Snowy weather and potential travel difficulties could add to a challenging visit to the Pacific Northwest this weekend for Pac-12 Conference men's basketball co-leaders Cal and Stanford.
Because of the league's new, unbalanced schedule, made to accommodate two additional teams, this will be the only shot the Golden Bears and Cardinal get against Washington, which is one-half game back in the standings and poised to overtake both Bay Area teams.
"Coach (Mike Montgomery) said right after the game (Saturday), we don't get these guys at home," Cal point guard Justin Cobbs said. "So we should go out there with a little chip on our shoulder."
And a warm coat.
Cal (15-4, 5-1 Pac-12) faces the Huskies (11-6, 4-1) on Thursday in Seattle, with Stanford (15-3, 5-1) taking on Washington State (9-8, 1-4) in Pullman. The teams swap opponents on Saturday after making cross-state treks.
The Washington trip always is among the league's most difficult because of logistics and because the Huskies are so good at home. Fueled by an excitable student section, UW is 7-3 vs. Cal and 8-2 vs. Stanford over the past 10 years in Seattle.
Just getting there this weekend will be a chore, Stanford coach Johnny Dawkins said this week. Both areas were hit by snow Wednesday and the forecast is for more Thursday.
"We go into environments where it's not going to be perfect," said Dawkins, whose team was scheduled to travel Wednesday night from
Pac-12 teams are playing an 18-game conference schedule this season, but each school will miss one trip and one homestand against another set of travel partners on a rotating yearly basis.
Cal and Stanford miss the Arizona trip this season, meaning they avoid playing a good Arizona team in the oppressive atmosphere of McKale Center in Tucson. But the Bears and Cardinal also miss an Arizona State team near the bottom of the standings.
Which Pac-12 team has the roughest road this season is a matter of perspective.
"I think we started out with one of the tougher trips in the league," said Colorado coach Tad Boyle, whose team arrived in the Bay Area last week with a 3-0 conference record, then lost twice.
Cal is 13-0 at home this season, Stanford 11-1.
Oregon State coach Craig Robinson said Washington remains the toughest trip because it requires a flight between games. But Robinson pointed out that the Beavers don't have to travel to Colorado and Utah. The league's newcomers believe they have a secret weapon: Altitude. Boulder, Colo., sits at 5,430-foot elevation, and Salt Lake City is 4,226 feet above sea level.
Los Angeles typically has posed a challenge because UCLA is a perennial contender in the conference. But the Bruins are playing most of their games this year at the decrepit Los Angeles Sports Arena while Pauley Pavilion is renovated.
Washington State's Ken Bone said that bad weather in Pullman is a double-edged sword and not merely a hindrance to visiting teams. Many WSU fans live 80 miles away in Spokane, and Bone said, "We probably don't get as good of crowds when there's snowing falling or a chance of ice on the roads."
Montgomery said coaches can drive themselves crazy trying to dissect all the road scenarios. The bottom line, he said: "Nothing you can do and no point worrying about it."