LOS ANGELES – While talking about Washington’s Pacific-10 Conference tournament opener tonight, sophomore guard Isaiah Turner said something several other Huskies said this week: It’s difficult to beat a team three times in the same season.
But he backtracked on a reporter’s follow-up question of why he thinks it’s hard.
“I don’t,” he said. “That’s you guys. I don’t know. I just say it because you guys think that.”
Opinions vary because evidence is mixed.
Since the Pac-10 resumed its tournament in 2002, there have been eight instances where Washington played a third game against a team it had either swept or been swept by in the regular season. In five cases, the team sweeping made it three straight, while in the other three cases the regular-season result was reversed. The most recent of those came last season, when UW swept Arizona State in the regular season but then was knocked out of the tournament by the Sun Devils.
This Pac-10 tournament will provide a lot more to go on because all four of the quarterfinal games today at Staples Center pair teams that were involved in regular-season sweeps.
In the noon game, Arizona will try to make it three straight against UCLA; in the 2:30 game, California will try to run the table on Oregon; in the 6 p.m. game Arizona State tries for its third against Stanford; and then UW will have the same goal in the 8:40 nightcap against Oregon State.
The Huskies opened Pac-10 play on Dec. 31 with a 76-70 win over the Beavers in Seattle, and they closed their regular season Saturday with an 82-70 win in Corvallis, Ore.
Despite those six- and 12-point losses, Oregon State coach Craig Robinson said his players’ confidence remains solid.
“Our guys are pretty motivated,” he said. “They’ve gotten used to winning some games here, so I don’t think (they doubt themselves against Washington). I think just playing a team a third time is exciting because unless (they split), the team that has won is naturally feeling a little better about themselves.”
And that’s the last thing that UW coach Lorenzo Romar wants.
“With this team, its personality, when we feel we’re OK, then we’re not OK,” Romar said.
The Huskies arrived in Los Angeles knowing they have little room for error – and perhaps none.
They managed to get themselves back into contention for an at-large NCAA tournament bid by winning nine of their last 11 regular-season games. But the bracketology consensus is that Washington needs at least two wins in the Pac-10 tournament to keep those hopes alive.
But the Huskies don’t want their fate in the hands of the NCAA selection committee.
“Our goal is to win this tournament,” senior Quincy Pondexter said. “I think every team going in – all nine teams that are able to participate – their goal is to win their games and win the championship, because at that point there’s no more question if you’re a bubble team or not.”
If the Huskies make the mistake of not bringing full focus for a team they’ve already beaten twice, their coach implied they could learn a hard lesson.
“Right now we’re in a dogfight to get into the NCAA tournament,” he said. “If that’s not enough motivation then we shouldn’t be playing. Whether we beat a team, didn’t beat a team, all that … I don’t think anything’s more important right now than us doing well enough to get to the tournament. To me, that’s all the motivation we need.”
Romar took a similar attitude regarding the possibility of only a small crowd being left in massive Staples Center by the time the final game of the day rolls around tonight.
“If we can’t find energy, then we don’t deserve to be playing,” he said. “… At this point, the entire season is on the line.”
Don Ruiz, 253-597-8808
uw men’s basketball gameday
OREGON STATE (14-16) vs. WASHINGTON (21-9)
Tipoff: 8:40 p.m., Staples Center, Los Angeles.
TV: FSN. Radio: 950-AM.
Series: UW leads, 150-135. The Huskies have won the last six meetings, including this season’s 76-70 win on Dec. 31 in Seattle and the 82-70 victory Saturday in Corvallis, Ore.
Statistical leaders: For OSU – G Calvin Haynes, 12.7 ppg; G/F Seth Tarver, 4.7 rpg and 2.5 apg. For UW – F Quincy Pondexter, 20.2 ppg and 7.8 rpg; G Venoy Overton, 3.2 apg.
Scouting report: Washington has won nine of its last 11 regular-season games, while Oregon State lost three of its last five. ... UW led the Pac-10 in scoring (76.4), while OSU was last (58.7). UW also led in offensive rebounds; the Beavers were last in defensive rebounds. ... This game features seven players honored by the Pac-10 this week. For OSU, Haynes was named to the all-league second team, and Roeland Schaftenaar and Tarver received honorable mention. Tarver also was named defensive player of the year. For UW, Pondexter and guard Isaiah Thomas were named to the all-league first team, while Overton and Justin Holiday were named to the all-defensive team.
Next: 8:30 p.m. Friday, winner vs. Stanford-Arizona State winner. Other games today: Noon – No. 4 Arizona (16-14) vs. No. 5 UCLA (13-17); 2:30 p.m. – Oregon (16-15) vs. No. 1 California (21-9); 6 p.m. – No. 2 Arizona State (22-9) vs. No. 7 Stanford (13-17).
Don Ruiz, The News Tribune