Surging Washington, Cal meet for Pac-10 lead
SEATTLE – Almost 3 1/2 months into the season, Washington coach Lorenzo Romar says he may have found a cure for the Huskies’ road woes. Being 0-6 away from Seattle has jeopardized their quest for a second straight Pac-10 title and NCAA tournament appearance.
“This year, with our kids out of the house, my wife’s been going on the road trips,” Romar joked while preparing his second-place Huskies (16-7, 6-5 Pac-10) for Thursday night’s showdown at first-place California (15-8, 7-4). “We may just leave her home.”
If only Leona was Washington’s issue away from Seattle.
“I don’t know what it is, but she’s definitely not the bad-luck person,” Quincy Pondexter said.
Pondexter leads the Huskies with 20.6 points per game. He just tied a league record by winning his fourth Pac-10 player of the week award in one season.
“I think the road issue is getting out of hand a little bit,” Pondexter said, trying to downplay the attention it has been getting. “It’s only been a few games.”
True. But the Huskies would still be nationally ranked, comfortably atop the conference and far from sweating an NCAA bid if their road record was merely half as bad. If they hadn’t given away an overtime loss at Texas Tech, made key mistakes and watched a UCLA shot swish at the buzzer in Los Angeles or suffered a miserable weekend at Arizona and Arizona State last month.
Four consecutive wins have the Huskies thinking they’re playing better and more consistently than they have all season. Two of those were blowouts of Washington State and on Saturday of then-first place ASU, when Isaiah Thomas re-emerged to lessen Pondexter’s scoring burden.
Of course, those four wins came at home. Washington is 16-1 there this season.
Joking aside, Romar said the issue is energy, and sustaining it once they leave town.
“I wouldn’t say I’m concerned. I’m more curious than concerned,” the veteran coach said of his team’s issues on the road. “Just anxious.”
That’s because every Husky knows what’s at stake, and how rare the stage is they are about to enter.
Not only is Thursday’s game for first place between the Pac-10’s co-favorites entering the season, it is airing on ESPN2 and is tipping off an hour and a half earlier than usual.
Instead of a semi-national broadcast on the Pac-10’s usual midweek cable outlet – Fox’s regional sports network – the Huskies and Bears will start earlier and be shown coast-to-coast. Members of the NCAA tournament selection committee can watch from their living room.
There is building chorus of national experts who think the underwhelming Pac-10 may be worthy of just one NCAA tournament slot: the league’s tournament champion to be determined in four weeks.
Romar disagrees. “I would be surprised if only one team is taken. Really surprised,” he said. “The league has more to offer than that.”
Yet the coach said he wouldn’t be surprised if only two Pac-10 teams make the NCAAs.
Thursday is a showcase for that at-large berth. No other team in the league has fewer than eight losses.
“Our team knows the significance of this game,” said Pondexter, who scored 21 of his 25 points in a runaway first half on Jan. 16 in Seattle, when Washington whipped the Bears 84-69. “We have to prove we are one of the best teams in this conference.”
Romar said he’s concerned the team hasn’t had energy in true road games, the last-second loss at UCLA being the exception. Romar said he and everyone else will be able to tell right away if the energy is there this time.
Are the Huskies contesting the many jump shots they expect from Cal’s Patrick Christopher, Theo Robertson and 3-point leader Jerome Randle? One of those three has scored at least 20 points in all but three games this season.
Are the Huskies diving for loose balls? Are they running the floor on fast breaks, both on offense and defense?
“I would be shocked if we go on the road here and go on the floor and have no energy,” Romar said.
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