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Race may be wide open in the Pac-10

Close the book on first-semester basketball.

Tip your cap to the "Tip Off" classic.

Thanks to Biola and Prairie View for stopping by Pauley Pavilion and Pepperdine for driving the diamond lane over to USC.

But that's Pepper-done.

The Pacific 10 Conference season opens Friday with everyone tied at 0-0 and some preconceived notions getting seriously tested.

Maybe UCLA isn't going to dominate, maybe Arizona without Lute Olson isn't going to go gentle into the desert night, maybe USC freshman DeMar DeRozan isn't all that yet, maybe Oregon State won't go 0-18 again.

Maybe the league is down after losing seven players to the NBA's first round, maybe it won't get six NCAA bids again and maybe UCLA is still the team to beat.

But maybe the Pac-10 is going to be better and closer and tougher than we thought.

Last season, UCLA won the regular-season title with a record of 16-2.

This year?

"I'd be surprised if the winner was better than 14-4 or even 13-5," UCLA Coach Ben Howland said.

UCLA lost a lot of long arms and long legs, but no one's waving a sympathy towel.

"I'd like to have UCLA's problems," first-year California Coach Mike Montgomery said.

As of Friday, though, the preseason media poll looks like an airball.

Bay Area rivals California and Stanford, picked to finish eighth and ninth, begin conference play a combined 21-2.

Stanford is 10-0.

California is 11-2.

"Mike is sandbagging people up there," USC Coach Tim Floyd joked of Montgomery's Bears.

Stanford got shorter when it lost the towering Lopez twins, but new Coach Johnny Dawkins now has the Cardinal playing faster.

"It coincided with the fact you don't have the bigs that were here," Dawkins said. "So it kind of fell that way for us."

Stanford is averaging nearly 80 points a game after a 111-66 victory over a Texas Tech team still coached by a Knight (Pat).

Arizona State, projected to challenge UCLA for this season's title, did not earn many early-season compliments from its coach, Herb Sendek.

"I think our team has a hell of a lot of work to do, to be honest with you," Sendek said.

Soon after he spoke, the Sun Devils got to work and made a school-record 17 three-point shots in a 90-55 victory over Idaho State.

First-year Oregon State Coach Craig Robinson, brother-in-law of the president-elect, has introduced big words and fresh ideas to a sad-sack program.

The Beavers snapped a 25-game losing streak against Fresno State and carry a four-game winning streak into the conference home opener against UCLA.

"There's a plethora of behaviors that you have to learn, and that's what we're trying to do," Robinson said. "We're following the template, start at bottom. Not quite John Wooden telling them how to tie their shoes, but certainly sort of how to go about behaving at practice and in games and things of that nature."

Arizona's record of 24 consecutive NCAA tournament bids was thought to be in serious jeopardy when Olson abruptly resigned before the season and left the program in the hands of an interim, Russ Pennell.

The Wildcats, though, were left with enough front-line talent to hand Gonzaga its first loss this season, while also scoring a signature win over Kansas.

A look at the conference race based on the nonconference records:

Stanford (10-0)

Opening Pac act: host Arizona State and Arizona.

Comment: People focused on what Stanford lost (the Lopez twins) and forgot the three quality seniors Dawkins inherited: Mitch Johnson, Anthony Goods and Lawrence Hill.

Arizona State (11-1)

Opening Pac act: at California and Stanford.

Comment: Holding firm at its preseason prediction position while boasting the conference's best player in sophomore guard James Harden.

California (11-2)

Opening Pac act: host Arizona and Arizona State.

Comment: Montgomery is already proving why he was one of the nation's best coaches in his 18 seasons at Stanford.

UCLA (10-2)

Opening Pac act: at Oregon State and at Oregon.

Comment: Program is oiled enough under Howland to lose three top picks to the NBA (Kevin Love, Russell Westbrook, Luc Richard Mbah a Moute) and still be favored to win the league title. Bruins are undersized in the post and are going to see a lot of zone defenses.

Arizona (9-3)

Opening Pac act: at California and at Stanford.

Comment: A program left stranded after Olson's abrupt retirement is holding tough, led by able veterans Chase Budinger, Jordan Hill and Nic Wise. Can these guys ride the Wildcats to a 25th consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance?

USC (9-3)

Opening Pac act: at Oregon and Oregon State.

Comment: Much-hyped freshman star DeMar DeRozan got off to a slow start but has scored 18, 17 and 18 points in the Trojans' last three wins over North Dakota State, Georgia Tech and Oral Roberts. USC could be really good in a month.

Washington (9-3)

Opening Pac act: at Washington State on Saturday.

Comment: ESPN basketball expert Andy Katz called Washington the conference's most disappointing team in preseason, but the Huskies, led by senior forward Jon Brockman, are expected to go ahead and play out the schedule.

Washington State (8-4)

Opening Pac act: host Washington on Saturday.

Comment: The Cougars definitely are down a notch after losing top-notch backcourt players Derrick Low and Kyle Weaver, yet the team's methodical style of play and tenacity on defense will keep it in most games.

Oregon (6-6)

Opening Pac act: host USC and UCLA.

Comment: Playing a freshman at point guard (Garrett Sim) and center (Michael Dunigan) will force the Ducks to lean a lot on junior guard Tajuan Porter, averaging 14.9 points entering conference play.

Oregon State (5-5)

Opening Pac act: host UCLA and USC.

Comment: Oregon State appears improved, but now comes the real test. The Beavers were 6-7 entering Pac-10 play last season before losing all 18 league games.