Arizona basketball team is the Pac-10 favorite, media say
LOS ANGELES-Arizona was acclaimed a near-unanimous choice to win the Pac-10 basketball championship on Thursday, prompting Wildcat coach Lute Olson to playfully cry foul.
"Was this taken after a party?" Olson asked with a smile after finding out his team received 32 of a possible 36 first-place votes and 356 points from media members to easily outdistance UCLA and Stanford.
The Bruins received three first-place votes and 307 points. Stanford picked up the remaining first-place vote and 296 points.
"For Stanford to be the defending league champion and have the people they have coming back, I've always thought you pick the teams with experience and quality players," Olson said.
ï"I think that's vintage Lute," Stanford coach Mike Montgomery responded. "I think they probably deserved to be picked No. 1. That doesn't mean he has to like it.
"Whether it be Arizona or UCLA, that would be a good starting point. We've got one starter (Mark Madsen) back. I like our talent, I don't think you pick us to win it based on that."
In addition to Stanford and UCLA, Olson mentioned Oregon as a contender. The Ducks wound up fourth with 246 points, followed by Oregon State with 174.
"It's a nice compliment," Oregon coach Ernie Kent said. "It's a compliment to our players, our staff, to be talked about like that. The reality is we haven't accomplished that yet. We do have a nice team."
So does UCLA, according to coach Steve Lavin.
"I think our goals are always the same, which are to win the Pac-10 championship and go to the Final Four and compete for the national championship," he said. "I think this is a team that can compete nationally."
California, the defending National Invitational Tournament champion, finished sixth in the media poll with 152 points, followed by Southern California with 151, Arizona State with 129, Washington with 117 and Washington State with 44.
The media correctly picked the last five Pac-10 champions, UCLA, for three seasons starting in 1995, Arizona in 1998, and Stanford last season.
"It's a very good conference," Montgomery said. "We got hurt a little bit last year in the (NCAA) tournament. We had several teams lose early. I think we'll be fine."
Stanford advanced to the NCAA tournament's Final Four in 1998. UCLA won the NCAA title in 1995, and Arizona prevailed in 1997.
Arizona has three returning starters, all sophomores: forwards Michael Wright and Richard Jefferson, and guard Ruben Douglas. In addition, the Wildcats have Loren Woods, a 7-foot-1 transfer from Wake Forest, and highly regarded freshman guards Jason Gardner and Gilbert Arenas.
UCLA has four returning starters along with another highly touted freshman, Jason Kapono. Stanford will have a formidable front court of Madsen and brothers Jason and Jarron Collins and yet another highly regarded freshman, sharpshooting Casey Jacobsen.