- Michelle Smith, Contributor, espnW.com
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Let's just call it what is was: Awkwaaaarrrd.
Oregon coach Paul Westhead was on the Pac-12 conference call Tuesday morning talking up the strength of the league, and musing about the challenging weekend in front of his struggling Ducks -- a Friday night game against No. 4 Stanford, followed by a Sunday matchup against No. 6 Cal, the two teams tied atop the conference standings at 7-1.
"I still think Stanford is the premier team right now," Westhead said, admitting surprise that the Cardinal were beaten by Cal two weeks go to end Stanford’s 81-game conference win streak. "I’m always an advocate that until somebody beats you and pushes you aside, you are still the best. It was obviously a big win for Cal a couple of weeks ago, but I still think Stanford is the better team in our conference."
While he talked, Cal coach Lindsay Gottlieb waited on the open phone line to go next. Asked whether she heard Westhead's comments, she chuckled and said, "I heard it."
NNo one has more respect for Stanford than me and our program," Gottlieb said. "History has proved that they are the champions and I firmly believe they are until somebody knocks them off."
Westhead, and even Gottlieb, are espousing an old-school coaches' view. If you are Stanford and you've won 12 straight conference titles and taken every other team in the conference to the proverbial woodshed over these past few years, you get to be considered the best team until somebody else takes your title.
But Gottlieb also knows the Bears have something a little special going as well.
"Do I feel good that we are making a name for ourselves nationally? Yes," Gottlieb said. "But do I think that we will always, in some ways, be compared to Stanford relative to their success? Probably."
Gottlieb’s graciousness aside, if the Bears needed a little more incentive to play in Eugene on Sunday against the 1-7 Ducks, they probably have it.