Empty Seats, Title Aspirations, and Beatrice

LOS ANGELES - So, what are we to make of the last weekend of Pac-12 regular season play? The three would-be kingpins of the Pac-12 all played very similar games, with nearly exacting results - UCLA beats Washington, Arizona State beats Arizona, and Stanford beats California.

While true that Washington was the only team to give up a nearly game-long lead, all three contests were decided in the same way – basically, the home teams outworking the road teams in the last three or so minutes to pull it out at the end.

In a year where the conference garnered zero respect from the pundits – perhaps deservedly so – that sort of finish will certainly not look pretty to the NCAA selection committee.

I believe the committee would actually like to include more Pac-12 teams if they could. But geez, didn't anybody want to go out and stamp their authority? While Dawg fans are no doubt happy that the Huskies will go into this week as the top-seed in the conference tourney and get to hang a banner as Pac-12 champs next season (I do agree that they deserve it – they did have a better conference record than anyone over the long haul), how confident are we that Washington will sweep three games in three days for a tourney three-peat?

The operative word here is "will" as opposed to "can". I still believe this Husky team has more on-the-floor talent than anyone else in the conference. But as the season played out, it is readily apparent that talent alone won't pay the rent. Therefore, there are at least six teams that can win the automatic bid at Staples. Imagine that … the Pac-12 being a potential "bid-stealer" conference. It does make you wonder if they could possibly steal from themselves, though. It's going to be a tournament of desire. Not one team can rest its laurels on the regular season now. And that could make it THE hardest tournament to win of the big-six conferences.

First off, I must say that the Galen Center is a beautiful place. A lovely USC tribute is there to see all around the corridor of the arena and it plays almost like a basketball theater, what with the big curtain that blocks windows behind one baseline (which opened after tip-off, so it was like you could look right in from the street at the action since nobody was sitting there). I chanced to be on the same flight down as Bob Rondeau and Jason Hamilton, but we didn't talk much of the games, but more of memories of the recently passed Greg Jack.

I talked the lady guarding the floor to let me chat with Kim Grinolds, since it wasn't exactly crowded anywhere. Kim and I ended up whispering so we wouldn't bother anyone else.

As for the practice – er, game – we knew it was over when Washington took off to a 13-4 lead. Sure they went to sleep for a spell, but I couldn't blame them for that. After all, the Trojan band numbered about 40, the cheer squad numbered about 30, and the students numbered about 20. They never did announce the crowd size, which was good, because anyone in there could have just counted for themselves. There were almost as many Husky fans as USC fans in attendance, but that ain't saying much. A couple of Terrence Ross dipsy-do drives and a beautiful 45-degree turn jumper in the lane reminded me just how good a pro Terrence will be. And the always insightful BunDawg joined me for the entire second half – it was good to catch up.

Two more things I took from my Galen Center experience. First, Petros Papadakis is easily the most annoying PA announcer I have ever heard. I think the 6500 empty seats all wanted to tear themselves from the concrete in unison, but their anchor bolts wouldn't allow it. I really don't know who he wanted to fire up, but it never worked (though I imagine the concourse concessionaires were kept awake). By the first media timeout we were already discussing assassination and how we could do it.

Second, it was the first time I have ever witnessed a referee hand the ball off to a player to begin an inbounds play, only to have the player simply start dribbling up the court without any inbounds pass at all. I'm sure it's happened many times before – it's just that I've never seen it personally. Sorry Tony, but I just had to mention it.

On Friday my friend Jim Horner – who flew in from the snows of Milwaukee to join me – and I took a tour of Warner Brothers studios; the highlight was having lunch at a table next to Chris Nolan, the director of The Dark Knight. We later played cards at the Commerce Casino, where I saw Jennifer Tilly and Barry Greenstein (you poker nuts will know who they are) playing hold ‘em with countless stacks of 100 dollar chips. I should have just given my money to Jim, who ended up winning just about as much as I lost.

Then came the beautiful LA Sports Arena. I remember seeing games there back when I had hair, and it hasn't changed at all. UCLA and Washington fans alike had positive comments for the Dawgman.com shirt I wore. The seats were still comfy enough, though there was plenty of duct tape to mask all the gashes in the cushions. I really thought that Washington played with a high rate of effort and consistency for a good 37 minutes, similar to the Arizona home game - and I never thought for a moment that they would end up losing it. That is until they did.

Yes, Darnell Gant missed the big shot that might have gotten them to the finish line. But the shot was wide open, so I really have no complaints – plus C.J. Wilcox missed a good open look from the corner on the previous possession, so to put anything on Gant taking the final shot is ludicrous. The only issue I had was that in those fateful final three minutes UCLA made all the hustle plays – plays that Washington made earlier. From the standpoint of what could have been on the line for the Huskies, this wasn't exactly a primer for tournament play. Maybe it was a lesson learned; we shall soon see.

But as always, dinner at Fogo de Chao in Beverly Hills took away ANY disappointment. Jim was happy to use his winnings to foot the bill – which included a dessert of 150-year old Grand Marnier. I had never had a T-bone lamb before, and I HIGHLY recommend it. No matter what, a dinner at Fogo is a must if your locale has one. Best not be a vegetarian though – this elegance is solely for those who enjoy the meaty spoils of being at the top of the food chain.

Oh yes, I mustn't forget Beatrice. She was the lovely blonde barmaid who took care of us when we decided to drop in at a local sports pub – the Tavern on Main in El Segundo – to drown our sorrows in brew and Duke-UNC Hoops before our trip back up the 405 to Beverly Hills. She said both her and her mom were named Beatrice after Aunt Bea from the Andy Griffith show. Even stranger, the men's room door had Barney Fife painted on it, and our beloved Aunt Bea was emblazoned on the women's door - so I don't entirely believe that was her true name. Either that or it was just sweet coincidence. But I can assure you Aunt Bea bore NO resemblance to our lovely Beatrice.

Without boring you further by embellishing the obvious, its clear to me that Washington will go as far in March as Wilcox and Ross can take them. Reporting somewhat disheveled from a sunny and warm Los Angeles, Rico wishes everyone a happy Tourney week!!


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