Sports Beat, 3-10-08

--UCLA has played like garbage lately, and probably should have lost three in a row. Instead, they held off Arizona, had a miracle comeback OT win over Stanford, and then shocked Cal thanks to Josh Shipp making the shot of the year. The Bruins need to take advantage of the Pac-10 Tournament to get on a roll and into a flow before the NCAA Tournament. Right now, they're not playing well enough to go far. But even if UCLA loses early this week at STAPLES Center, they're virtually assured of a No. 1 seed.

--According to's Andy Glockner, USC is now a lock for the NCAA Tournament. That designation comes thanks to an impressive 77-64 win over Stanford in which the Trojans employed a full-court press to stifle the Cardinal. Now, OJ Mayo is sending signals that he might actually stay in school, but I'll believe it when I see it. USC still projects as a 7-seed, but if a few more teams like San Diego win their conference tournaments, then USC could move up to the six line.

--The Pac-10 Tournament is this week at STAPLES Center. I'm about to write something that I know is extremely unpopular: I don't think the Pac-10 should hold a conference tournament. I've never been a fan of conference tournaments in general. In smaller conferences, I think they can prevent a conference from being represented by its best team. In the large conferences, I think they unnecessarily wear teams down.

For years, the Pac-10 didn't have a tournament, and UCLA and Arizona won national titles in 1995 and 1997 respectively. But now, the Pac-10 has its top teams playing up to three games in three consecutive days, less than a week before their first tournament game. Pac-10 teams play 18 regular season conference games, more than any other conference except the Big East which also plays 18. This a time when teams should be conserving energy for the Big Dance, not expending more of it on a tournament that does not matter for UCLA, Stanford, Washington State, and USC.

I know it brings some money to the city, and I know it's a fun event to attend, but let the ACC, Big Ten, and SEC teams batter and bruise themselves this weekend over meaningless titles, while our top teams can prepare for what really matters... the field of 65.

--The Lakers forgot to play defense last night in a loss to the Sacramento Kings, but they still have the best record in the Western Conference. The Lakers fortunes are looking pretty good these days compared to other teams. Phoenix is 4-6 since the Shaq trade, and Dallas is 5-5 since they acquired Jason Kidd. It seems like both players are having difficulty adjusting to new systems. In the meantime, the Houston Rockets have won 19 in a row, but there's no way the can continue winning without Yao Ming (right?!). New Orleans has a great up-and-coming team, but they don't seem to have quite enough experience to stay on top for long. That leaves San Antonio as the Lakers main challenge for the top seed. The Spurs may very well take it, but if you're a Laker fan, then you have to be feeling pretty good about your standing right now, even if Andrew Bynum is out for another month.

--The Clippers continue to struggle, but at least Donald Sterling and Mike Dunleavy are speaking again. Sterling reaffirmed his commitment to Dunleavy last week, and now the team can focus on praying that Elton Brand and Corey Maggette choose to stay.

--It's been a very perplexing season for the LA Kings. With a proven general manager in Dean Lombardi, a Stanley Cup-winning head coach in Marc Crawford, and a talented young lineup that includes the likes of Anze Kopitar, it was widely believed that the Kings would take a big step forward in their rebuilding process. Instead, the Kings currently have the worst record in the NHL and Lombardi answered some tough questions from season ticket holders yesterday. Lombardi is the right man to lead the Kings, and I'm sure he'll turn the franchise around in due time. However, there are rumors circulating that Crawford's job is in jeopardy.

--Andy LaRoche underwent surgery today to repair a torn thumb ligament that effectively handed the starting third base job to Nomar Garciaparra. LA loves Nomar and Nomar loves LA. But relationships in sports can be fleeting, and he's going to need to hit more than seven home runs this year to stay in the fans' good graces. He's fortunate to have been given the opportunity after his lackluster play last season.

In the meantime, Clayton Kershaw is the talk of spring training as video of him befuddling Sean Casey is making its way around the internet. There are some who want Kershaw to open the season in the rotation, but the Dodgers would be smart to make him wait. He turns only 20 next week, and the history of players called up to the majors at that young age is littered with stories of high pressures, immature behaviors, and unmet expectations. I don't know Kershaw personally, and I don't know if he is quite ready to handle the rigors and pressures that come with being a major leaguer. But I do know that most players his age aren't, and they need to be developed properly in the minor leagues. I've always felt that a minor leaguer should experience and overcome some degree of adversity in his baseball career before he can be effective in the majors.

--It was a tough week to be a Long Beach State fan, as the men's basketball program has been hit with sanctions stemming from NCAA rules violations that occurred under former coach Larry Reynolds. The 49ers will lose scholarships, be restricted in recruiting, and be placed on probation. New head coach Dan Monson is charged with trying to rebuild the program, and there's no reason why he can't. Monson built Gonzaga into the nation's premier mid-major program, and while he couldn't replicate that success at Minnesota, Long Beach State is a program that you can win at. Seth Greenberg proved that in the early-mid 1990s. There's a ton of top basketball talent in Southern California, and not everyone can play at USC and UCLA.

March 10, 2008 8:15 PM • Native Intelligence • Email the editor

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