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NCAA bid up for grabs at Pac-10 tourney

CHRIS CODUTO/Arizona Daily Wildcat
Nate Robinson tries to distract Arizona's Mustafa Shakur during Arizona's 91-82 win Jan. 27 over Washington in McKale Center.
By Amanda Branam
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Wednesday, March 9, 2005
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Some teams in the Pacific 10 Conference squeaked in the back door to the men's basketball conference tournament and know that they must win the tourney to get in the door to the Big Dance the following weekend.

Other teams in the Pac-10, like No. 8 Arizona, have one of the top seeds in the conference tournament and a NCAA berth on the way regardless of the tournament outcome.

For the Wildcats, a win in the 2005 Pacific Life Pac-10 Tournament in Los Angeles, which runs tomorrow through Sunday, could be the difference between a No. 1 and a No. 2 seed for the NCAA tournament.

"I think that fourth spot among the four No. 1 seeds is absolutely wide open, and that's going to be filled based on how teams play in their tournament," Arizona head coach Lute Olson said about the possibility of his team getting a No. 1 seed.

The first game of the tournament at the Staples Center features No. 1 seed Arizona (25-5 overall, 15-3 Pac 10) and No. 8 seed California (13-15, 6-12) at 12:20 p.m. PST tomorrow. Cal's conference record matched Oregon's 6-12 mark, but the Golden Bears beat the Ducks in a tiebreaker to get the tournament's final spot.

The Wildcats defeated California soundly on both occasions this season, winning 87-67 in Berkeley and 97-76 at home.

"They have nothing to lose and they're playing for an NCAA berth. I think that's probably the best thing we can realize and we have to take into consideration when we go out there and play them, and play like we're the underdogs," said senior center Channing Frye.

Junior forward-center Rod Benson leads Cal in points and rebounds, with 13.7 and 6.4 per game, respectively. Junior guard Richard Midgley averages 13 points a game for a Cal team that beat Washington State on Saturday 63-57, snapping a six-game losing streak.

Following that game, No. 4 UCLA (18-9, 11-7) plays No. 5 Oregon State (16-13, 8-10) at 2:50 p.m. UCLA finished conference play with a four-game winning streak and tied Stanford with an 11-7 conference record. UCLA lost both times to Stanford in conference play, giving it the No. 4 seed.

The Bruins have the Pac-10 Freshman of the Year in point guard Jordan Farmar, who averages 13.5 points a game. In addition to Farmar, freshman guard Arron Afflalo averages 11 points a game and made the Pac-10 All-Freshman team. Senior guard-forward Dijon Thompson was named to All Pac-10 team and averages a team-high 18.2 points a game.

Arizona junior forward Hassan Adams said after beating UCLA in Los Angeles on Feb. 12, that playing tough defense on Thompson early is the key limiting his points.

"He missed a lot of shots, but that was from us putting a lot of pressure on him and taking him out his comfort," he said after the 83-73 win.

Oregon State's senior forward David Lucas was an All Pac-10 selection, who scored 17.8 points a game and grabbed 6.5 rebounds per game for the Beavers, both team highs. Oregon State failed to win a road game in the Pac-10, which makes their game against UCLA all the more difficult as the Staples Center is in the Bruins' backyard. The two teams split the season series.

Washington (24-5, 14-4) faces ASU (18-12, 7-11) at 6:15 p.m. tomorrow. The Huskies swept the regular-season series, and have two All Pac-10 players in junior guard Nate Robinson and senior guard Tre Simmons. The two combine for 33 points a game on a team second only to North Carolina in scoring offense, averaging 86.9 points per game.

"He's always been a really good athlete," Olson said of Simmons before facing the Huskies Jan. 28 at home. "He's a real load ... inside and out."

ASU features Pac-10 Player of the Year Ike Diogu, who leads the conference in scoring (22.5 ppg) and rebounding (9.6 rpg). The only way ASU will likely get an NCAA berth is by winning the tournament, after losing six of their last eight games of the season.

The final game of the day begins at 8:45 p.m. with No. 3 seed Stanford (17-11, 11-7) facing No. 6 seed Washington State (12-15, 7-11). Washington State, with their slow-down style of play, gave Arizona more than its fair share trouble this year, swept the season series against the Cardinal.

Olson said this week that WSU head coach Dick Bennett should have been in the running for Pac-10 Coach of the Year with the job he's done in his second year in Pullman, Wash.

"For them to not go down to the wire or anything having to play to get into the tournament, I think is an indication of how good a job he's done," Olson said of Bennett.

Stanford has two All Pac-10 players in junior point guard Chris Hernandez and junior guard Dan Grunfeld. Grunfeld, however, tore his ACL against California on Feb. 12. At the time, Grunfeld was second in the conference in scoring at almost 18 points a game.

On Friday, four teams will move on to the semifinals of the tournament. The winners of game one and game two will face off at 6:15 p.m., and the winners of game three and game four will follow at 8:45 p.m. The final will be played at 3:10 p.m. on CBS. All other games in the tournament will be televised on Fox Sports Net.

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