The Pac-10 never had a men's basketball team finish unbeaten in conference games as a 10-team league.
Apparently, you don’t mess with the basketball gods, or John Wooden.
When Washington slipped up at Stanford last week, dropping its first Pac-10 basketball game of the season, it lost a chance to do something exceedingly rare in the conference: Run the table. In fact, it lost a chance to do it in the final year of the 10-team conference.
The Huskies thus joined the fraternity of commoners who longed for company among the royalty of UCLA, but couldn’t pull it off.
No shame there, only an opportunity lost; nobody has done it but the Bruins. That dates all the way back to the 1956 season, when the old Pacific Coast Conference did away with divisions and went to the unified format we know today.
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That year — Wooden’s eighth at the school — the Bruins went 16-0 in league, the first of nine times UCLA went unbeaten. The first eight happened under Wooden, the last in 1978 under Gary Cunningham, when the studs for UCLA were David Greenwood, Roy Hamilton and Raymond Townsend.
The next season was the first of the 10-team conference, and in 33 years, it never had a team run through the league undefeated.
Not surprising, you say? What if you knew that in the Big 12, it’s been done as recently as 2002 (by Kansas), and in the SEC, in 2003 (by Kentucky, whose best player was a second-round NBA pick, Keith Bogans)? Or that Duke not only did it in the ACC in 1999, but swept the league tournament, too?
In the Pac-10, it’s been forbidden fruit. Seven times, a team has gone 17-1 but never 18-0. In 1981, Ralph Miller’s best Oregon State team won its first 26 games of the season, got to Senior Day at home and fell flat against a talented Arizona State club.
Somebody doesn’t want this to happen. You know how some shots can’t possibly go in on the course they’re headed? USC, playing a 16-0 Arizona team in L.A. in 1998, had one of those late in the game, but somehow, it defied physics, jumped over the rim and spun in and the Trojans won in overtime. That was one of five times a Lute Olson team went 17-1.
UCLA used to make it look so easy. The Bruins did it three straight years (1971-73), part of their ridiculous, 50-game winning streak in Pac-8 games.
The Huskies? Sure, it was a bit of a mirage, but it didn’t look out of the question. Notwithstanding some recent issues, they appear to be a very good team in a pedestrian league. They’d already swept the toughest trip, and going unbeaten at home seems a reasonable proposition.
Not going to happen. Next year, it’s a challenge for the new Pac-12.
It’s a Duck thing
Oregon’s tree-themed floor in brown and tan hues in the new Matthew Knight Arena has drawn some tepid reviews. UCLA coach Ben Howland contends the TV look is different from the one in person, where his team became the first opponent to win.
“When you’re there in person, it really is an interesting and cool look,” Howland said. “It looks different on TV. It’s hard to find the basketball at times. In person, it’s spectacular.”
That’s not the adjective USC coach Kevin O’Neill applied to opening night. He didn’t like his team being the foil for the festivities, saying it would be preferable to have had a nonleague game for the debut.
“You sit in the locker room for 40 minutes (because of the opening ceremony), longer than necessary,” O’Neill said. “That’s not why we lost; we lost because we played badly. But it’s a whole different set of things to deal with.”
And what’s more …
• Howland says he likes the scheme of sitting Kentwood High product Joshua Smith in favor of Brendan Lane for the game’s opening minutes to avoid quick fouls. Smith had 25 points and 18 rebounds in the Oregon sweep.
• The Bruins finished their game in Eugene Saturday at 4 p.m., yet didn’t arrive home until 7 p.m. Sunday, Howland said. An early-evening flight out was canceled months ago, and fog in San Francisco kept UCLA at the Eugene airport for 5 ½ hours Sunday and another three hours at SFO.
Bud Withers: 206-464-8281 or firstname.lastname@example.org