Hoops Preview - Washington State

SEATTLE - With Arizona losing to USC and UCLA the past few days, Washington can't get caught thinking about the 'what if's' as they host Washington State Sunday at Alaska Airlines Arena. A league title scenario on life support a week ago is now very much alive, but the Huskies can't worry about what might lie ahead. They have to deal with the team in front of them, and that's the Cougars.

"We can't lose sight of Sunday," UW coach Lorenzo Romar said Friday as the Huskies prepared to host their cross-state rivals. "It really is the truth. We have a week and a half of conference play. We have to take advantage of it, not get side-tracked or distracted by some other issue."

And even though the Cougars (17-10, 7-8) are licking their wounds of late, Washington knows how dangerous they can be. UW lost in Pullman 87-80, and had to watch as the WSU fans and students stormed the court.

Isaiah Thomas has his warning all prepared for UW's student section, the Dawg Pack. "Beating any team in the regular season, unless it's the number one team in the country, I don't feel like you should storm the court," he said. "We've only stormed the court one time and that was after we won the PAC 10 championship, so I know they won't even think about storming the court if we win."

The post-game scene is an image that has burned into the minds of UW's players; it's not something they'll forget any time soon. "They can do what they want," added UW forward Justin Holiday. "It's over, that's what they wanted to do, but they have to come and play here. Hopefully we can get the win and show them that storming the court wasn't a good thing to do."

With the Wildcats' two road losses, it makes the run to the top just a shade murkier. They can still win the Pac-10 title outright with two home wins over Oregon and Oregon State, and the Huskies can earn at least a share of second place if they win their final three games, starting with WSU.

For the players, friendships temporarily get put on the shelf. Thomas, whose Friends of Hoop AAU team used to battle it out with Reggie Moore's Seattle Rotary, hasn't talked to the WSU guard this week. "You hate each other while you're playing but you're friends before and after the game but I'm not friends with him right now," Thomas said. "They got us last time so if we win this one then I'll hit him up."

For coaches Romar and WSU's Ken Bone - undoubtedly friends off the court - they worry more about the game, and what it's going to take to pull out a win. In Pullman, the Huskies turned the ball over 24 times, and that's a concern for UW's staff.

"We just weren't patient enough," Romar said.

Some of that had to do with the Huskies' insistence of getting big man Matthew Bryan-Amaning involved against a zone packed in tight. "They wanted to take away the inside and let us beat them with perimeter shooting," Bryan-Amaning said. "I don't think we shot well that game, and when these guys are shooting well it opens a lot of the inside for me. Hopefully we can knock down a couple of shots early and establish the inside presence."

One player that has emerged for UW since their play in Pullman is freshman guard C.J. Wilcox. Wilcox has scored in double-digits four out of the last six Pac-10 games since their loss to Washington State. He could be the outside spark Washington needs to open things up for the Huskies' front court.

"If you have a guy who can shoot that well on the court, it opens it up for everybody," Thomas said of Wilcox. "You have to respect him no matter if he's just a three-point shooter or not. You have to respect the value he brings to our team. It opens things up for guys like me when I'm penetrating, guys like Holiday, and then Matt [Bryan-Amaning] in there. If you double off him with C.J., that's most of the time automatic three points."

Since the UW win, Washington State has scuffled, losing four out of their last six, but Romar knows how dangerous WSU can be. "I think it says more about how balanced the league is right now, from top to bottom," he said. "It's better than what people give us credit for. What would be more surprising is that if every team that was supposed to win actually did win."

Klay Thompson continues to provide Washington State with their main scoring punch, but ironically he wasn't their leading scorer in their last two wins. At Arizona and Arizona State, he shot the ball 52 times, connecting on 22 - and he's never been afraid to hoist it up. What helped the Cougars the first time around against UW was the fact that they shot the ball very well from three. In fact their .471 percentage (8-17) stands as their best of the Pac-10 season. They'll need to duplicate that effort if they hope to hang with a Washington team that hasn't lost a game at home this season, and has beaten their Pac-10 opponents by an average of 20 points a game.

If the Huskies are able to win out, it will be only the third time Washington has ever run the table at home, matching 1984 and 2005.

"Washington State took care of us last time," Holiday said. "We didn't play well, we didn't do anything well against them and they did everything well, so we want to come out and show that we can be on the same court as these guys and come out and get the win."

At the same time, they aren't going to place more importance on this game than on any other one they've played so far. They aren't in rushing-the-court mode, hearing them talk about it.

"Every game is important," added Holiday. "So this is the next game and we want to win this game. Obviously we lost to them last time, obviously it's Wazzu, but we're not going to make this game any more special than any other game, you can't do that when you play. So this game is just as important as any other game."

Notes:
Hawes to be honored: Falling in the footsteps of Husky Football, during the first half of Sunday's game, Washington will honor Steve Hawes as the Husky Legend. Hawes will be the first former player honored this season. The center left school in 1972 as the school's No. 2 all-time leading scorer with 1,516 points and his career average of 20.8 ppg still ranks as the best all-time. Hawes also averaged 12.9 rpg during his career, the second highest average all-time. Washington honored Eldridge Recasner and Todd MacCulloch last season.

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