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Friday, February 25, 2011
Arizona and UCLA back on top of the Pac-10

By Diamond Leung

Not that the Pac-10 is what it once was, but a sign of improvement is that longtime rivals Arizona and UCLA are back atop the conference.

UCLA is one game behind Arizona heading into Saturday's game at Pauley Pavilion. Where the two teams are in the standings is far cry from last season. The Wildcats saw their 25-year streak of NCAA tournament appearances snapped in Sean Miller's first season while the Bruins slumped to a 14-18 record and only their third losing season since 1948.

It is a boon to the conference's prestige that two of its most successful programs are once again in a position to win the regular-season title.

"When you look at those two schools' tradition, and people associate the Pac-10 with those schools, I think people always look year in and year out to see how they're doing," said Washington coach Lorenzo Romar, a former UCLA assistant. "You look at the ACC, and I think people will look and see how North Carolina and Duke are doing. And if they're having down years, people can assume that maybe the ACC is down, and that isn't always necessarily the case.

"I think their tradition, their profile, what they've done, their body of work over the last 30 years gets people's attention when they're doing well."

Both teams are young, but filled with talent. Derrick Williams is having as good of a year for the Wildcats as anyone while he carries the load and bolsters his status as a potential first-round pick in this year's draft. And at UCLA, there is plenty of pro potential on the roster with Tyler Honeycutt, Malcolm Lee and Joshua Smith.

The immediate future looks good as well, with Arizona bringing in a top recruiting class next season and UCLA adding David Wear and Travis Wear, the twin transfers from North Carolina.

First comes Saturday's game, and with a win, Arizona can clinch at least a share of the title.

"This is what you play for, to play against a great team like Arizona," UCLA coach Ben Howland said.