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Wednesday February 7, 2001

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Midseason report card: refs inconsistent, upsets abound

By Ryan Finley

Arizona Daily Wildcat

At the halfway point of the Pacific 10 Conference schedule, coaches are calling the league "wacky" and "crazy" after a week full of upsets.

Saturday, UCLA managed to upset No. 1 Stanford just two days after losing to California by 29 points.

"All these theories go out the window because the Pac-10 is the wackiest conference in the country," UCLA head coach Steve Lavin said.

UA head coach Lute Olson - whose Wildcats were upset by Oregon Thursday night only to return to form on Saturday, defeating Oregon State 68-41 - was as surprised as anyone.

"Could anyone figure out the weekend?" he asked reporters at his weekly press conference.

"Isn't that crazy - Cal thumping UCLA the way that they did ... or us losing to Oregon? ASU gets two wins and a blowout against Oregon. Crazy."

UO head coach Ernie Kent said the conference's parity is due in part to homecourt advantages of the Ducks, Cardinal, Wildcats and Bruins.

"The Pac-10 is no different from any other league," he said. "If you're on the road, you have a chance to get beat. "

With Thursday's loss to the Ducks, UA's conference title hopes were seemingly dashed. However, following the Cardinal's loss to the Bruins, UA (15-6 overall, 7-2 Pac-10) appears to be back in the title hunt.

"There's a lot of parity in college basketball," Olson said.

Who's the favorite to take the crown? Well, that's anyone's guess.

"Stanford's awfully good," Kent said. "But I think Arizona, Cal and UCLA are teams that can make a run and get into the NCAA tournament."

According to most Pac-10 coaches, the conference's first-year stringent low-post officiating policies have been beneficial so far this season.

The refereeing policies, which were designed to cut down on physical low-post play, have been the topic of controversy throughout the country this season.

"I think the Pac-10 has done a great job of cleaning up the post," Oregon State first-year head coach Ritchie McKay said. "But, it'll be interesting to see how it gets called in the (NCAA) Tournament."

Olson worries that the nation's different referees - and conferences - may be inconsistent in their officiating once the 64-team tournament starts in March.

"I don't know if it's the same in other conferences," Olson said. "Our goal is to make sure the commissioners of other conferences are conscientious. When we had Big Ten officials (Dec. 16 at Illinois), there was no change from a year ago."

Cal head coach Ben Braun said that referees need to be more consistent, no matter what kind of calls are made.

"You get called for a foul in one half and the second half, its not one," he said. "(Consistency) is all anyone expects."

This season, the Pac-10 could have five teams make the field of 64 in the NCAA Tournament, according to some coaches.

So far, the league's top five teams - Stanford, Arizona, UCLA, USC and California - are a combined 34-11 in conference play. Three teams - the Trojans, UA and the Cardinal - are ranked in this week's Associated Press poll.

The last time five conference teams made the NCAA Tournament was 1997, the year the Wildcats defeated Kentucky to win the National Championship.

"I don't see how any of the top five would be left out unless someone has a total collapse," Olson said.

Stanford head coach Mike Montgomery isn't as optimistic.

"We talk about this forever," he aid. "I believe that a lot of the preseason schedule will come into play when (tournament officials) are figuring out who goes where.

"I think that there's no question that four (Pac-10 teams) will get in. Whether five get in, that's another question. I wouldn't want to be the fifth team."