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On the Campaign Trail

STANFORD, Calif. — The Pac-10 brass are in full-on campaign mode.

Not that things are much different in other conferences come March, yet it's been an especially successful season for this league — with any team having a chance on any night.

Commissioner Tom Hansen and men's basketball representative Dave Hirsch have been working the phones and sending regular e-mail updates to the NCAA tournament committee as a push to get as many Pac-10 teams into the 65-team field as possible.

They're hoping for seven representatives.

"When you go into the final two weeks and have nine teams that should be considered, seven would be great," Hirsch said after watching a recent Stanford game. "I think we deserve at least six."

UCLA, Stanford and Washington State all are ranked in the Top 25 with 23 or more wins, and the No. 3 Bruins (28-3) just wrapped up their third straight regular-season conference title outright by squeaking by the Bay Area schools at home in Pauley Pavilion. They are riding a seven-game winning streak heading into this weekend's Pac-10 tournament.

While the Pac-10's top three teams are certainly in come Selection Sunday — UCLA possibly as a No. 1 seed — the conference is counting on a few more schools also receiving at-large bids. The Pac-10 tournament has an automatic entry.

Southern California is also likely in after sweeping California and Stanford this past weekend.

Arizona is hoping the committee takes into account the Wildcats' difficult schedule and grants them a bid for the 24th straight year despite an 8-10 conference record. Oregon and Arizona State are also on the bubble and are hoping to boost their chances with good performances at the Pac-10 tournament.

Hansen and Hirsch have had conference calls over the past two weeks with the two committee members who follow the league and were prepared to offer more information about the teams as the season winds down this weekend.

"We've talked to them two or three times," Hansen said Sunday while attending the Pac-10 women's tournament in San Jose.

Going into games on Feb. 28, the Pac-10 could have had seven teams finish tied for third at 9-9 — making it a tough decision which programs to invite and which to leave out.

The Pac-10's goal is to give the committee "tidbits they might not be thinking about" on its teams that could help sway the decision on whether to give a berth.

"We're in constant communication with the NCAA men's basketball committee to provide them with information on our teams and letting them know who's injured and who will return in time for the tournament," Hirsch said. "We let them know why guys are missing games. We don't want to overwhelm them or give them false hopes either."

The coaches and players certainly appreciate any good word for the conference, which has played at such a high level this season any team could pull off an upset at the conference tournament in Los Angeles. A victory or two by a lower-level Pac-10 team in the tournament potentially could earn that school an at-large bid.

UCLA cleaned up in the Pac-10 awards announced Monday, with Kevin Love earning Player of the Year and Freshman of the Year honors and Russell Westbrook taking Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Year. Stanford's Trent Johnson was Coach of the Year.

Love was the only player from the Bruins on the Pac-10 first team, joining California's Ryan Anderson, James Harden of Arizona State, USC's O.J. Mayo and Stanford 7-footer Brook Lopez. Love became only the second player in conference history to be named Player of the Year as a freshman. Shareef Abdur-Rahim earned the recognition in 1995-96 for Cal.

This weekend, everybody knows that UCLA will be the favorite once again playing at home in L.A.

"UCLA's got to be the team to beat going forward," Washington State coach Tony Bennett said. "Physically they're right there at the top, and they're experienced. They've been in the Final Four recently, so they're battle-tested. UCLA and Stanford are teams that make you pay for mistakes, and neither team beats itself when the pressure is on. Both teams should go far in the tournament."

Oregon center Maarty Leunen celebrates with fans after a 78-69 win over Arizona in Eugene Saturday.Oregon finished the season strong and is hopeful of joining a host of other Pac-10 teams in the NCAA tournament. - AP