Nov. 22, 2000
Under normal circumstances, the talent-rich and experienced Stanford Cardinal would be considered a shoo-in to win the Pac-10 basketball championship.
Stanford isn't even favored, that distinction goes to Arizona, which shared the conference title with the Cardinal last season.
The Pac-10 looks loaded this year, with its strongest, deepest lineup of teams in years.
Arizona is ranked No. 1 nationally in The Associated Press preseason poll, with Stanford fourth, UCLA 17th and Southern California 23rd.
"I think the potential is there for Arizona to be as good a team as this conference has produced in a long time," Stanford coach Mike Montgomery said. "I think the league may have four or five teams ranked in the Top 25, and that makes for a good conference race."
Arizona returns all five starters - center Loren Woods, forwards Michael Wright and Richard Jefferson, and guards Jason Gardner and Gilbert Arenas - from a team that went 27-7 overall and 15-3 in the conference.
Wildcats coach Lute Olson still realizes it's not going to be easy in the Pac-10.
"Stanford returns a good nucleus and has guys they didn't haven't last year," Olson said. "USC, Cal, UCLA all have some very talented young people. Arizona State returns a lot of people.
"I think it will be a very competitive league. It will be very difficult to win on the road."
UCLA coach Steve Lavin believes the Pac-10 will earn even more respectability on the national level.
"You look at the last decade and you have teams doing well in the postseason, Arizona and UCLA winning national titles. I think in the last 10 years in terms of national tournaments, of players going to the NBA, there has been a raised awareness in our league," Lavin said.
Arizona is expected to stir the most interest.
Along with having their starting lineup and key reserves returning, the Wildcats also get Eugene Edgerson back. The senior forward skipped last season to focus on student teaching.
Stanford (27-4, 15-3) will be led by Casey Jacobsen, their top scorer with a 14.5 average as a freshman, powerful frontcourt twins Jason and Jarron Collins, and point guard Michael McDonald.
UCLA lost two of its better players, Jerome Moiso and JaRon Rush, when they declared for the NBA draft, but the Bruins' returnees include forward Jason Kapono, center Dan Gadzuric and point guard Earl Watson.
Kapono is one of the best shooters in the Pac-10, averaging 16 points a game on 52 percent shooting, including 47 percent from 3-point range.
Hobbled by key injuries last season, USC returns its starting lineup intact. Leading the way is forward-center Brian Scalabrine, who led the conference in scoring at 17.9, shot 53 percent from the floor and averaged six rebounds and 2.8 assists a game.
California, with Sean Lampley (16.6 points, 7.4 rebounds a game) the lone senior on a young team, could be the conference darkhorse. Oregon will feature Frederick Jones, a junior guard who averaged 9.6 points and 3.3 assists last season.
Arizona State, Oregon State, Washington and Washington State figure to wind up in the bottom half of the Pac-10.
By KEN PETERS
AP Sports Writer