A month to go in the Pacific-10 Conference season, and Washington State can still make the league's tournament. Yeah, right, and UCLA coach Steve Lavin gets to keep his job at the end of the season. Just about as likely as Oregon getting 20 points and 10 boards from its starting center.
Here's one writer's opinion of how things stand in the Conference of Champions:
Arizona (18-2, 10-1): The Wildcats toy with teams the way they supposedly do candy machines. The 'Cats got serious and beat California by 15 points two weeks ago. Enough said. They're as multidimensional as any Pac-10 team in recent memory.
California (16-4, 9-2): Has the look of a Sweet 16 team. Bruising, athletic forwards in Brian Wethers and Joe Shipp, a sweet shooter in Amit Tamir, steady point-guard play and suffocating defense.
Stanford (17-6, 8-3): The most overachieving team in the league gets its scoring from a silky smooth 6-8 swingman (Josh Childress) and a converted off-guard at the point (Julius Barnes). But work ethic makes the Cardinal go.
Arizona State (15-7, 7-4): Rob Evans, coach of the year? Not only did he recruit Ike Diogu, the league's top freshman, but he has built an athletic, fun team to watch. The Sun Devils could be the next to knock off Arizona.
Oregon (16-6, 6-5): If the Ducks had five Lukes with the intensity and determination of Ridnour and Jackson, they could be NCAA champs. There are three other college teams in the state (Cascade, Lewis & Clark and Oregon State) with better big men than the Ducks.
USC (10-9, 5-5): Geez, without Brandon Brooks, you would think the Trojans would be finished. É Actually, coach Henry Bibby might be dictatorial in his coaching style, but he gets results, doesn't he?
Oregon State (11-9, 4-7): At least they're having fun. Coach Jay John has energized the program by allowing players more freedom, giving a freshman point guard (Lamar Hurd) the ball and leaning on steady Philip Ricci.
Washington (8-12, 3-8): If you haven't seen 5-8 Nate Robinson play, well, watch him play. Robinson could be the best athlete in the Pac-10, on one of the league's most athletic teams. The Huskies are making strides.
UCLA (5-14, 2-8): Yes, the Huskies are making strides, but wouldn't it be just like UCLA to squeeze into the Pac-10 tourney and win a game? The Bruins couldn't upset Arizona or Cal in the Pac-10 tourney, could they?
Washington State (5-15, 0-11): Coach Paul Graham can wheel out three reasons Ñ three injured players, including best player Marcus Moore Ñ why the Cougs don't win games. It still might not save his job.
Dilemma for Ducks
Different week, different post player for the Oregon Ducks.
Matt Short started against California on Saturday and converted all five shots, three of them dunks. It appears that Brian Helquist has found his way to the end of the bench; he just isn't quick enough or tough enough to play post in the Pac-10. Ian Crosswhite, who looked listless and had two very poor turnovers against Cal, joined him there, for one game anyway.
Coach Ernie Kent 'wants production and until he gets it, we're all going to get our chance,' Short says.
Short, a redshirt freshman, has potential. He needs to get stronger and rebound better. Ditto for Crosswhite, another redshirt freshman who has much better offensive skills (10 points per game), but he needs to get tougher to play post Ñ clearly the only position where he can defend.
The NAIA Division II Cascade Conference standings entering the week: Oregon Tech (23-3 overall, 11-3 league); Concordia (17-7, 10-4); Cascade (20-7, 9-5); Albertson (16-12, 9-6); Warner Pacific (19-9, 8-6).
'I've been around the Cascade Conference and NAIA District 2, which it used to be called, for 20 years,' says Concordia coach Brad Barbarick, 'and it's the best I've ever seen, top to bottom.'
And, while Concordia has been competitive for nine years under Barbarick, the emergence of Cascade and Warner Pacific in recent years has only added to the depth.
Warner Pacific recovered from extinction and surged in the conference behind coach Bart Valentine and four-year starter Matt Segrin, a David Douglas graduate. In two years, Cascade has gone from conference doormat to potential NAIA national tourney team. The Thunderbirds have the second-best rebounding team in the NAIA.
'It's exciting for the Portland schools, no question,' Barbarick says. 'We're probably the quickest team, Cascade is definitely the biggest and Warner Pacific is probably the most efficient Ñ they run their stuff really well.'
Concordia has one of the league's top forwards, Keith Childs, who leads in rebounding (9.4 per game), and post players, Nate Ferrier, who leads in field-goal shooting (.679 percent).
'He's our glue,' Barbarick says of Ferrier, a junior from Elma, Wash. 'When we went on a three-game slide this year, it was because he was hurt.'
Junior Khalila O'Rielly-Williams, who recently passed the 1,000-point mark for her University of Portland career, keeps coming up with big games for the Pilots. Last weekend, she scored a season-high 27 points against Pepperdine, then made the winning shot in the final seconds as UP beat Loyola Marymount 57-56.