PAC-12 HOOPS

Pac-12 basketball this week: Conference is 'better' after Cats beat Fla.

2012-12-19T00:00:00Z 2014-07-08T15:34:29Z Pac-12 basketball this week: Conference is 'better' after Cats beat Fla.Patrick Finley Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
December 19, 2012 12:00 am  • 

The only people in America happier than Arizona Wildcats fans following Saturday night's miraculous come-from-behind win against Florida were the men who will coach against the UA this year.

Pac-12 coaches Tuesday praised the league's best nonconference victory since exactly three years ago, when USC beat No. 9 Tennessee 77-55.

"What a great win by Arizona," Washington coach Lorenzo Romar said.

"That was good for our conference," UCLA's Ben Howland said.

"I was extremely happy," said Colorado's Tad Boyle.

Here's why: The UA's victory was the Pac-12's first against a top-10 nonconference team since the Trojans beat the No. 9 Volunteers by 22 in 2009.

The Wildcats' win marked the third against a Top 25 nonconference team this season - Oregon beat No. 18 UNLV and Colorado beat No. 16 Baylor, both in November.

Compare that to last season, when the Pac-12 beat only one Top 25 nonleague foe - and, as such, claimed only two NCAA tournament berths in perhaps the conference's worst season of all time.

Entering Tuesday, Pac-12 teams had won 66 percent of their league games; last year, they won 61 percent.

"I think it's been better, much better, than it was last year," Boyle said. "There's been some good wins; there's been some given away that I wish we could have back, too.

"I think every team in the league outside Arizona, right now, can point to a game or two they wish they could have back."

Oregon State's Craig Robinson said it was his "gut feeling that we're all doing a better job than we did last year," but perception won't matter until closer to NCAA tournament selection time.

The league will have "five or six NCAA tournament teams and two or three NIT teams," said USC coach Kevin O'Neill, former UA assistant and interim head coach.

The Pac-12 was No. 5 in Sunday's Sagarin Conference Ratings, behind the Big Ten, Mountain West, Big East and ACC.

One reason: Two of the league's traditional powers haven't played well.

UCLA and Washington already have combined for 13 losses. The Bruins have lost to Cal Poly, the Huskies to Albany.

"Our team, I think, is improving," Howland said.

The rest of the league hopes so - at least until conference play starts in two weeks.

"The more success we all have, that gives us a little more latitude when conference play does come around, because we're trying to all beat each other up then," Colorado's Boyle said.

"I think what we all learned last year was the strength of our league helps us all, and the weakness of our league hurts us all."

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