Sure, there were thrilling games, great players, championship teams. But Pac-10 men's basketball also featured an 18-16 game, a team that couldn't cover the spread against an opponent trying to throw the game, and a coach being asked if he'd ever shot anyone.
Thirty-three seasons’ worth of great moments, gewgaws and goofballs around Pac-10 basketball:
The record that might not be broken — Don MacLean scored 2,608 career points for UCLA. Nowadays, who’s going to stay long enough to break it?
The worst rivalry stunt — Just as Oregon was being introduced before the Civil War game in Corvallis in 1982, a prankster tripped a wire at Gill Coliseum and a dead duck came splatting to the floor.
Best performance — You can have the field. I’ll take Damon Stoudamire’s 32 points, 12 rebounds and 14 assists for Arizona at Oregon in 1995.
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When I knew Andy Russo was toast — In December 1988, the Washington coach took a team to the desert and lost 116-61 to Arizona and 121-90 to Arizona State. When he returned, he explained that the Huskies would be better for it, because like an egg that breaks and gets glued together, it would be stronger. Mike Lude, the athletic director, apparently didn’t follow that logic, firing Russo three months later.
Best arena — For nooks and crannies, for noise, for the naked charm of college basketball, there was no place like McArthur Court.
Worst coach — After George Raveling left USC, the Trojans hired Charlie Parker, who went 9-19 in his first year (1995) and then got fired the next February. Honorable mention to Paul Graham, who went 9-63 in his league games at WSU from 1999-2002.
Best coach — For sheer excellence and staying power, the two best were Lute Olson and Mike Montgomery. For old war horses in the earlier Pac-10 days, it was Ralph Miller and Marv Harshman. But for an up-by-the-bootstraps, against-all-odds reclamation, you can’t top Dick and Tony Bennett, who combined to push the Cougars to 24 Pac-10 wins in 2007-08, without NBA players, when the talent in the league was at its historic apex.
And Pac-10 TV has never been the same — Back in the era of Monday-night TV games — and without a shot clock — Oregon State visited an under-talented Stanford team in 1980. The Cardinal held the ball against the Beavers, and after OSU scored to take the lead with 10 minutes left, Miller had his team hold the ball — just because he could. Final score: OSU 18, Stanford 16.
The definition of a bad team — Bob Bender’s first Washington club visited ASU in 1994, which happened to be one of the games befouled in the point-shaving case of Stevin “Hedake” Smith of the Sun Devils. The spread dipped crazily from 11 to three points, there was widespread suspicion that the fix was in — and the Huskies lost 73-55. So they couldn’t cover the spread in a game the other team was trying to throw.
All that work for nothing — In a 1993 NCAA-tournament game, Arizona got down by double digits to a Santa Clara team with Steve Nash, came back and took control before and after halftime, then coughed the lead up for good. It has to be the only team ever to go on a 25-0 run and lose, 64-61.
Coach Loopy — That was Bill Frieder of Arizona State (1989-97), who would often entertain a writer’s questions in his hotel room wearing only underwear. Asked by a Phoenix scribe once what he thought of his first trip to Pullman, Frieder answered, “It’s a dump.” The next year, WSU students greeted Frieder wearing trash bags.
Coach Loopy II — In 1995, Frieder had $5,000 stolen from his room in Eugene. Unbowed, the next year he tried unsuccessfully to interview the thief, who was lodged in Lane County jail, for his TV show.
What might have been — Without Tyus Edney’s 4.8-second miracle dash to win a second-round NCAA game against Missouri in 1995, UCLA was just another Bruins team mucking around aimlessly, instead of the one that won its first title since John Wooden in 1975. And without a comeback from a 10-point deficit with eight minutes left against South Alabama in the first round of 1997 — a near-death experience before an NCAA title — Arizona’s reputation then for underachieving would have deepened.
The best two weekends in NCAA history — Imagine winning a national championship by dispatching three No. 1 seeds. Now imagine it when the names are Kansas, North Carolina and Kentucky. That’s what Arizona did in 1997.
Sports writer who earned his laptop — For nine years, in basketball-mad, Lute-loving Tucson, Olson wouldn’t speak to Arizona Daily Star columnist Greg Hansen after he wrote critically of the Wildcats in 1992. Hansen managed to do his job adroitly without him.
Best press-conference question of the Pac-10 (or any other) era — Early ’90s, a Tuesday in the old hall of fame room outside Hec Edmundson Pavilion. Three writers are lobbing routine questions at UW coach Lynn Nance, a former FBI agent. A pause. Then, from one of the three who shall remain nameless: “When you were with the FBI, did you ever have to shoot anybody?” Nance declined to answer, once he picked himself off the floor.
Bud Withers: 206-464-8281 or email@example.com