One chapter of this college basketball season is coming to an end. Pac-10 fans will see the final regular season games this week. Then it's tournament time!
Despite some dramatic surprises in conference play this season, one expectation has been met once again.
It's been an outstanding season of Pac-10 basketball with some great matchups between now and Saturday.
The fact that the Pac-10 champion will finish with at least four conference losses shouldn't catch anyone off guard.
Coach Lorenzo Romar has his Washington Huskies poised to earn a Pac-10 crown for the first time in two decades. His team has the most athletic starting five on the West Coast. That said, Coach Romar and his staff have done an outstanding job of preparing this team to rise above the rest.
Washington playing at such a high level shouldn't surprise anyone.
Unexpected results this season should be the label applied to the job done by coach Mike Montgomery at Cal. Making a relatively quiet return to the Pac-10, Coach Montgomery has proved once again that he knows both the game of basketball and how to put young men in a position to succeed.
Leading the Bears near the top of the conference standings has everyone around the Pac-10 suddenly remembering the outstanding job he did for many years across the Bay at Stanford.
It's premature to recap the Pac-10 season. More than likely there are some unexpected results awaiting fans this week.
Here's just a few of the games you will want to watch if you are passionate about college basketball.
Oregon State (13-14, 7-9) vs. UCLA (22-7, 11-5): Thursday, 7:30pm PST
These two teams met at the beginning of the schedule. Coach Ben Howland's Bruins easily dispatched the Beavers in Corvallis. No surprise there. OSU didn't earn a single win in the Pac-10 last season.
Since that first conference game for both teams, there have been results that have little relation to last year. Just two days after losing to UCLA, coach Craig Robinson and his Beavers defeated USC. UCLA is limping into this final week of the season with a 3-3 record over the last six games.
This game is big for both teams. In the case of Oregon State, it's huge.
Expect Coach Robinson to continue doing what Oregon State does best, run a high post offense. Coach Howland will counter with what the Bruins do best, rain shots from outside.
California (21-8, 10-6) vs. Arizona State (21-7, 10-6): Saturday, 11am PST
Yes, both Cal and Arizona State have identical conference records, which means the game will have tournament implications. Both teams met the first week of the Pac-10 season. Both teams are likely headed to the Big Dance.
Coach Herb Sendek's Sun Devils had aspirations of a Pac-10 crown this year. That goal was dashed after losing both games last week up in the great Northwest. The question has to be asked: Can ASU bounce back and finish with a couple of wins this week?
Few expected Cal to be challenging for the top spot in the Pac-10 as late as last week. An exception to that conventional wisdom was coach Mike Montgomery. He quickly evaluated the strengths of his roster and put together a series of game plans that put his team in a position to win. The results are evident with a simple glance at the standings.
When these two teams met back in January, the Sun Devils had no answer for the sharpshooters of Cal. Jerome Randle and Patrick Christopher went a combined 16-26 and put up 46 points. Randle was busy dishing out 10 assists as well. Coach Sendek was shaking his head after that loss, wondering who were those guys that shot 58 percent against his defense?
This game is likely to be the last time the fans in Tempe will have a chance to see James Harden play a home game. Harden had to work hard for 26 points against Cal last time around. There is little doubt that he'll be looking to wash away the bad taste in his mouth from the losses last week.
The dilemma for Coach Montgomery is that if he focuses on Harden, the kid will be happy to dish off to senior Jeff Pendergraph inside. But if Cal tries to slow down Harden with just one defender, he is capable of going off for ridiculous numbers.
Tempo will dictate the outcome. Should the Sun Devils impose their defensive will, the game is theirs for the taking.
Washington State (16-13, 8-9) vs. Washington (23-7, 13-4): Saturday, 2:30pm PST
Coach Romar has what he's been working the recruiting trails for these past years: Washington is a roster of tremendously athletically talented young men. In Jon Brockman, the Huskies have a player that does more than lead by example. Brockman isn't afraid to remind his teammates that it's an honor and privilege to play basketball for the University of Washington.
Across the state from Seattle, coach Tony Bennett has been teaching his young guns how to play successful basketball at this level. They are still maturing, but true freshmen Klay Thompson, DeAngelo Casto, and Marcus Capers are key components to one of the hottest teams in the nation.
Last Saturday the trio more than compensated for the subpar performances of seniors Taylor Rochestie and Aron Baynes. Thanks to their confident play, Rochestie got his chance in overtime and put away ASU with a three-point bomb fans are still buzzing about.
When these two teams met a few weeks back, Washington embarrassed the Cougs on their home court with a 68-48 drubbing. The rivalry between these two teams reached a boiling point when WSU players felt their hot-dogging opponents were rubbing their noses in it. Rematch? The young guns of WSU are chomping away for a rematch in front of Husky fans.
The key to this game will be how Washington State handles the pressure Washington applies at both ends of the court. With a solid front line and three outstanding guards led by true freshman Isaiah Thomas, the Huskies will be ready to run the Cougs off the court once again.
Since the last time they met in Pullman, the Cougars have learned plenty of lessons. The biggest lesson learned is what it takes to beat nationally ranked teams. Two of their last three victories have come over the likes of UCLA and Arizona State.
Rivalry? For WSU, this game is personal.
California (21-8, 10-6) vs. Arizona (18-11, 8-8): Thursday 7:30pm PST
After last week, Arizona went from one of the hottest teams in the nation to just another opponent. The 'Cats had a seven-game conference winning streak snapped on a Sunday evening in Tempe. Their trip to the Evergreen State was disappointing for first-year Coach Russ Pennell. To keep their string of consecutive NCAA appearance intact, Arizona has to get back to playing Wildcat basketball. This game is all-important for them.
If you are a fan of high-scoring basketball, this game won't disappoint. Both teams can put up points fast and furious.
There is one enormous advantage for Coach Pennell in this matchup: When McKale Center is filled to the rafters, which happens about as often as the sun rises in the east, the adrenaline rush they give their Wildcats takes the players to another level.
Coach Montgomery will have his hands full coming up with a way to slow down Nic Wise, Chase Budinger, and Jordan Hill. If any coach can do that, he's the man for the job.
A closing thought:
As great as the schedule is this week, I can hardly wait for the Pac-10 Tournament. It's going to be something special this year.
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