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Originally published March 19, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Page modified March 22, 2007 at 4:13 PM

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Jerry Brewer

Sorry Cinderella; Pac-10 is just too good

If you collect adorable snapshots of Pac-10 brilliance, make sure you include this one in the photo album. In the mismatch of this NCAA...

Seattle Times staff columnist

SPOKANE — If you collect adorable snapshots of Pac-10 brilliance, make sure you include this one in the photo album.

In the mismatch of this NCAA tournament, Oregon point guard Tajuan Porter found himself guarding Winthrop center Craig Bradshaw in the post. That's 5 feet 6 defending 6 feet 10.

And Porter intimidated Bradshaw into a traveling violation.

It's one of the few times the Ducks will be credited with a victory for the little guys.

"He didn't see me, so he, uh, walked," Porter said.

Aaron Brooks, Porter's fellow diminutive teammate, overheard the littler guy's words and said under his breath, "Nobody can see you."

It was that kind of day for Oregon and the entire Pac-10 Conference on Sunday, a dominating, laugh-out-loud funfest. First Oregon revised the anticipated fairytale of Winthrop making a deep tournament run. Then USC shoved the Kevin Durant/Texas Longhorns into a state of NBA innuendo.

The Pac-10 just wrung out much of this Big Dance's intrigue.

Maybe now a fresh angle can emerge.

Pac-10 Power.

The conference has three teams in the Sweet 16 for the first time in five years. UCLA joins the Ducks and Trojans this season. The conference didn't get enough respect during the regular season. Now it has earned praise.

The Pac-10 is tied with the SEC for Sweet 16 supremacy. Thus far, it has outperformed the Big 12 and Big East (two apiece), the overhyped Atlantic Coast Conference (one measly North Carolina left) and the dribbling snooze that is the Big Ten (only Ohio State remains, and it needed a miracle to advance).

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"It's a special league," USC coach Tim Floyd said. "We have referred all season long to that, if we can survive our league, going against the people that we have to go against every night, we are going to have all the confidence in the world going into the NCAA tournament."

In all fairness, we'd be negligent if we didn't give the complete Pac-10 picture. Arizona barely showed for its first-round game. Stanford played like it didn't belong in the tournament. And Washington State suffered a heartbreaking loss to Vanderbilt in Round 2. The conference's six NCAA representatives have shown everything from disappointment to despair to dominance.

But the leftovers are quite edible. We should see at least two Pac-10 teams in the Elite Eight.

In the West Region, UCLA is good enough to win the national championship. In the Midwest, Oregon should get past UNLV before meeting Florida. In the East, USC must deal with North Carolina, the most gifted roster in college hoops.

Hear now, though: USC will give the Tar Heels fits.

The Trojans probably won't win, but they might at least cause some red-rimmed eyes for Roy Williams, the perpetually teary North Carolina coach.

In an 87-68 victory over Texas, USC displayed its defensive toughness and athleticism. It took Longhorns freshman D.J. Augustin out of the game, then forced Kevin Durant, that lanky unstoppable hoops treasure, into a volume-shooting, 30-point performance. The Trojans simply overwhelmed a trendy Final Four pick with great balance.

If forward Taj Gibson, who suffered a jaw injury, can play, the Trojans have the ability to push North Carolina. The only problem is how they account for the Tar Heels' superior depth and size.

The NCAA's third round is always the time for the true contenders. Everyone left can make a credible Final Four argument. And any conference with a trio of teams remaining deserves to have some tongue-wagging, chest-poking, jersey-pinching fun.

We talk about experience being vital in this event. UCLA's core players went to the title game last year.

We talk about guard play being essential. Oregon's Porter and Brooks, a graduate of Franklin High School, control games.

We talk about intangibles such as hunger. USC, irrelevant two years ago, seeks to use this tournament to signal its return.

Pac-10 Power.

"It's a great conference," said USC guard Lodrick Stewart, a graduate of Rainier Beach High. "One of the best in the country, if not the best."

If it minimizes pro defections, next season Pac-10 basketball could have that No. 1 spot it covets. Nearly 80 percent of the league's top scorers and rebounders are eligible to return. In addition, USC adds perhaps its best recruiting class ever. The Bruins welcome Kevin Love, who's freshman-of-the-year material. Some turnover could make Arizona better. Washington should rebound. Stanford should be more than just big.

"We are positioned, I think, for dominance in the future," Floyd said.

Let's not look too far ahead, however. The three Pac-10 contestants left in this pageant look quite radiant right now.

Jerry Brewer: 206-464-2277 or jbrewer@seattletimes.com.

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About Jerry Brewer

Jerry Brewer offers a unique perspective on the world of sports.
jbrewer@seattletimes.com | 206-464-2277

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