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Originally published Wednesday, March 12, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Bud Withers

Pac-10 Tournament | Focus is on bubble teams, refs

The Pac-10 men's basketball tournament begins tonight in Los Angeles, where a good many eyes will be focused on Arizona, Arizona State and...

Seattle Times colleges reporter

The Pac-10 men's basketball tournament begins tonight in Los Angeles, where a good many eyes will be focused on Arizona, Arizona State and Oregon.

And, after last weekend, the game officials.

Stop us if you've heard this one: Pac-10 officials are again under a microscope.

Last week's UCLA victories over Stanford and California each were marked by endgame controversial calls that went the way of the Bruins. The first, a foul call against the Cardinal in the last seconds — criticized by Pac-10 supervisor of officials Bill McCabe — enabled the Bruins to tie the game, win it in overtime and clinch the conference championship.

Saturday, a decision on a key inbounds play also favored the Bruins, who came from behind to beat Cal.

"I really appreciate [UCLA coach] Ben Howland's comments after the game," Cal coach Ben Braun said Tuesday. "He said, flat out, we deserved to win. I don't think he was referring to officiating. I'd take those officials on any game."

Theoretically, the repercussions of the calls could be massive. For one, Braun is fighting for his job at Cal.

Meanwhile, if Stanford had tied for or won the Pac-10 title and then outperformed UCLA in the Pac-10 tournament, it could have meant the Cardinal being seeded and sited more favorably in the NCAA tournament than the Bruins.

Tuesday, on the regular Pac-10 media conference call, Howland scoffed at the notion that UCLA would feel the title was cheapened by the officiating controversies.

"Absolutely not," he said. "At the end of the day, no one call makes a difference. We're very proud to have won the league by three games."

After the game Saturday, Braun told The Oakland Tribune, "Ryan Anderson was fouled to stop the clock. He was fouled. They instructed their players to foul him. And they didn't call a foul. Nothing changes my mind that it was a missed call."

Asked Tuesday if an inference could be made that perennial power UCLA gets the benefit of such decisions, Braun said, "UCLA won our league. I don't want to see anything get taken away from UCLA. It was just a hard call to take ... I want to make it clear, they can win without the benefit of a call and without any help. They've earned that."

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It's safe to say, however, that conference moguls will be holding their breath and hoping for the routine this week. The league's football officials already took major hits the past two seasons from the Oregon-Oklahoma replay fiasco in 2006 and the Washington-Oregon State game in Corvallis last November.

On the floor, the tournament is especially provocative for the Arizona schools and Oregon and their NCAA chances. That picture:

Arizona: The Wildcats (18-13) have the nation's No. 2-rated schedule. But 'Zona went 3-7 down the stretch and is 0-4 against the Pac-10's two other bubble teams, Arizona State and Oregon.

Arizona State: The Sun Devils (19-11), who must play a hot USC team in their tournament opener, have five victories against the computer-ranked top 31 teams, but because of having played seven nonleague games against teams ranked 212 or worse, have an ominous RPI of 76.

Referring to ASU's schedule, coach Herb Sendek said, "If you start with those 19 games (the Pac-10 round-robin, plus a tournament game), and you start adding Maui and Xavier and the Big 12 Challenge, I don't know how many more games you're supposed to play, to be honest with you."

Oregon: The Ducks (18-12) have a 53 RPI, a 1-7 record against the Pac-10 teams figured to be in the NCAA tournament, but a 3-1 mark against ASU and Arizona.

And what's more...

• Oregon, which opens with Washington State on Thursday night, won the tournament in 2003 and 2007 and Ernie Kent has the best percentage of any coach in the history of it — .769 (10-3). WSU reversed a 13-game losing streak in their series with two victories this season.

• Anybody contending Oregon State — even at an unprecedented 0-18 in the Pac-10 — isn't the worst team in league history won't be using the computers to back the argument. Remarkably, the Beavers' best victory is over the RPI's No. 257 team, Idaho State. OSU is one of 28 teams in Division I — others included North Carolina-Central, South Carolina Upstate and Arkansas-Pine Bluff — without a win against a top-200 RPI team.

• At the team's annual awards banquet, Oregon athletic director Pat Kilkenny seemed to back Kent, saying much of the success in the program's history "has been since the turn of the millennium."

• Cutting edge: Knowing the pull of the NCAA tournament for workers who would like to stay home and see it on TV, the Oregon Urology Institute has set aside 24 appointments for March 19 and 26 for men scheduling vasectomies. KSCR, a sports-radio station advertising the promotion, is throwing in a "recovery kit" — a bag of frozen peas, sports magazines and free pizza delivery.

Bud Withers: 206-464-8281 or bwithers@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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About Bud Withers
Bud Withers gives his take on college sports, with the latest from the Huskies, Cougs, and the rest of the Pac-10.
bwithers@seattletimes.com | 206-464-8281

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