Soft schedule toughens for No. 17 Huskies
So much for Washington's soft preliminary warmup acts, the ones padded with second-rate opponents and homecourt spoils.
Saturday, the 17th-ranked Huskies (6-1) leave Seattle for only the second time this season to play No. 15 Georgetown (7-0) in the Wooden Classic in Anaheim, Calif. Then come home games with formerly ranked Portland, which beat Washington to begin last season before the Huskies won the Pac-10 championship, and with No. 16 Texas A&M (8-1).
``Now starts what you could call the 'pre-Pac-10' part of our schedule,'' Washington coach Lorenzo Romar said. ``Top 25 opponents, opponents who will come out and really test us.''
Romar is being charitable to the current state of the Pac-10.
The Huskies are the conference's only ranked team, with no one else seemingly destined to join them soon. Washington State (7-2) is the only other Pac-10 team with fewer than three losses, and the Cougars blew a big second-half lead and lost at Gonzaga in their only game against a ranked opponent.
Perennial powerhouse UCLA, which plays Mississippi State in Saturday's second game of the Wooden Classic, is 2-5. California, the conference's preseason choice as champion, got beaten up by national big boys Syracuse and Ohio State in a November tournament in New York. Then the Golden Bears (6-3) lost at New Mexico to further tarnish their national image.
So Washington's first-ever game against Georgetown is a test the likes of which the UW may not see all season.
And it's one the Huskies have been looking forward to since it was scheduled in July.
``Yes. The next one is a heavyweight fight,'' leading scorer and senior captain Quincy Pondexter said.
The Hoyas are coming off a win over No. 20 Butler on Tuesday. They will give Pondexter, Matthew Bryan-Amaning and inexperienced redshirt freshman Tyreese Breshers, the lone banger among the smallish Huskies, their toughest task of the season so far inside.
Greg Monroe is a 6-foot-11 sophomore who set career highs with 24 points and 15 rebounds against Butler.
``We've still got a lot of growing to do,'' Pondexter said. He was correct in more ways than one.
Nobody who plays for Washington is taller than the 6-9 Bryan-Amaning, whose production has been erratic. Pondexter, who was just named Pac-10 player of the week for the second time this season and is averaging 22.3 points per game, is five inches shorter than Monroe. Breshers gives up four inches to Monroe and is still rounding into full game shape following shin surgery and a leg injury last year.
Romar said he will now shorten a rotation that has had 10 players average at least 11.5 minutes per game through this softer part of the schedule. The coach wouldn't specify how limited the rotation will be, but Breshers figures to get more than his 11.5 minutes per game as he regains his conditioning, especially Saturday against Monroe and the Hoyas.
And star guard Isaiah Thomas, averaging 20.3 points per game, seems ready for even more than the team-leading 31 minutes per game last season's Pac-10 freshman of the year has been getting. Washington will need his slashing from the outside to offset Georgetown's apparent advantage down low.
The Huskies haven't beaten a higher-ranked non-conference opponent since Dec. 20, 2006, when they upset No. 12 LSU. They lost in their only venture away from Seattle this season, last week in overtime at Texas Tech.
Pondexter, Washington's only senior, said the team was ``emotionally hurt'' by that wild, frenetic loss and was left ``looking into ourselves.''
``We all realize we have to get better,'' Pondexter said.