Pac-10 combines hoops tourneys

LOS ANGELES -- The Pac-10 is combining its men's and women's basketball tournament for the first time in 2011, when the semifinal and title games will be played at Staples Center.

The conference said Thursday that all four rounds of the men's tournament will again be played at Staples. The first two rounds of the women's event will be at Galen Center on the Southern California campus before shifting to Staples for the final two days.

The combined tournament will run March 9-12.

"So much of March Madness doesn't necessarily begin with the NCAA tournament," second-year Arizona coach Sean Miller said. "It begins with your conference tournament."

The women will take the daytime slot for their semifinals on March 11 before turning it over to the men for their evening semis. The women's title game will precede the men's championship game on March 12.

It's the first time in the 10-year history of the women's tournament that it will be played at an NBA venue. Attendance in previous years at Galen has been sparse.

"For the women, it's an excellent venue to showcase their talent," said USC women's coach Michael Cooper, who previously coached the WNBA's Los Angeles Sparks in the arena.

The men's tourney will begin March 9 with two evening games. The women open that day at Galen with two games in the afternoon and two in the evening.

On March 10, two men's quarterfinals will be played during the day and the other two at night at Staples. The women will play their second round with a mid-afternoon game, followed by another in late afternoon at Galen.

Washington was picked on Thursday to win the Pac-10 title, a season after the Huskies won the conference tournament and reached the final 16 of the NCAA tourney.

The Huskies received 348 points and 33 first-place votes in polling by media who cover the conference. They return four starters, including All-Pac-10 guard Isaiah Thomas, who averaged 16.9 points last season.

"It's flattering," coach Lorenzo Romar said. "I like our team, but I don't know if we're ready to win a Pac-10 yet. We got a lot of work to do."

Washington is ranked 18th in the AP Top 25 preseason poll. Arizona and UCLA were the only Pac-10 teams among others receiving votes.

Arizona earned 296 points and one first-place vote in the Pac-10 media poll. The Wildcats also return four starters, including Pac-10 freshman of the year Derrick Williams, who averaged 15.7 points and 7.1 rebounds.

"Preseason predictions are just that, nobody's played a game yet," Miller said. "There's probably four or five teams that can compete to finish second."

UCLA was picked third, receiving 281 points and the only other first-place vote two years after the Bruins won their third consecutive Pac-10 title.

In the media poll, Arizona State was fourth, followed by Washington State, USC, defending champion California, Oregon State, Stanford and Oregon.

As it did in moving football media day to the Rose Bowl this year, the conference moved its basketball day to Nokia Theatre across from Staples. Coaches and athletes sat in spotlights on the stage and looked out upon a darkened theatre.

It's all part of new Pac-10 Commissioner Larry Scott's plan to raise the conference's national profile.

He said the upcoming season will be dedicated to John Wooden, the late UCLA coach who died in June at 99.

The men's and women's Pac-10 coach of the year awards will be renamed for Wooden, and his family will be honored during the tournament.

"He represents all the good things in basketball," Stanford women's coach Tara VanDerveer said. "It will keep him in our hearts."

The conference is producing sportsmanship public service announcements that will share Wooden's famous "Pyramid of Success" and air in each school's arena during the season.