MONDAY MORNING FALLOUT: Cougs' showdown with UCLA loses a little luster ... but not much

Welcome to the day before the biggest game of the Pac-10 season!

I can honestly say I've been looking forward to this pretty much ever since the Cougs fell to UCLA on the last possession of their first meeting, way back on the first weekend of the Pac-10 season. About the only thing that could make it better would be if the Cougars could have figured out away to break the Oregon jinx, stay in the top 10, and make it a game for the Pac-10 regular season title.

Alas, I'll have to settle for an end-of-the-season gem between the two best teams in the conference.

But before we look forward -- be on the lookout tomorrow for a full preview of the matchup -- let's review the weekend that was and see how the Pac-10 and the NCAA Tournament are setting up with less than two weeks to go until Selection Sunday:


The Cougars did a nice job redeeming themselves after losing another heartbreaker to Oregon by completing a second-half comeback against Oregon State, although I don't think it was roundly viewed that way around the country. While the impetus behind WSU's drop in the polls clearly was the loss to Oregon, I think the amount of the drop -- from No. 9 to No. 13 in the AP Poll -- had more to do with the closer-than-expected final score against the Beavers.

But make no mistake: There truly are no easy games in the Pac-10, specifically on the road. Oregon State and Arizona State both are playing well right now, and if either one got an invite to the NIT (which won't happen), they'd win at least a game or two. There's no shame in any team losing on the road in the conference -- especially when it's a top 25 team, recent struggles be darned -- and certainly no shame in figuring out a way to squeeze out a win at a place a team hadn't won since 1998.

The good news is that ESPN Bracketology expert Joe Lunardi saw it much the same way, as he has the Cougars remaining on the No. 3 seed line they've been occupying for weeks now. CollegeRPI.com expert Jerry Palm hasn't been quite so enamored with the Cougs this season, favoring a No. 4 seed most of the way. It's where he has them now, although he has not updated his bracket since Friday. (Incidentally, Lunardi is now updating his bracket daily.)

The Huskies, meanwhile, cemented their status as an NIT team -- barring a miracle run in the Pac-10 Tournament -- by getting swept in Oregon. All of those "what if" scenarios finally can be thrown out the window once and for all.

There wasn't even a whole lot redeeming about the Huskies' loss to the Ducks, and it started even before the tip.

Nevermind the 15 turnovers, or the paltry two rebounds and eight points contributed by Jon Brockman. The real story to me was Ryan Appleby's inexplicable inability to forgive Oregon guard Aaron Brooks. You might remember that Brooks elbowed Appleby in the mouth in a Pac-10 Tournament game last season, resulting in Brooks' ejection from that game and a two-game suspension.

While I'll be the first to say I don't particularly care for Brooks -- who I think is at best a hothead, at worst a punk -- the guy did apologize (repeatedly) and tried to reach out to Appleby by shaking his hand before the game. Appleby refused. Brooks tried again after the game. Appleby refused again.

The reason this is so disappointing to me is that Lorenzo Romar runs a class program, and Appleby's actions reeked of classlessness. He says he didn't agree with the Pac-10's punishment of Brooks. So what? That's not his problem. The only thing carrying that bitterness does is make him bitter. It does nothing to Brooks, who (probably not-so-coincidentally) went on to score 30 points against the Huskies. Sure taught that guy a lesson!

Appleby would do well to follow John McGrath's advice. If Rudy Tomjanovich can forgive Kermit Washington, surely Appleby can move on from an elbow.

The Zags, meanwhile, seem to have rallied from the arrest and subsequent suspension of star forward Josh Heytvelt. After initially dropping two of their first three games without him, the Bulldogs seem to be getting hot at the right time, winning their last three games to clinch the WCC regular season title.

Coach Mark Few is getting creative, especially with his offensive sets, to try and compensate for the loss of such a dynamic player, and the improved play will be crucial heading into the conference tournament, which the Bulldogs likely have to win to get into the NCAA Tournament. (Until the Zags took over the No. 1 spot in the league, Lunardi had them as one of his last eight teams out.)


This portion of the MMF is becoming less and less interesting every week. Why? Because not much is changing. The top six teams in the league have established themselves thusly, and their performance week to week doesn't seem to be having much of a dramatic effect on their Tournament hopes.

Need proof? ESPN.com's Bubble Watch says no less than five teams in the conference -- UCLA, WSU, Oregon, USC and Arizona -- are locks for the NCAA Tournament, and the sixth (Stanford) only has minor work to do.

The more interesting story today is Lute Olsen's revelation that -- gasp! -- he does not have Parkinson's Disease. Sorry to make light of what is a serious condition, but where do stories like this come from? Why would a guy who's been one of the most successful coaches in the game of basketball feel the need to come out and dispute something that's never even been reported?

One word: Recruiting.

In the cut-throat world of getting teenagers to come to your campus, one can reasonably suspect that some of Olsen's enemies, er, coaching colleagues have been spreading rumors about him. "See coach Olsen? You don't want to play for him! Look at the way he shakes ... it's like he's, I dunno, got Parkinson's or something ..."

I've got an idea: Maybe he shakes sometimes because he's OLD! Like 72 years old!

Gimme a break. The guy can still coach, and if a teenager can't figure out that he's old and then make a reasonable decision about whether they want to play for someone who's old -- as many great recruits have done -- then the recruit is a moron I don't want in my program anyway. Whoever has been circulating these rumors on the recruiting trail ought to be ashamed.

But then again, since when has there ever been shame associated with big time college athletics?

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