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Originally published March 7, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Page modified March 7, 2007 at 10:00 AM

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Pac-10 Tournament | For UW men, it's a repechage

The Pac-10 men's basketball tournament hasn't exactly elicited a lot of drama through the years. Since it was reinstated in 2002, the number...

Seattle Times staff reporter

The Pac-10 men's basketball tournament hasn't exactly elicited a lot of drama through the years. Since it was reinstated in 2002, the number one and two seeds have won four of the five titles, with only No. 5 Oregon interrupting that trend in 2003.

"There've been some years I thought playing the tournament was a little redundant," said Cal coach Ben Braun.

This, however, isn't one of them, as Braun added, saying "years like this I'm glad there is a tournament."

UCLA remains the prohibitive favorite, but for once, there is intrigue throughout the bracket.

Here, then, some questions and answers about the tournament:

Which teams can help themselves the most?

Stanford and Washington. UCLA, WSU, Oregon, Arizona and USC are assured of at-large bids no matter what happens, all with 11 or more conference wins and 20 or more overall victories.

Stanford finished sixth at 10-8 and is 18-11 overall but has lost five of its last eight games to put its spot in some question. Cardinal coach Trent Johnson disagrees, though, saying Tuesday that "I feel we should be in regardless of what happens."

But should Stanford drop its first-round game to USC, it could be in a lot of trouble. It should help Stanford that guard Anthony Goods, sidelined since spraining his ankle at UW on Feb. 11, is expected back.

Then there's UW, which probably needs to win the whole thing and earn the conference's automatic berth to get a bid.

Still, a few other Pac-10 coaches think a few wins for UW should be enough.

"There are other leagues talking about taking seven teams. You tell me their seventh-place team is better than the University of Washington?" said USC coach Tim Floyd. "I can't believe there's a better seventh-place team."

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What are some of the more enticing matchups?

UW and WSU will meet in the quarterfinals if the Huskies beat Arizona State tonight, the first Apple Cup matchup in the history of the tournament. Interestingly, there has been only one other "rivalry" matchup since the tournament's rebirth in 2002 — Arizona beat Arizona State that year in the first round.

And Oregon and Arizona will play in the quarterfinals. Each won on the other's court in two of the best games of the regular season — the Ducks by two in Tucson, Arizona by three in Eugene.

Will the Huskies have trouble with ASU tonight?

They certainly could, despite ASU's 8-21 overall record, 2-16 in Pac-10 play. ASU is giving opponents fits with its matchup zone defense, holding teams to 61.7 points and 43.7 percent shooting in Pac-10 play. It won two of its last four games, including a 42-41 victory Saturday at Cal, to come in with a measure of momentum.

True, ASU was the only team UW swept this season, but neither game was easy, and in the second game in Tempe, UW blew all but three points of a 25-point lead before holding on. UW coach Lorenzo Romar said the Huskies got "got passive and tentative" against ASU's zone in the second half. "We can't do that again," he said.

Who are some

players to watch?

UW center Spencer Hawes isn't a below-the-radar player, certainly, but after a year that didn't always go as planned, he has hit his stride of late, averaging 17 points and 8.5 rebounds his last four games. UW will need similar production to make a long run. And if he does, he'll make that looming NBA decision that much dicier for the Huskies, as there will be a bevy of pro scouts at the Staples Center.

Another to keep an eye on for different reasons is WSU forward Ivory Clark. He was a big part of WSU's success this season but has seen his playing time decrease markedly of late. He played just seven minutes, none in the second half, on Saturday against USC — his final home game as a Cougar — and expressed his discontent in a story in the Spokesman-Review Tuesday, saying, "I can say it's been pretty mentally draining."

Clark said he feels the Cougars are looking to the future by playing sophomore Aron Baynes instead of him. According to the Spokesman-Review, Clark's mother detailed her disappointment with her son's recent playing time in a post on the newspaper's Cougars blog.

Any coaches need a few wins to keep their jobs?

Apparently not. Oregon State is now 28-62 in Pac-10 play in Jay John's five years, but the school's athletic director recently told a local paper John will return next season.

Cal's Braun is causing some impatience in Berkeley with the Bears set to miss the postseason for the third time in four years. But injuries to some key players helped derail the team this season, and he's expected back.

The San Jose Mercury News reported Tuesday that a contract extension for Braun announced nine months ago has still not been approved. But school officials said the delay was due to a "procedural matter" and not evidence that Braun, completing his 11th year, is in any trouble.

Still, each might feel a little better if they beat the other tonight — OSU and Cal tip at 6:12 p.m.

And the winner will be?

We agree with all the talk of how much parity there is in the conference this year, and there should be a lot of good games along the way. But losing to UW on Saturday might have been a wake-up call for UCLA.

Bruins coach Ben Howland likes winning these tournaments — he won a Big East title at Pitt and last year with the Bruins — and we figure he'll be happy when this one ends, as well.

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