E. Washington-Washington Preview
Two years of barely cracking .500 was enough for Washington, and Lorenzo Romar's team showed just how set it is on putting those times behind it with a smothering performance against a ranked opponent the last time out.
The 17th-ranked Huskies now face a less-vaunted foe, though Eastern Washington could further establish up-and-coming status by denying Romar's team its best start in nine seasons.
The in-state opponents meet Sunday night in Seattle with Washington (7-0) seeking its first 8-0 start since an 11-0 run to begin a 2005-06 season that ended in the Sweet 16.
"We've had two years where we've been mediocre and guys don't want to be mediocre anymore," said Romar, whose team finished 17-15 a season ago after an 18-16 campaign in 2012-13 and is back in the Top 25 for the first time since March 2011.
Mediocrity - at least on the defensive end - didn't make it off the bench in last Sunday's 49-36 victory over then-No. 13 San Diego State in Seattle. The Huskies limited the Aztecs to 20.4 percent shooting - the lowest mark in Romar's 13 seasons at the school - and the 36 points were the fewest Washington allowed since 1970.
"We told our team before we even started practicing, that potentially we could be a really, really good defensive team," Romar said.
They've lived up to that and are among the stingiest teams in the country with a 33.6 percent season mark.
"We want to make a statement every game," said guard Nigel Williams-Goss, who led all scorers with 15 points. "Before the first game of the season we said, 'Let's make a statement.'"
To make another, they'll need to slow an Eastern Washington team that's had plenty of offensive success.
The Eagles (8-1) are among the national leaders with 85.0 points per game on 52.4 percent shooting. Their perimeter game has also been strong, hitting 41.9 percent after a 12-for-25 performance Thursday in an 81-76 win at San Francisco.
Ognjen Miljkovic made 4 of 7 from long range and led the way with 20 points. The sophomore is averaging 17.8 in the previous four games after managing just 8.8 in his first four.
Still, the forward is only complementing top scorers Venky Jois (21.1) and Tyler Harvey (20.4). Jois, a 6-foot-8 forward, has scored 26.3 while shooting 70.2 percent in four games. Harvey, a 6-4 guard, started strong by shooting 52.0 percent over seven games but has cooled to 33.3 in the last two.
It's all amounted to Eastern Washington's best start since joining Division I in 1983 and the school's best overall in 38 years. A signature win is next on the wish list.
"They are a very good team - a Top 25 team - but what a great opportunity for us to measure up against the Huskies," Eagles coach Jim Hayford told the school's official website. "If ... they are a high-major Top 25, what does that make us if we beat them? That's what we are going use to fire up our team, and we'll use the experience at San Francisco when we play at UW's gym."
Washington has certainly labored more for its points, shooting 43.5 percent after hitting 37.5 against San Diego State. Williams-Goss is averaging a team-best 14.7 points.
Washington has won the last eight meetings and holds a 12-1 advantage in the series.
Eastern Washington has lost its last 16 against the Top 25 by an average of 19.7 points, including a 77-68 defeat at then-No. 22 SMU on Nov. 22.