Rockne's Weekly Wrap-Up

Feb. 8, 2006

By Dick Rockne

What's it going to take for a Pac-10 Conference team to get into the NCAA women's basketball tournament?

The answer, according to Marie Tuite, is simple: win and keep winning. Win at home for sure and keep the stumbling on the road to a minimum.

'I don't recall end-of-season performance being as crucial as it is this year,'' said Tuite, University of Washington senior associate athletic director who is in her fifth year as a member of the Women's Basketball Committee that is charged with selecting 33 at-large teams and seeding the entire 64-team NCAA tournament.

'I really think what's going to happen in the next three weekends may help draw the line on what teams we should be considering,'' said Tuite who, along with the Pac-10 and its teams is responsible for keeping track of 48 other teams in five conferences that, combined, make up the NCAA's West Region.

'It has been a wacky year for us (Pac-10),'' Tuite said. 'On the one hand it's great because every game means something. On the other hand it makes my job more difficult in trying to discern the teams that should be representing our conference in the postseason.''

The importance of the stretch run to the Pac-10 tournament has been magnified this year because of what happened - or didn't happen - during the nonconference phase of the campaign, Tuite said. She said teams elevated their schedules (good) but there weren't a lot of big wins (not so good).

'Nonconference scheduling and results may be crucial in the selection process,'' Tuite said.

Overall, Pac-10 teams collectively have a nonconference record of 65-27 (.706). It is just the fourth time in the league's 20-year history it has had a nonconference average of .700 or better. Two games remain: Stanford vs. UC Santa Barbara Thursday night and Oregon State vs. Texas-Pan American on Feb. 27.

But of all those nonconference wins, few were against top-ranked rivals.

Arizona State is the Pac-10 leader in the combined factors of schedule strength and victories over significant nonconference opponents. Included among the Sun Devils' nine nonleague victories are wins over No. 20 New Mexico and No. 22 Vanderbilt. A seven-point loss to No. 1 North Carolina could be construed as a plus.

The 18-5 Sun Devils' reward for its solid nonconference record and its strong showing in the Pac-10 is a No. 11 ranking on the NCAA-compiled RPI (Ratings Percentage Index) ladder.

Stanford is the next Pac-10 team at No. 15. Then there is a dramatic drop to UCLA (41), Washington (49), USC (51) and California (63). Trailing are Oregon (100), Oregon State (104), Arizona (159) and Washington State (181).

Tuite said it is her belief that the four teams in the semifinals of the Pac-10 tournament will be the league teams most likely to get a 'careful look' from the Basketball Committee when it is trying to determine who gets into NCAA showdown and who doesn't. The Pac-10 tournament winner gets an automatic berth; any other team has to make it as an at-large choice.

Last season, five Pac-10 teams - regular-season and tournament-champion Stanford plus Arizona, Arizona State, Oregon and USC - were in the NCAA tournament. Then, when all five won their first-round games, eyebrows were raised all over the country, Tuite said.

'We (Pac-10) got more exposure in a day and a half on ESPN that we had in my previous four years. The performance of the Pac-10 was the talk of the country.''

But there is no provision in the selection process that such talk from one year will influence the selection committee the next year.

Still, league coaches, including ASU's Charli Turner Thorne, believe at least five Pac-10 teams will deserve to be in the NCAA field again this year.

'Maybe six,'' Turner Thorne said.

'I know we might not have had as many great preseason wins, but I think the conference is stronger through and through than it was last year. I would hope we're going to get five in. I'm not examining all the numbers. I'm not sure what's happening around the country.

'But I feel like we certainly would be deserving of that.'

So, as Tuite said, what happens the next three weekends will count for a lot. And the teams in contention have one option if they are going to succeed: just win.

Will Oregon teams be major factors?

An attempt to determine which of the Pac-10's top six teams have the most and least advantageous schedules between now and the end of the regular season leads to a conclusion that Arizona State has a favorable situation while Washington has the most difficult road.

The second-place Sun Devils will play three of their final five games at home (where they are 6-0 against Pac-10 rivals) with one of them against first-place Stanford. On the other hand, third-place Washington has to play four of its final six on the road, including games this week at USC and UCLA and on the final weekend at Stanford and California.

Looming as spoilers are Oregon and Oregon State, presently tied for seventh place. Both have home games against three of the contenders: Arizona State, USC and UCLA. And both have a road game at Washington.

Murrell's faith in her team restored

It took a little more than 24 hours for Washington State coach Sherri Murrell to have faith in her team restored.

During what was a not-so-super Sunday for Murrell and her players the Cougars fell behind arch-rival Washington 30-5 and never did make much of a game out of what became an 83-57 Husky blowout that was televised nationally by Fox.

Afterwards, the usually tolerant Murrell let reporters know exactly how she felt about what she had just seen.

'All year long we had spirit and had a rebuttal or had some kind of an answer,'' Murrell said. 'Tonight was the first time I've seen our spirit die. We didn't have an answer. We lost our spirit tonight and I have no idea why.

'We've got a lot of young kids on the floor due to injuries but to me it was some senior leadership that really hurt us tonight. It just did not step up.''

Murrell, in her fourth season of trying to build a program at WSU, said she was as discouraged as she's ever been following a defeat.

'It was almost Biblical what we did,'' Murrell said. 'As soon as they slapped our cheek we turned the other one and they slapped us and we stood there and did not have an answer. It was the biggest discouragement I've had since I've been here. I've never had a team just roll over. It was an embarrassment, a discouragement and I take responsibility as well.''

All might not be forgiven, but by Tuesday Murrell attitude had changed in the wake of an unscheduled practice on Monday.

'We were going to have Monday off, but we went ahead and just started practicing,'' Murrell said. 'We felt we just needed to get back in the gym and put that loss behind us. And, yeah, the team has an incredible resiliency to defeat. They were upset with their performance and how they lost their spririt in that game and they came out and we had one of the toughest practices we've had all year.

'Again, it's what happens at tip-off time, but I'm pretty impressed about how they responded. So I feel much better.''



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