There's a cry you will hear this spring, the one that annually breaks forth from Pac-10 women's basketball fans -- "We get no respect, there is an East Coast bias, and we deserve more teams in the NCAA Tournament!" These are the words that come out at NCAA Tournament time each year. However, let our mouths be silent, because conferences earn respect by winning non-conference games, and the Pac-10 is not doing that right now.
Arizona is doing its part to carry the Pac-10 flag. The No. 23 Wildcats are ranked for the third week in a row in the AP Poll after taking No. 2 LSU into overtime and crushing then-No. 8 Georgia. Even though the Cats stumbled against a good Ohio State team last weekend, they have still beaten a quality Pepperdine team on the road and an excellent Big Ten team in Illinois. A 4-2 record for Arizona is very good right now, considering how difficult its schedule has been.
Stanford, too, is propping up the conference. The Cardinal are ranked No. 5 and have beaten all challengers, even without the services of injured Nicole Powell, last year's Pac-10 Player of the Year. I only wish other schools were doing their part!
This weekend alone was a microcosm of this season's non-conference play. Tennessee, by a score of 71-39, crushed USC, a supposed Pac-10 contender. The Trojans had earlier suffered an embarrassing loss to Connecticut. Meanwhile, Oregon lost at home to Santa Clara and, Washington State is still looking for its first win against barely Division I competition. UCLA lost big at home to Pepperdine, while Oregon State stopped some of the bleeding with a close win against Florida. Washington, after a slow start, won North Carolina State's tournament but hasn't done much else. However, the message is clear: win over other conferences or don't expect to be respected in March.
Last season, the Pac-10 was fortunate to get two teams in to the "Big Dance". If ASU had not upset Stanford at the Pac-10 Tournament, the Cardinal would have been the conference's only representative. Yet, somehow, all of us complained that the West was being overlooked. In this day and age of big-time college basketball, it's all about RPI rankings, and if your conference has a low one, look out!
Thank goodness for Arizona and Stanford. The Wildcats and Cardinal have done a good job, and the Cats especially, against a brutal non-conference schedule that gets no easier this week while hosting perennial NCAA Tournament-bound New Mexico and traveling to meet a very good UNLV team. Well, if no one else will do it, let's get it done. If the Cats and Cardinal can finish strong before Pac-10 play gets underway, then maybe the conference will get some respect. It's just too bad that only two schools are pulling their weight!
Have a blessed Christmas!
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