The Pac-10 will wrap up non-conference play on Thursday with the highly anticipated matchup between No. 1 Connecticut and No. 8 Stanford (7-2) on ESPN2 at 6 p.m. PST. Then, it’s on to conference play. And while Washington (5-4) didn’t close its nonconference schedule with anything close to competitive play in a 60-27 loss to Georgia Tech, the Pac-10 will finish with nine of its teams above .500.
The biggest surprise? Possibly a tie between Oregon State and Arizona (8-2), with the Beavers getting the edge considering the tabloid stories released in coach LaVonda Wagner’s firing last summer Many doubted OSU would win a game, barely fielding a team before practiced opened because of player transfers and reports of abuse.
“It was blown out of proportion,” said first-year coach Scott Rueck, a graduate of Oregon State who kept up with the story in the papers. “I don’t know a lot of the details, but man, the media picked it up and ran with it. Honestly, I don’t know a lot of the stuff that’s gone on and I think some of it was blown out of proportion, but I don’t really want to know. It’s a new day.”
The Beavers, which have two remaining players from last season, are 7-4 and played a competitive game against Rutgers, in Rueck’s opinion. A NCAA D-III champion coach at George Fox University, his team opens conference play against Arizona on Sunday.
Arizona also played well in its nonconference schedule and Pac-10 coaches are looking at it to pull some upsets this season. F Ify Ibekwe has returned after a concussion and the Wildcats are second in the conference in offense (79.5 points).
“We want to win and we are capable of winning,” Arizona coach Niya Butts said in a teleconference call. “Anytime you have a conference with a lot of teams at the top who have been there for a while, you are going to have to grind it out and do some things to break into that. I think our team is ready for a challenge.”
Too bad the brightest story around Washington involves coaches’ daughters. The Huskies finished Thursday’s game with seven players and it was uncertain who would be available for the conference opener.
UW turns its focus toward UCLA (10-0) at practice Monday. And while Washington and Washington State are in the familiar basement, there’s plenty of solid competition to look forward to elsewhere in the Pac-10.
“It can be frustrating but it can also serve as a great motivator,” said WSU coach June Daugherty of the Cougars’ strong nonconference schedule, which ranked 40th in the nation. But the blending of new faces and injuries resulted in a 2-10 showing.
“For the most part, I think it’s been motivating,” she said of the team’s mentality.
Here are three clips previewing conference play:
*PHOTO CREDIT: Freshman Earlysia Marchbanks is introduced as a starter before the Beavers 64-60 win against Eastern Washington by Thomas Boyd of The Oregonian.