One In A Series
Undated (AP) _ Although the Nevada-Las Vegas Runnin’ Rebels may be the best team in the West, the Pacific-10 Conference has made some strides in improving its basketball product.
The Pac-10, which has been down the past two years, has a number of returning players who figure to lift the level of basketball being played in the conference.
″The conference will be improved this season because we have most of our top players back,″ UCLA Coach Walt Hazzard said.
The team with the most key players back will be California, the preseason favorite in the Pac-10.
″Cal has to be the favorite because they have all their players coming back,″ Arizona Coach Lute Olson said. ″But we can challenge for it.″
The Rebels practically own their conference, the Pacific Coast Athletic Association. They’ve won it four straight years.
The Rebels have been the best team west of the Rockies two years running. UNLV was the region’s only team to win an NCAA tournament game last year.
What remains to be seen is how much of the country will come under UNLV’s dominance this year.
The Rebels, who finished 33-5 last year, 16-2 in conference, will be paced by senior guard Freddie Banks (17.6 points per game a year ago).
Another key ingredient for UNLV Coach Jerry Tarkanian will be 6-foot-9 senior forward Armon Gilliam, who was third in the PCAA last year in rebounding, and senior point guard Mark Wade, the conference’s top assist man.
″Obviously our seniors must play well for us,″ Tarkanian said. ″They have to play better than last year for us to be super.″
Even though the Pac-10 may be stronger overall, the Runnin’ Rebels figure to be the lone representative from the West Coast strong enough to break into the national top 10 rankings.
The Cal Golden Bears, who made their first postseason appearance in 26 years last year, have all five starters returning from a team that finished 19-10 overall and third in the Pac-10 at 11-7. Forwards Dave Butler (11.8 ppg) and Leonard Taylor (11.9 ppg) and guard Kevin Johnson figure as the Golden Bears’ three best weapons.
The Olson-coached Arizona Wildcats, surprising conference winners a year ago, will turn to guard Craig McMillan (11.8 ppg) and forward Sean Elliot (15.6 ppg) for a repeat try. Arizona finished 14-4 in the Pac-10, 23-9 overall.
However, the Wildcats will be minus their floor leader, guard Steve Kerr, who suffered a knee injury that required reconstructive surgery over the summer and is lost for the season.
Seven-foot center Christian Welp (19.4 ppg, 8.5 rpg) makes a contender of Washington, while sharp-shooter Reggie Miller makes UCLA a longshot.
The Huskies finished second at 13-5 in conference, 19-12 overall last year.
Miller (25.9 ppg) will take advantage the NCAA’s decision to implement a 3- point line as the Bruins try to improve on a 9-9 conference mark, 15-14 overall.
Southern Cal, in its first season under Coach George Raveling, will try to make a go of it with five of last year’s seven top scorers gone. Senior Derrick Dowell (15.5 ppg) is the best returning Trojan.
Sophomore Eric Knox and senior center Jose Ortiz will lead an inexperienced Oregon State team that comes off a 8-10, 12-15 season.
Sophomore guard Todd Lichti (17.2 ppg) and new Coach Mike Montgomery lead the way as Stanford tries to improve its 8-10 conference record, 14-16 overall.
Oregon, 6-12, 14-14 a year ago, will go only as far as guards Anthony Taylor (17.0) and Rick Osborn (10.8) can take it.
Senior guard Steve Beck (14.9 ppg) leads Arizona State, 8-10, 14-14, while Washington State, 8-10, 15-16, hopes 6-9 forward Dwayne Sholten emerges as a force inside.
While Nevada-Las Vegas, which has a 64-6 conference record over the past four years, may stand head and shoulders above the rest of the PCAA, San Jose State and Fullerton State should be improved teams this year.
With last year’s leading scorer, Ricky Berry (18.6 ppg), teaming up with 6-7 junior Reggie Owens, the conference’s top rebounder (8.7 rpg) last year, the Spartans should better their 9-9 conference mark and figure second behind the Runnin’ Rebels. San Jose finished 16-12 overall last year.
Fullerton State, 16-16, struggled to 8-12 in conference play, but were racked by injuries a year ago. The Titans have guard Richard Morton (13.3 ppg), center Herman Webster (10.6 ppg, 5.4 rpg), and forward Henry Turner (10.7 ppg, 6.2 rpg). Junior college transfers, forward Derek Jones and point guard Tyrone Ree, should also help the Titans.
New Mexico State, which made the PCAA tournament final after finishing third at 10-8, has four returning starters, led by guard Kenny Travis (15.2 ppg). The Aggies have to overcome the graduation of last year’s high scorer, forward Gilbert Wilburn.
First-year Coach Ron Adams at Fresno State, which tied for sixth in 1985-86 at 8-10, will count heavily on 6-6 swingman Mike Mitchell, last year’s PCAA Freshman of the Year. Adams, who replaces Boyd Grant, may also get help from 6-11 import Rene Ebeltjes, a center for last year’s Dutch national team.
UC Irvine, 12-6, 17-13, will have to find replacements for Tod Murphy and Johnny Rogers if it hopes to finish second again. Guard Scott Brooks (10.3 ppg) is the Anteaters top returning starter.
Although Long Beach State, 7-22, finished last at 2-16 a year ago, the 6-10 DeAnthony Langston (11.7 ppg) and a transfer from Nevada-Reno, guard Tony Ronzone, could improve things for the 49ers.
How well forward Domingo Rosario recovers from a broken leg will dictate things at Pacific, 9-9, 17-14 last year. Point guard Kevin Nixon and a pure- shooting 6-5 Reid Newey, who returns after a two-year stint in a Morman mission, will lead Utah State, 8-10, 12-16. Only forward Khris Fortson (10.1 ppg) returns from a Cal-Santa Barbara starting lineup that finished 7-11, 12-15 overall, a year ago.
The West Coast Athletic Conference has two top players of its own to boast - Pepperdine’s Eric White and Scott Thompson of the University of San Diego.
The Waves will be counting on White (15.3 ppg, 6.5 rpg) to pick up some of the production lost by the graduation of three starters from last year’s conference-championship team. Junior center Levy Middlebrooks is the Waves’ other returning starter.
Thompson, a 7-footer who averaged 14.4 points, 7.3 rebounds and 1.9 blocked shots per game last year, could make a contender of the Toreros this season.
Loyola Marymount, second a year ago, has lost its two big guns - Forrest McKenzie and Keith Smith - and have only forwards Mark Armstrong and Mike Yoest returning from the starters who finished 10-4 in conference, 19-11 overall.
The University of San Francisco, thanks to three junior college transfers, should show a big improvement over the 7-21 season a year ago. Guard Keith Jackson, forward Patrick Clardy and center Joe Seager will join point guard Rodney Tention as the Dons’ try to right things.
Also figuring to make an impact this season in the WCAC figure to be: Gonzaga’s 6-8 Dale Haaland (9.4 ppg, 6.3 rpg); sophomore Robert Haugen (13.1 ppg, 7.6 rpg) and guard Paul Robertson (15.8 ppg) of St. Mary’s; and 6-9 Dan Weiss (8.9 ppg) of Santa Clara.
End Adv PMs Mon Nov 10