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Tuesday, March 6, 2007 - Page updated at 09:58 AM

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Pac-10 Notebook | Not-so-easy pickin' in the Pac-10

Seattle Times staff reporter

The end of the Pac-10 regular season means it's awards time. But you can rest easy — we won't be calling on Clint Eastwood to translate anything.

Besides, Tony Bennett as coach of the year is understandable in any language.

The rest of the conference's awards, however, are a little harder to decipher. Especially the race for player of the year, which is as loaded as the field for the Democratic presidential nomination.

"I don't remember in recent years a season like this were there are so many candidates," said Washington coach Lorenzo Romar.

The official honors, which will be announced Monday, are selected in a vote of Pac-10 head coaches.

In the end, it's likely to be a three-person race consisting of Oregon's Aaron Brooks and UCLA's Arron Afflalo and Darren Collison, the latter coming on strong in recent weeks, particularly after the Bruins lost at West Virginia without him.

"He makes them go," Bennett said of Collison. "You saw that when he wasn't in there against West Virginia."

Collison, however, doesn't have big scoring numbers (12.9 points per game), often a prerequisite — the last similar player to win the POY award was Arizona's Mike Bibby in 1998.

Collison is also only a sophomore and the coaches could still honor the Bruins, who already have a share of the Pac-10 title, by looking instead to Afflalo, a junior who leads UCLA in scoring at 17.5 and is one of the conference's better perimeter defenders.

But a compelling case can also be made for Brooks . The Franklin High grad ranks higher in more statistical categories than any of the other contenders, leading the conference in scoring in Pac-10 games only (18.9) while also standing fourth in assists, fifth in steals, sixth in assist-to-turnover ratio and seventh in three-point field goal percentage. It could also be argued that Brooks has meant more to his team than any other player. Oregon has won more games than any other Pac-10 team by a margin of 1-5 points (7-4 overall in such contests) and Brooks had the key baskets in most of them, notably game-winners at Arizona and against UCLA.

The guess here is one of the two UCLA guys gets it as the coaches side with the Bruins, especially if they win the conference title outright. But our vote would go to Brooks, if for no other reason than his overwhelming value to the Ducks, a team that would likely be NIT-bound without him and possibly firing Ernie Kent.

Brooks, Afflalo and Collison are locks for the 10-man all-conference team, as are, probably, WSU's Kyle Weaver, USC's Nick Young and Arizona's Marcus Williams. From there it gets a little murkier, though others who are likely members include Stanford's Lawrence Hill, Arizona's Mustafa Shakur, Cal's Ryan Anderson and maybe Arizona State's Jeff Pendergraph (tied for the lead in rebounding in conference games only).

Derrick Low might have been a given a few weeks ago and could make the team if coaches decide another Cougar has to be on the team, though he no longer ranks among the top 20 scorers in conference games. Just as hard to call is the conference Freshman of the Year Award in a season in which there are seven making big impacts — Anderson, USC's Taj Gibson, Washington's Spencer Hawes, Arizona's Chase Budinger, Oregon's Tajuan Porter and Stanford's Brook and Robin Lopez.

The guess here is Anderson gets the call for having the most consistent season — he's fifth in scoring and rebounding overall. Figuring who to leave off the All-Freshmen team, which usually consists of just five players, could also be tricky, though maybe the coaches punt and expand the roster (something they did in 2004 to include six). We'd go with six and leave off Robin Lopez — Brook has had the bigger impact of late, especially scoring (he's up to 14th in conference play at 13.4).

There aren't a lot of candidates for Newcomer of the Year, which is given annually to the top transfer (UW's Ryan Appleby won it a year ago). Washington State's Taylor Rochestie is the likely winner in a year when few transfers have made any impact.

The easiest call is Bennett as Coach of the Year though UCLA's Ben Howland and USC's Tim Floyd also deserve kudos. Bennett will become the first first-year head coach to win the award since Oregon State's Jimmy Anderson in 1990. That figures to be where the career comparisons end for those two, however, as Anderson never had a winning record again.

NOTES

-- Several Pac-10 coaches spoke out Tuesday in favor of having the conference tournament rotate out of its traditional home in Los Angeles. No such luck, however, as a Pac-10 spokesman said an announcement will be made soon that the tournament will stay at the Staples Center for four more years after the current contract runs out following this season.

The tournament is owned by Pac-10 properties , a subsidiary of Fox Sports.The network — which gives the conference a fee for the rights to the tournament — prefers to keep it in L.A., though there was interest from Seattle, Portland and the Bay Area.

-- Stanford may have to beat both Arizona State and Arizona this weekend to make the NCAA tournament, and will have to do so without guard Anthony Goods, still out with a sprained ankle suffered at Washington on Feb. 11.

-- Arizona played its final home game last weekend and it was widely regarded as the last in Tucson for Roosevelt High grad Marcus Williams, who is expected to turn pro.

Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or bcondotta@seattletimes.com. Read his blogs on Washington football and basketball at www.seattletimes.com/huskies.

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