If bigger was going to mean “better,” how come the Pac 12 men’s-basketball conference — seemingly for the first time since James Naismith multi-purposed peach baskets — has nary a team among the top 25 in either of the main national polls?
Actually, the absence of a league team from the elite 25 hasn’t lasted as long as it may seem. A little more than a year ago, both major polls listed no teams among what was then the Pac-10 the week of Dec. 27, 2010. After that the Washington Huskies started to surge, flirting with the nether regions of both the Associated Press Top 25 and the ESPN/USA Today Coaches Poll, with other league teams slipping in and out of the listings later during the 2010-’11 season.
But the last time a Pac-12 contingent was among the top 25 in either poll this season was the week of Nov. 28, when California was 23rd in one grid, 24th in the other. The Dawg dribblers crested at 28th and 29th in the respective polls of Nov. 14.
Now, at 3-1 in league play and 9-6 overall after Saturday’s 57-53 win at Utah, the Huskies still seem a serious win streak away from gaining any consensus toward top-25 consideration. Fortunately for the Dawgs, they play the next four on their home court, where they’re 9-1.
In slushy Salt Lake City, the sluggish Utes, now 4-11, represented the latest best chance for UW to bag its first road victory of the season. It didn’t come easy. The visitors repeatedly blew free throws late in the game until sophomore guard Terrence Ross sank a critical pair for the prohibitive four-point lead with just seconds remaining.
Emerging star guard Tony Wroten, the first Husky freshman to receive league player-of-the-week laurels since Spencer Hawes did it in 2006, had an off game scoring-wise, putting up just eight after averaging 17. Fans wonder whether Wroten will follow the one-and-done example of Hawes, who left UW after his freshman year and just now is becoming a major force for Philadelphia in the NBA.
A loss to Utah seemed possible after the Dawgs limped along to just a two-point first-half lead on 32 percent shooting. They doubled the field-goal-completion percentage during the second half and would’ve won by double figures if their free-throw shooting had been better.
Losing to the Utes might have been season-crippling for a young Husky team still with plenty of opportunity to return to the NCAA tournament. Utah has been so ineffective in Pac-12 football and basketball (men’s and women’s) that it seems appropriate for the the school’s hoop teams to play home games at a place named for the traction-challenged GOP presidential candidate Jon Huntsman.
The better basketball entry has been Colorado, which dominated the Dawgs 87-69 Thursday in Boulder. The Buffaloes were within a home win against Washington State on Saturday of claiming the early lead in a Pac-10/12 once dominated by Arizona and UCLA.
Even Colorado's 71-60 triumph over Wazzu doesn't assure the Pac-12 of having a club vault into the nation’s top 25. Indeed, if a high-ranked men’s basketball team was what league officials were looking for when they expanded a year ago, for basketball purposes maybe they should’ve dubbed the league the Pac-13 by including Gonzaga: 25th in the AP poll as this is written
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