MONDAY MORNING FALLOUT: Cougs roll; Huskies' season all but over?

Welcome to the post-Super Bowl edition of the Monday Morning Fallout. Before we move on to our regularly scheduled college hoops programming, just a couple of quick thoughts about the biggest game in American Sports.

First, I'm glad the Colts won. There hardly is a more classy guy in football than Tony Dungy, and while I grew up a Bears fan -- like a lot of kids in 1985 -- I can't help but be unbelievably happy for the guy. (If you're unfamiliar with the story, familiarize yourself here.)

Is there a more underrated coach in the NFL? His teams have made the playoffs eight consecutive years, and he has the highest winning percentage of any active coach. Yes, he's black (and I'm not naive enough to think that doesn't have anything to do with it), but I think we Americans like our coaches to be screamers -- almost like we're worried they aren't doing enough if they're not spewing four-letter words every minute of every game. Like that somehow equates to passion or something. Good on Tony Dungy for doing it his way.

Second, how could I possibly have rooted for the Bears? They knocked out the Seahawks, and they have a pair of former Huskies (Olin Kreutz, Tank Johnson) starting for them. Meanwhile, the Colts have a starting corner named Jason David -- a Coug. Do I need any more reason to be happy for a Colts win?

Now, on to the hoops ...


Great weekend for the Cougs, disastrous weekend for the Huskies.

In this space about a week ago, I said that I thought WSU's trip to Arizona smelled like a trap game, that I'd feel a lot better about the Cougs if they could take a marginal lead down the stretch against a good team and put the game comfortably away.

Ask and ye shall receive.

That 72-66 victory over the Wildcats was their best game of the year, the kind of game that has me convinced the Cougs could actually be poised not only for an appearance in the NCAA Tournament, but for a run, too. It felt like a trap game from the beginning, with Arizona coming off its worst home loss in the Lute Olsen era and attempting to avoid its first ever season sweep at the hand of WSU. The Cougs took control midway through the first half and maintained it until a brief run by Arizona that tied the game late. However, WSU kept its composure, made a few buckets while tightening the screws on defense, and cruised to a six-point win. Stellar.

As for that one-point victory at Arizona State on Saturday? All I have to say is this: They won the game. I know ASU is absolutely terrible, but how many teams in this country could go 12 minutes without scoring a point and still figure out a way to win, no matter the opponent? While much has been made of WSU's improved offense this season, defense always will be the straw that stirs the Cougs' drink, and that was never more evident than in that game.

So, what does a pair of road wins in the Pac-10 get you? Well, some healthy respect in the polls, for one thing. The Cougs moved up to No. 14 in the AP poll and No. 14 in the coaches' poll. Additionally, CBS SportsLine's Gary Parrish remains in love with them, moving the Cougs into his personal top 10 -- pretty heady company. They also are continuing to solidify their status as a No. 4-6 seed for the Tournament. Jerry Palm had them slotted as a No. 5 seed after the win against Arizona, while ESPN Bracketologst Joe Lunardi had them at a No. 6 on Wednesday, before the road sweep. He'll likely bump them up to a No. 5, as well.

Now, on to those Huskies. The weekend could only have been worse had they lost to Arizona State. Entering a critical six-game stretch that began with the ASU game, I said that the Huskies needed to go at least 4-2 to have a shot at getting the selection committee's attention. Now they've already got one of those losses after Saturday's 84-54 drubbing at the hands of the same Arizona team the Cougs handled with relative ease. In fact, I said they also had to avoid the bad loss, the kind the committee frowns upon. Suffering your second 30-point road loss of the season is as bad as it gets.

Washington now faces a four-game stretch of Cal, No. 25 Stanford, No. 14 WSU and No. 7 Pitt, the last of which is a trip to the East Coast. Where do the three wins come from in that group? We know the Huskies play a lot better at home than they do on the road, but the one they must have is that trip to Pitt. The committee loves signature wins, and pulling the upset against the Panthers might just show that the Huskies belong in the field -- provided they can get to at least 9-9 in the conference (that would mean going 5-2 the rest of the way), plus a win or two in the conference tournament. A tall order indeed.

Great week for the Zags. Since their stunning loss to St. Mary's, they've beat every WCC opponent by at least nine points, and picked up a huge road win at then-No. 23 Stanford this past week. Gonzaga seems to be getting rolling at just the right time, and don't look now, but that was Kansas transfer Micah Downs hitting three big 3s down the stretch against San Diego. Who knows how much he'll be able to give them, with his eligibility and injury issues, but it never hurts to have another weapon.

One of the more interesting things to watch (at least for me) has been how Jerry Palm and Joe Lunardi have viewed the Zags this year. While the two of them usually are pretty close to each other with their approximations, Lunardi has consistently viewed the Bulldogs' resume more favorably than Palm. Palm has them in as a No. 11 seed now, and had them out of the field altogether after the loss to St. Mary's. Lunardi, meanwhile, has had the Bulldogs in all along, and had them at a No. 11 seed before the win over Stanford. Not that big of a deal, but something interesting to keep an eye on if Gonzaga doesn't secure the WCC's automatic bid.

Just to the west of Spokane, Eastern Washington continues to find the going tough. Fortunately for the Eagles, so does pretty much everyone else. They lost both games in Montana over the weekend, leaving them four games out of first. However, Weber State is the only school that has even been able to even sort of separate itself from the pack, as six teams are between two and four back. What it suggests is that anything could happen in the conference tourney, although it's becoming increasingly clear that Rodney Stuckey can't carry the Eagles all by himself.


Obviously, the biggest conference storyline of the weekend was Oregon's sweep at the hands of the Los Angeles schools, completing a brutal four-game road trip where only a banked 3-pointer and questionable foul call in the final second of regulation against WSU kept them from being swept the previous weekend by the Washington schools.

The one common denominator in all three losses? Containing Aaron Brooks. He scored 31 in the victory against WSU, but Washington beat Oregon as Brooks served a suspension, and both UCLA and USC limited him below his normal output. Between the two games, he shot just 10-for-27 (37 percent) and averaged just 15 points. This from a guy who averages 18.7 points and shoots 46.8 percent overall. The rest of the conference just got a blueprint on how to beat the Ducks ... if they can duplicate it.

Stanford wasn't helped much by its loss to Gonzaga, although the Bulldogs now have crept back in the RPI top 50, but the Cardinal virtually cemented its status as a Tournament team from the conference when it whipped Cal. Palm's got them in comfortably as a No. 7 seed.

The Cardinal's success suddenly has made Arizona the Pac-10 team that is a bit on the bubble. The blowout of the Huskies will help the Wildcats, but they need to hope their young players get a second wind and build on it down the stretch. They've played a lot of minutes -- 30 minutes or more for every starter -- and are tired. Can they pick it up soon enough? The great minutes they're starting to get from freshman Jordan Hill are helping. They'll need him to keep it up, as he provides an athletic presence inside few teams can match.

By the way, does anyone else notice UCLA just continuing to plug along? The Bruins are 9-2 in the best conference in the country and looked positively dominant against the Ducks. And we won't even talk about their 47-point laugher over Oregon State. As much as we talk about positioning in the conference in spots 2-6, we can't overlook just how very, very good UCLA is.

For the record, it's added up to this projection from Palm for the Pac-10: UCLA (No. 1 seed, no change), Oregon (No. 3, down from No. 2), Washington State (No. 5, up from No. 6), USC (No. 8, down from No. 7), Stanford (No. 7, up from No. 9) and Arizona (No. 10, down from No. 7).

I'll drop in an update from Lunardi when he posts his new projections on Wedesday. We're starting to get to the point in the season where he'll probably start doing projections more frequently than once a week.

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