art hed: A cut above Loaded Arizona, Oregon ready to leave Pac-10 teams in their wake

In national polls, Wildcats and Ducks shape up as the league’s powerhouses

It's the Pacific-10, not the Pac-2, although most college basketball observers would question whether anybody can compete with Arizona and Oregon.

Just look at the rankings: Arizona was No. 4 in the ESPN/USA Today and Associated Press polls last week. Oregon was seventh and ninth. Stanford was the only other Pacific-10 Conference team to receive votes. Startling.

If not for Louisiana State beating Arizona by one point, the Wildcats (9-1) would be unbeaten after their two-win trek to our state last week. The Wildcats rallied to win both games, 81-72 over Oregon and 80-65 at Oregon State.

'It sets the tone for the rest of the Pac-10,' Arizona guard Salim Stoudamire said after the Wildcats ended Oregon's 23-game home winning streak. 'We're excited we won, but we're not going to let up. We're going to keep getting better.

'I can't predict the future. All I know is, we're going to be on top' at season's end, he said.

The 'Cats could be unbeaten in Pac-10 play when they meet Oregon again, in the Pac-10 season-ending game March 8 in Tucson. The way Arizona rebounds and defends, runs the court, shoots and uses its depth, it's hard to find a weakness. And the Wildcats played the Ducks last week without injured Luke Walton.

'Sky's the limit, as long as we can take care of business on the defensive end,' says Arizona's Chris Rodgers, a freshman from Wilson High.

At Oregon, the issues remain rebounding and defense. When the shots don't fall, Oregon struggles and loses, or barely gets by. Take the Arizona game. The Ducks got close but missed some chip-shot layups and jumpers.

'They're a very athletic basketball team, more so than we are,' UO coach Ernie Kent says. 'They are more tenacious rebounders this year, not necessarily defensively.'

Meanwhile, Oregon State's fast start came to a screeching halt against the Arizona schools. Poor shooting and rebounding continued to hurt the Beavers. Brian Jackson missed eight shots in a row in the first half against Arizona, then reinjured his abdominal muscle in the second half.

Beaver coach Jay John and Arizona's Lute Olson, his mentor, met at midcourt after the game. Says John: 'He said, 'You guys played extremely hard. You're coaching them, you're reaching them É and I'm glad you can't make layups.' '

OSU's Philip Ricci, who has become one of the Pac-10's best interior players, had 24 points on 11-for-15 shooting against the Wildcats. But the help wasn't there. Jackson was 4 of 19 during the weekend.

'We have another level we can rise to,' John says. 'We played against preseason teams that weren't of the same level as the Pac-10. Offensively É we have to find some way to be productive. Defensively, we're fighting and hanging in there.'

A look at the Pac-10, with statistics, comments and odds to win the league title:

ARIZONA (9-1 overall, 2-0 Pac-10): Three freshmen Ñ Hassan Adams, Andre Iguodala and Rodgers Ñ have been instant contributors. At crunch time, however, the ball goes to seniors Walton, Jason Gardner and Rick Anderson. Gardner led Arizona over Oregon, then broke Damon Stoudamire's school record for 3-pointers. Walton and Stoudamire have been bothered by ankle injuries. Stoudamire hasn't found his shooting touch, going 3 of 14 last week. But, like Rodgers, Stoudamire has adjusted well to another role: on-the-ball defender.

Leaders: Points Ñ Gardner, 14.2; Adams, 14.1. Rebounds Ñ Channing Frye, 6.1. Assists Ñ Gardner, 4.7.

Odds: 3-5. They can lose top players to injuries and still go unbeaten in Pac-10 play.

OREGON (10-2, 1-1): When teams play aggressive, in-your-face defense and rebound, they beat the Ducks. Cincinnati and Arizona have done it. The question is: Who else in the Pac-10 can? Luke Ridnour and Luke Jackson make the Ducks go. When they get scoring from another source Ñ James Davis or Andre Joseph outside, or Ian Crosswhite inside/outside Ñ the Ducks take off. Oregon leads the Pac-10 in scoring at 89.9 points a game.

Leaders: Points Ñ Ridnour, 21.5; Jackson, 17.3. Rebounds Ñ Jackson, 7.1; Robert Johnson, 6.9. Assists Ñ Ridnour, 6.8.

Odds: 5-1. The Ducks cannot lose Jackson to an injury, and losing Ridnour would be devastating.

CALIFORNIA (8-2, 1-0): The Bears have their own 1-2 scoring combination in Joe Shipp and Amit Tamir, and a solid forward in Brian Wethers. The play of their young point guards will be key.

Leaders: Points ÑÊShipp, 18.7, Tamir, 15.3. Rebounds Ñ Tamir, 7.1. Assists Ñ Tamir and Wethers, both 3.2.

Odds: 15-1. Experienced teams that can defend always do well in the Pac-10.

UCLA (4-5, 2-0): What, you thought the Bruins were dead after going 2-5 in the preseason? Jason Kapono, who had 44 points against Washington State, hadn't played well. And UCLA still needs to mature with sophomore point guard Cedric Bozeman.

Leaders: Points Ñ Kapono, 18.6. Rebounds Ñ Kapono, 6.3. Assists Ñ Ryan Walcott, 4.3.

Odds: 15-1. Solid enough to win 18 games and squeeze into the NCAA Tournament.

ARIZONA STATE (9-4, 1-1): The Sun Devils have a terrific freshman, 6-8 Ike Diogu, who already could be the league's best post. Good role players also return.

Leaders: Points Ñ Diogu, 18.6; Curtis Millage, 13.2. Rebounds Ñ Diogu, 6.8. Assists Ñ Jason Braxton, 3.0.

Odds: 20-1. Is Diogu great Ñ transcendental Ñ or just really good? Only time will tell.

STANFORD (9-4, 0-1): A balanced team gets good wing play from Julius Barnes and Josh Childress but needs help at the point. The Cardinal has hustled on the boards, although Justin Davis is out because of a knee injury.

Leaders: Points ÑÊBarnes, 14.6; Childress, 14.2. Rebounds Ñ Justin Davis, 9.4; Childress, 7.2. Assists Ñ Barnes, 3.5.

Odds: 20-1. Frontcourt hurt when Teyo Johnson opted not to play; instead, he's training for the NFL.

USC (5-4, 1-1): The Trojans have some talent that might jell É or might not. Portland's Brandon Brooks has taken over at point guard.

Leaders: Points Ñ Desmon Farmer, 16.4. Rebounds Ñ Nick Curtis, 8.0. Assists Ñ Brooks, 3.9.

Odds: 100-1. Too many injuries and tribulations.

WASHINGTON (6-5, 1-1): The Huskies have a 1-2 combination to worry about in Doug Wrenn and Will Conroy, but not much else.

Leaders: Points Ñ Conroy, 14.6; Wrenn, 13.6. Rebounds Ñ Wrenn, 6.7. Assists Ñ Conroy, 4.5.

Odds: 100-1. Huskies could be .500 under first-year coach Lorenzo Romar.

OREGON STATE (7-4, 0-2): Can the Beavers (Jimmie Haywood) shoot well enough to take heat off of Ricci? With Jackson hurting, who else can score? Freshman point guard Lamar Hurd has done well running the team.

Leaders: Points Ñ Ricci, 17.5. Rebounds Ñ Ricci, 7.5. Assists Ñ Hurd, 4.3.

Odds: 100-1. John still needs some time to stock talent.

WASHINGTON STATE (5-6, 0-2): The situation could get worse. Junior Marcus Moore, one of the Pac-10's top players, has bone spurs and might have surgery, then declare for the NBA draft.

Leaders: Points Ñ Moore, 21.1. Rebounds Ñ Moore, 6.4. Assists Ñ Moore, 4.9.

Odds: 100-1. It's going to be a long winter in Pullman.

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