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A Final Four meeting between Arizona, Washington?

BOISE, Idaho -- And so, after 69 games, three against each other, we still can't separate Arizona and Washington.

Well, that's not entirely true. Washington is going to Albuquerque to navigate the Louisville-Georgia Tech chunk of the old West Regional, and Arizona is off to Chicago to negotiate the Oklahoma State-Southern Illinois winner.

But the central fact to come out of the Boise "pod" (almost as stupid a name as Taco Bell Arena, but we'll forgo the history of signage in sports today) is that both the Huskies and Wildcats showed equal facility to control and even dominate their surroundings against teams whose needles rest in the "quirky" part of the dial.

Washington slowly but surely strangled Pacific's best players and then the Tigers' will in a clinical 97-79 win in the opener, followed by Arizona's even firmer control over Alabama-Birmingham in an 85-63 win.

But now that they leave each other's sights for the next week, we are left to wonder if they will meet again in St. Louis in the national semifinals, and if we will ever get a firm idea of which of these kindred spirits is actually better.

True, this is at best a sidebar, for neither team's ticket can be considered punched. Oklahoma State's rebar-strength zone defense likely awaits the Wildcats, while Washington has to get past the Lou'ville-Tech game to win the right to deal with Wake Forest.

Besides, this mi-liga-es-su-liga stuff has a pretty limited shelf life at this time of year, unless you're a commissioner or some other well-paid indolent.

Still, since Arizona center Channing Frye brought it up on his own ...

"I thought it was cool that the Washington fans were rooting for us at the start," he said. "We like them, and we like Washington's team. We hope we can meet in the Final Four. We want our conference to get the attention and respect it deserves."

You can almost hear the spines on Billy Packer's back starting to bristle.

But we digress.

Both Washington and Arizona dealt serious blows to a tournament with an inordinate measure of legitimate surprises. So far, a 10-seed (North Carolina State), an 11 (UAB), two 12s (both of them Wisconsin-Milwaukee), a 13 (Vermont) and a 14 (Bucknell) have cheated gravity by playing well against vulnerable betters, but the second round tends to be the great equalizer.

In fact, Boise was decidedly ground-bound. Other than Salim Stoudamire's asthma, which caused him to struggle a bit against Utah State, there were no dramatic shifts in the tectonic plates here. Stoudamire used his inhaler slightly differently Saturday and went for 28 points in 30 minutes.

Other than that, it was all chalk, all the time. Only one of the six games here was decided by less than 10, and even though Washington's players are still a little grumpy about "only" beating Montana by 11 (which was actually 17 if you eliminate garbage time), this was a weekend devoid of energy beyond that exerted by the two winners.

Indeed, UAB is the live underdog with the right style (very up-tempo, sprung by an aggressive press) that could have energized the neutrals in the crowd, but the Washington fans had cast their lot for conference allegiance, and the Pacific fans had slunk off to the Stagecoach Inn for the meat-as-thick-as-your-neck special.

Thus, Arizona's players were geeked up at the start of the game ("I was way too jumpy at the start," Stoudamire said, explaining his five first-half turnovers) but had more than enough time and atmosphere to calm down, methodically break the Blazer press and grind their offense into a thin green paste (33 percent shooting, 6-for-30 behind the line, dominated at the arc and beneath the basket).

Washington's win was no more dramatic, in that their most difficult defensive task, stopping Pacific's Christian Maraker, was actually as easy as siccing Bobby Jones on him. Maraker scored 10 straight in an early mini-run, but that ended when Jones returned with eight minutes to play in the half.

Maraker didn't score again, nobody else rose to lift his end of the piano, and Jones and Nate Robinson (28, seven rebounds in 30 minutes) cut a wide swath for their mates to march through and to send the Tigers home in the second round for the second consecutive year.

The result of all this meat-and-potatoes-enriched ribaldry? The two best teams not only survived but thrived. Arizona and Washington are still nostril-to-nostril, and unless they separate themselves in the regionals, we won't get the read on this little mini-drama until April 2.

We can wait. They will have to.

Ray Ratto is a columnist with the San Francisco Chronicle and a regular contributor to ESPN.com