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Look West, young men

Innovative coaches help revive hoops on West Coast

Posted: Wednesday January 3, 2007 1:30PM; Updated: Wednesday January 3, 2007 3:09PM
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UCLA coach Ben Howland has the Bruins at No. 1 and poised to make a run at the national title.
UCLA coach Ben Howland has the Bruins at No. 1 and poised to make a run at the national title.
John W. McDonough/SI
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A new golden era is dawning in West Coast college hoops, and the 'Bag couldn't be happier.

By the time No. 1 UCLA enters the snakepit of McArthur Court to face No. 16 Oregon on Saturday, the Bruins (13-0) and Ducks (13-0) may well be the only remaining undefeated teams in the land.

But the return to glory of Left Coast basketball is about more than just two teams. It's about a trend that started with the arrivals of top-flight coaches (UCLA's Ben Howland, Washington's Lorenzo Romar, Washington State's Dick Bennett, USC's Tim Floyd, Nevada's Mark Fox, Arizona State's Herb Sendek), the continued success of entrenched bosses (Arizona's Lute Olson, Gonzaga's Mark Few) and the entire group's ability to retain and develop the outstanding high school talent found in hoops hotbeds like Los Angeles, Seattle and the Bay Area.

The only West Coast bias the 'Bag might be accused of is a slant toward the region's teams. Long before we lived in Seattle from 2000 to '04 -- an Eden compared to the surly Boston where we now reside -- we grew up watching late-night games in the 1980s between UNLV and UC-Santa Barbara in some alphabet-soup league called the PCAA, and we stayed up late with the 'Bag Dad to watch Pepperdine and Victor Anger nearly upset N.C. State on the way to the Wolfpack's '83 NCAA title.

We love everything about the past and present of West Coast hoops: the banners in Pauley Pavilion; the wooden upper reaches of Mac Court; Jack & Dan's tavern in Spokane; fascinating phone conversations with Pete Newell; riding up the 405 with Bill Walton to a UCLA game; the old shaking floor at Maples Pavilion (R.I.P.); Moses Scurry's screams, Richie the Fixer and Gucci Row at the Thomas & Mack Center; and, perhaps most of all, the old-fashioned home-and-home schedule that makes the Pac-10 title a true conference championship.

We even put up with Fox Sports Net. (OK, we don't love everything about West Coast hoops.) That said, the 'Bag will definitely be catching (enduring?) a lot of Barry Tompkins and Marques Johnson over the next couple months.

Just look at all the great storylines in the Pac-10. You have UCLA, Howland's defensive juggernaut, which reached the national title game a year ahead of schedule and is fast becoming a favorite for the '07 crown. You have 11-1 Arizona, the league's most talented outfit, which could win it all if it toughens up on defense. You have the unblemished Ducks, who have reversed their underachieving ways as they play to save Ernie Kent's job. You have Washington, Romar's green but immensely-talented crew, which has revived college hoops in Sea-town.

You even have 12-2 Wazzu, which is taking tremendous strides under Bennett's son, Tony, and angling for an NCAA tournament bid. Meanwhile, Floyd (with O.J. Mayo) and Sendek (with a terrific recruiting class) have their programs on the rise, and we haven't even mentioned the accomplished Bay Area coaches, Stanford's Trent Johnson and Cal's Ben Braun.

With all that mind, let's dive into this week's 'Bag ...

How do you think UCLA will fare against an undefeated Oregon squad? Do you think the Bruins will take care of business or that Oregon could possibly pull off an upset?
John Ruzzo, Los Angeles

The consensus around college hoops is that Oregon's record is pretty fraudulent considering the Ducks' only impressive win came at Georgetown, but I'm not about to write off Kent's guys when they have such a big home-court advantage in the old barn. UCLA hasn't had any tough tests on the road yet, which is why I think this game will be close the whole way. In the end, though, I like the poise of the Bruins' guards, Arron Afflalo and Darren Collison, to make the difference. UCLA by five.


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