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Originally published March 9, 2010 at 9:26 PM | Page modified March 9, 2010 at 9:43 PM

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Huskies enter Pac-10 tournament as NCAA bubble team

The Huskies' opening game in the Pac-10 tournament, against Oregon State, has a new game time: 8:30 p.m. Thursday, not 6 p.m.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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After sweeping the Oregon State regular-season series, Washington is expecting a few changes from the Beavers, their quarterfinal opponent Thursday in the Pac-10 tournament.

The Huskies, however, couldn't have foreseen the changes from the conference, which moved their game to the 8:30 p.m. nightcap at Staples Center.

Third-seeded UW was originally scheduled to tip off at 6 p.m., but the Pac-10 gave the slot to No. 2 Arizona State, which plays No. 7 Stanford.

"Doesn't change what we do at all other than making it a little longer day for everybody," coach Lorenzo Romar said. "We played that game the last couple of years."

The Huskies hope for a long stay this week in Los Angeles. And they're not alone.

This year is the most unpredictable conference tournament in recent memory because of the parity in the league.

During the regular season, six teams spent time at the top of the conference standings. The Pac-10 fell out of the top 25 national polls for the first time since 1987 and looked as if it would become the first major conference to send just one team to the NCAA tournament since it was expanded to 65 teams.

By virtue of their favorable RPI rating of 19 and strong strength of schedule, regular-season champion California figures to receive at least an at-large invitation while ASU and UW have worked themselves into bubble consideration.

"Probably a lot of people feel like we've got to go into the tournament and win some games or win it all to have a chance to go to the NCAA tournament or even the postseason," Cal coach Mike Montgomery said. "So from that perspective I would think people would view it as wide open."

There's a genuine belief from the nine entrants — USC is serving a self-imposed postseason ban — that any team can win the title, which guarantees a spot in the NCAA tournament.

Even the favorites aren't locks.

Top-seeded Cal (21-9) lost to five teams and the Bears are 0-2 in neutral settings. ASU (22-9) lost to four conference teams and UW (21-9) dropped its first seven road games before winning the last four.

"I think it is a wide-open tournament," Stanford coach Johnny Dawkins said.

"This year has shown that teams can have their day and they're capable of competing against the upper-echelon teams and win."

In the 12-year history of the current tournament, the top seed has won six times. A No. 2 seed has won three times and a fourth, fifth and sixth seed have each won once.

Last year, sixth-seeded USC cut down the nets after the conference tourney final.

Six teams have a losing conference record, but optimism is high for those at the bottom of the standings.

"It's safe to say it's open for business for just about anybody," said OSU coach Craig Robinson, whose Beavers have beaten Cal in three of their past four meetings. "Whoever gets hot and is playing well or shooting well is going to have an opportunity.

"Just looking at the records from the regular season, anybody can beat anybody, especially at a neutral site."

It's a college basketball truism that it's difficult to beat a team three times in the same season.

Romar acknowledged the Beavers (14-16) may seek payback for a pair of defeats, but he said the Huskies have ample motivation as well.

"Right now we're in a dogfight to make it to the NCAA tournament," he said.

"If that's not enough motivation, then we shouldn't be playing.

"Whether we beat a team or didn't beat a team (or) someone is getting slighted on an award, I don't think anything is more important right now then us doing well enough to get to the tournament as far as this basketball team is concerned. To me that's all the motivation we need."

Percy Allen: 206-464-2278 or pallen@seattletimes.com

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