BY Bob Sherwin 05:33PM 02/08/2011

How about a little respect for the Pac-10?

Like last year, conference coaches believe the national perception that the conference is down is unfair.

Matthew Bryan-Amaning can become the 35th Husky to reach 1,000 career points. He's just six short. /Drew Sellers, SportspressNorthwest

Critics of the Pac-10 Conference, and they have been an ample number again this season, believe that the conference will be lucky to qualify three teams for the NCAA Tournament next month. Two is the more likely number.

Washington (15-7, 7-4 in the Pac-10) is now sitting in third place after its three-game losing streak. The Huskies went from a team trying figure what seed they would get and where they would play, to an uncertain squad.

However, it you ask the member coaches, that’s an unfair national perspective. USC Coach Kevin O’Neill has sounded a much more optimistic tone.

“We have good young teams in this league, good young players in this league this year,” O’Neill said. “There are good incoming players in this league. The Pac-10 will be back to five, six, maybe even seven teams in the NCAA Tournament in a year or two.

“I think we could have as many as five this year, to be honest with you, depending how it shakes out here at the end.”

Five. That would cut some slack for the Huskies.

But even the Sagarin power rankings belittle the conference. The Pac-10 is rated seventh among the nation’s conferences. It’s behind the Big East, Big 10, Big 12, Atlantic Coast, Mountain West and Southeastern. The Pac-10 this season has a 14-23 record against teams in those six leagues.

“There is not a conference out there that has produced more great players that are NBA first-round picks,” said Sean Miller, in his second year as the Arizona coach after arriving from Xavier of the Atlantic 10. “For me to compare last year’s Pac-10 and this year’s Pac-10, there’s no comparison. Anybody who would actually compare isn’t aware of what a lot of things that have changed.

“Cal is a great example. That’s a young team after heavy turnover. That team in November and December wasn’t nearly as good as they are right now. If you play Cal now, you’re playing an elite offensive team that’s difficult to stop.”

Guess who’s next in line for the Bears? Indeed, Washington, Thursday at Hec Ed.

“Cal’s offense is really efficient,” Washington coach Lorenzo Romar said. “Allen Crabbe has improved and Harper Kamp is a very good player. It’s a team that’s second in assists. Their field-goal percentage is up. They don’t turn it over a lot.

“Oregon also started like (1-5) and we were picked to win. When we played them (81-76 loss Saturday), I don’t think we played poorly. They beat us. I think the conference is definitely better. The scores show it. The scores are close throughout the entire league.”

The conference started the non-conference season a bit dodgy but since mid-December, the Pac-10 record against non-conference opponents is 29-9.

“Washington is good, as are UCLA, Arizona. USC has looked good in some games they’ve played,” Miller added. “We have more depth and more quality at the top. I think our league is in position to be even better a year from now.”

Individual races tightening
As the conference heads down the stretch, Washington players are involved in some tight battles in various offensive and defensive categories.

A pair of juniors, Washington State’s Klay Thompson and Washington’s Isaiah Thomas, are within 13 points of each other for most points among active players. Thompson has 1,510 points and Thomas has 1,497. Thomas will be the ninth player in UW history to score at least 1,500 points. With 20 points, he’ll move up to seventh place on the Huskies’ all-time scoring list.

Matthew Bryan-Amaning needs six points to become the 35th Husky to reach 1,000.

MBA also has been back and forth with Oregon forward Joevan Catron for the most rebounds among active players. He has 620 and Catron has 622.

Bryan-Amaning also has 135 blocks, second on the active list behind WSU’s DeAngelo Casto at 140.

Husky guards Venoy Overton and Thomas are 1-2 among active players in assists at 359 and 329 respectively. Overton also is first in steals with 169.

Around the conference
A glimpse at the other teams with a month to go in the regular season:

  • Arizona’s five-game win streak is the longest in Sean Miller’s tenure. The Wildcats play Saturday at rival Arizona State. … the Cats are 6-2 in true road games, matching the total for the school over the past two years combined; their 20-win season is the 32nd in school history.
  • Arizona State’s Jamelle McMillan, son of former O’Dea star Nate McMillan, had a career-high 17 assists against Stanford. He is 13 assists short of 300 in his career, third most among active players.
  • California forward Harper Kamp played all 55 minutes of the Bears triple-overtime game with Arizona, scoring a career-high 33 points. … guard Jorge Gutierrez also scored a career-high 25 points and is averaging 19 points over his last four.
  • Catron was named conference Player of the Week for his efforts against the Washington schools. He averaged 18.5 points and 7.5 rebounds. … Malcolm Armstead have five steals in both games.
  • Oregon State has had seven different players as its leading scorer in 11 Pac-10 games. … the Beavers had 12 steals against Washington State, their 12th time with 10 or more this season.
  • Stanford Jeremy Green has 196 three-pointers, fourth on the school’s career list. He made 7-of-14 three-point attempts against the Arizona schools last week.
  • UCLA is on a major roll, wining seven of its last eight and 13 of last 16. … former Kentwood High star Josh Smith was 13-of-19 in shot attempts last week. He averaged 17 points and seven rebounds. … forward Reeves Nelson had a career-high 17 rebounds against St. John’s.
  • USC, like Washington, is coming off a three-game road swing. The Trojans lost two of three. Guard Maurice Jones has 54 steals, third most on the school’s career list for freshmen.
  • Washington State is 6-5 in the conference this season, already matching last year’s win total. The 16 wins also matches as many as the Cougars had a year ago. … Thompson is approaching two scoring milestones. He has scored 1,510 career points and needs 54 points to move into third place in school history. He also needs 13 points for a second 500-point season (Isaac Fontaine did it three times, 1995-97).


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