title after coach Rick Majerusleft the team for health reasons. He retired and will be a TV analyst thisseason. Lon Kruger takes over as coach of the Runnin' Rebels, who got starforward Odartey Blankson back after he withdrew from the NBA draft.

In the Big West, Utah State and Pacific should compete for the conference'sautomatic bid. Both went 17-1 in the league last season, losing only to eachother. But only Pacific was invited to the NCAA tournament and lost in thesecond round.

Utah State, which has won 20-plus games for five consecutive years, andIdaho will be playing their final season in the conference. Both schools arejumping to the Western Athletic Conference, leaving the Big West with allCalifornia members.

Texas-El Paso and Nevada should battle for the WAC title. Both teams earnedNCAA tournament berths last season.

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