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Originally published February 17, 2005 at 12:00 AM | Page modified February 17, 2005 at 11:06 AM

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Men's College Basketball

Pac-10 notebook: Should "Let 'em play" rule the day?

Lou Campanelli, conference officiating coordinator, says critics' cries are off the mark.

Seattle Times staff reporter

Lou Campanelli once thought the same thing as Dick Bennett, Rob Evans and any number of Pac-10 men's basketball coaches who come into the conference from other parts of the country, watch how games are officiated out here, and wonder what's going on.

In 1985, Campanelli — now the Pac-10's coordinator of men's basketball officiating — took over at Cal after 13 years at James Madison, and his initial reaction was that the Pac-10 officials didn't let 'em play the way they did elsewhere in the country.

It's a common perception of the Pac-10, voiced again in recent days by Bennett, the coach at Washington State, and Evans, the coach at Arizona State.

"I'm used to the Big Ten where they would kind of let the players decide the game," Bennett said after a frustrating WSU loss at Oregon on Saturday that featured a controversial flagrant foul call against Cougar Jeff Varem in the final seconds.

Campanelli, however, no longer sympathizes as much with Bennett or Evans, who formerly coached at Mississippi and said this week, "they allowed you to play a little bit more in the SEC and be a little more aggressive."

"It's a different game now than it was five years ago," Campanelli says, pointing to an NCAA mandate to officials in the fall of 2000 to clean up the game.

Campanelli, who assumed his current job in April 2000, said conferences were told then to begin eliminating "rough, physical play" and again make basketball a game of "skill and finesse."

And that's what Campanelli said the Pac-10 has done.

"Our guys are calling the game the way the national committee wants it to be called," he said.

So when Campanelli hears complaints after games like the Washington-Oregon contest Thursday — in which 67 combined fouls were called and 96 free throws attempted — he views conference officials as having done their job.

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Campanelli, who attended that game — he was also at the WSU-Oregon game and UW-Oregon State contests — said it was important for the officials to take control from the start, given the intensity of the setting and the rivalry.

"Both teams (Oregon and UW) went at each other pretty good," he said. "If the officials had let all of that stuff go, what would have been the result?"

Campanelli also shrugs off the complaint lodged by Bennett. "When Bennett was in the Big Ten (he left Wisconsin in 2000), they didn't have these points of emphasis," he said.

Campanelli says other conferences were slower to catch on to those points of emphasis and that any perceived difference in how games are called in the Pac-10 as opposed to other conferences is dissipating. "The rest of the conferences are starting to buy in now," he said.

Still, that doesn't stop the complaints. UW players have been called for 23 or more fouls in all but one Pac-10 road game this season (they have been whistled for more than that only twice otherwise), and they seem to think that conference officials are under a mandate to keep Washington's aggressive perimeter defense in check. Several have pointed to conversations with officials before games as proof.

Campanelli, however, says officials meet with captains and post players before every game to discuss the "points of emphasis" and says "the style of play doesn't dictate the style of officiating."

UW coach Lorenzo Romar has mostly stayed above the fray. Asked about Pac-10 officiating this week, he pointed out that in every conference he has ever been in, the number one topic of conversations at coaches' meetings is the officiating.

"It's a tough job," Romar said.

And one that Campanelli insists the Pac-10 is doing as well as anybody.

As evidence, he cites the fact that Pac-10 officials routinely are selected for high-profile gigs at the NCAA tournament. Most notably, Pac-10 official Dick Cartmell, a former guard at Richland High, has worked the NCAA title game the last three years.

"I think that speaks for itself," Campanelli said.

Lonely duo

It seems hard to believe that just two Pac-10 teams — Arizona and Washington, which are locks — will qualify for the NCAA tournament, and we don't think it will happen.

Still, the danger is there after the events of last week, when Arizona State was swept in Los Angeles, UCLA was blown out at home by Arizona, and Stanford lost its leading scorer (Dan Grunfeld) for the season with a knee injury.

Realistically, those are the only other Pac-10 teams with a chance at the NCAA tourney, though Oregon State could work its way into contention if it somehow got to 20 wins.

Arizona State is 16-9 but 5-8 in Pac-10 play and has to worry more about simply making it into the conference postseason tournament.

Stanford (7-5, 13-9) and UCLA (7-6, 13-8) are the only other teams with winning conference records, and their names will help. Still, each has some work to do. The winner of Sunday's Stanford-UCLA game in Stanford will become the favorite, assuming each can win tomorrow as well.

RIM SHOTS

• ASU's sudden free fall — the Sun Devils have lost three in a row, seven of 10 and were swept this season by lowly USC — has the future of coach Rob Evans again in doubt. One Phoenix columnist described the quandary that Evans presents for ASU officials, however. He has cleaned up the program after the scandal-ridden Bill Frieder years, and he has had a modicum of success. If ASU got into the NCAA tournament this year, it would be the Sun Devils' second berth in three years. Conversely, if ASU doesn't make it this year — as now seems likely — ASU will have made it to the tournament just once in Evans' seven years in Tempe.

• Oregon State's program is showing signs of life under Jay John. The 14 wins are the most by OSU since the 1991-92 season. But the Beavers have to prove they can win on the road — 1-13 in Pac-10 play the past two seasons — before anyone really takes them seriously. OSU is 10-1 at home this year, losing only to Arizona.

OSU was 1-8 on the road in Pac-10 play last year, the worst record by a conference team.

• Grunfeld was averaging 17.9 points per game and was maybe the most improved player in the conference. Stanford coach Trent Johnson sounded unsure how the Cardinal will replace him. Stanford has just eight healthy scholarship players.

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