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Soft? Who're You Calling Soft? The Smack- ...er, Pac-10 took great pride in muscling four teams into the Sweet 16

March 26, 2001
March 26, 2001

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March 26, 2001

Baseball 2001 Preview

Soft? Who're You Calling Soft? The Smack- ...er, Pac-10 took great pride in muscling four teams into the Sweet 16

Arizona coach Lute Olson isn't known for talking smack, but
there he was at a postgame news conference last Friday, woofing
shamelessly for the Pac-10. "We get tired of hearing 'Dookie'
Vitale," Olson cracked, suddenly sounding like Vince McMahon.
"Not a whole lot is said about the Western teams, but our whole
conference will make a statement." Sure enough, for the third
time in five years the Pac-10 sent four teams (Arizona,
Stanford, UCLA and USC) to the Sweet 16--more than the
basketball Brahmins of the Big Ten (three), ACC (two) and SEC
(two) and every other league in the land. Preach, Brother Lute,
preach!

This is an article from the March 26, 2001 issue Original Layout

What accounts for the Pac-10's March success? Besides talent, of
course, here are a few reasons.

The Pac-10 is more competitive than people realize; its teams
head into the tournament as battle-tested as those from any other
conference. Remember when Arizona won the 1997 national title
after finishing fifth in the Pac-10? Well, try naming a
fourth-place team better than USC. Last week the Trojans knocked
off Big East champ Boston College and won two tournament games
for the first time since 1954. "Their starting five is as
talented as Arizona's," says Stanford's Casey Jacobsen, "and they
gave us two really good games."

Pac-10 softies? Think again. Take one look at Arizona's Michael
Wright, Stanford's Jason Collins and UCLA's Matt Barnes and try
calling them soft. Utah State's Bernard Rock found out as much in
the Aggies' second-round game against the Bruins. "Coach [Stew
Morrill] was saying, 'Just hang in there. They're going to
choke,'" says Rock. No such luck, pal. Pac-10 players have heart.
UCLA rolled to a 75-50 victory.

Upon further review, Pac-10 referees didn't ruin the league's
tournament chances after all. Earlier this month, eight of the
Pac-10 coaches ripped the conference's referees in the Los
Angeles Times, arguing that their extra-tight officiating in
regular-season games would hurt Pac-10 teams in the tournament,
where more banging is allowed. Though there has indeed been some
evidence of looser officiating, USC and Stanford both eliminated
Eastern schools (BC and St. Joseph's, respectively) that are
well-versed in full-contact basketball.

The Pac-10's schedule simulates the tournament. As UCLA coach
Steve Lavin points out, the Pac-10 is the only conference that
plays its games every Thursday and Saturday, a quirk that he
believes serves as a dress rehearsal for the NCAAs. "I think that
has an effect," says USC forward Sam Clancy. "We're better
adjusted to the format."

It's a long shot, of course, but there's still a chance that the
Pac-10 will become the first league to have three Final Four
teams in the same year since the Big East (Villanova, Georgetown
and St. John's) did in 1985. "It would be a great thing for our
conference," says Jacobsen. "Pac-10 guys are always talking about
the East Coast bias, how we aren't as exposed as much as other
teams are. We feel like we have something to prove."

In other words, as Stone Cold Lute Olson might say, "Watch your
back, Dookie V."

--Grant Wahl

COLOR PHOTO: MANNY MILLAN Trojan forceBlocks like this one by Jeff Trepagnier in USC's win over Boston College help explain the Pac-10's success in the NCAAs.