So begins the "March" – Huskies invade Bay Area

Anyone who finds their way to these humble pages already knows what's up this weekend. Washington has two Bay Area games that will decide what their PAC-10 conference season and tournament fates shall be. They play California at Haas Pavilion in Berkeley on Thursday (7:30 PM, FSN) before ending their regular season on Saturday afternoon (1:00 PM, CBS) against Stanford at refurbished Maples Pavilion.

#10 WASHINGTON (13-3, 23-4) at CALIFORNIA (5-11, 12-14)

HAAS PAVILION - BERKELEY, CA Thursday, March 3 7:30 PM (FSN)
First Meeting:  December 31, 2004 – at UW 81, CAL 67
Overall Series:  Washington leads, 70-69

The math is simple. Win both, and Washington can do no worse than hang a PAC-10 co-championship banner up at Bank of America. It would be their first men's title since sharing the 1984/85 crown with USC. Ironically, that season also saw the Huskies earn their (second straight) co-title with a Bay Area sweep after earlier beating Arizona at home to close out the home schedule.

History suggests that a pair of wins could prove more difficult to achieve this time around, as the Golden Gate hasn't been too kind lately for the guys in Purple. Stanford has beaten Washington 11 straight times in Palo Alto (though it will be the Huskies' first visit to the "new" Maples). However, any thoughts ending that streak and getting the sought-after sweep can't be harbored without anchoring the first one, and California – who has won the past four meetings in Berkeley - might be pretty angry, considering their play of late.

The Bears have fallen on hard times, currently on a five-game skid and now in danger of missing next week's PAC-10 tournament. "We're down physically, and we're down emotionally", said Cal coach Ben Braun after Saturday's 19-point pasting by Oregon State in Corvallis. "It's a challenge right now to keep the team pulled together." True, the Bears have had injury issues. Guards Ayinde Ubaka (11 games, broken foot) and Richard Midgley (3 games, sprained shoulder) have missed time, while F Leon Powe and C Sam Rayburn have been out the entire season. They've had a ton of trouble lately hitting from the outside, though their three inside starters (Rod Benson, Dominic McGuire and David Paris) are all hitting well over 50 percent from the floor – Paris has hit 62 percent of his shots in conference games.

But the potentiality of looking over anyone doesn't seem to faze Lorenzo Romar this week, who told reporters on Monday, "Our guys have been at a high focus level for just about the entire season. They've been through the rigors of the road, and now they have something very tangible to go after this week."

Cal has won seven of the last 10 meetings between the schools – including last year's 76-62 win at Berkeley in which the Bears reeled off six straight three-pointers in the second half. Washington won the conference opener for both schools in Seattle on New Year's Eve, opening a 41-32 halftime lead before watching California roar back to take a three-point lead in the first 10 minutes of the second half. A 10-point Husky run in the final six minutes would finally seal the deal. Tre Simmons and Bobby Jones paced the Huskies with 18 and 16 points respectively, while Midgley led Cal with 18 points.

Washington's suffered their own Bear-like debacle in Corvallis, but they've righted the ship since with three straight tourney-type wins. And now that they've reached the beginning of March – and "of" a march – resting on laurels just won't do. For all the euphoria surrounding the season so far, the Huskies have yet to sweep on the road this year.

In this season of new heights, now would be a fitting time to climb that mountain, too.

Let the March commence.


POS NO NAME             HT    CL   PPG  RPG 
F    0 Rod Benson       6-10  JR  13.5  6.2 
F    3 Dominic McGuire  6-8   SO   7.1  4.8 
C   35 David Paris      6-8   JR   7.7  3.9 
G   20 Martin Smith     5-11  JR   5.8  4.2 (APG)
G   15 Richard Midgley  6-2   JR  13.5  3.4

Game Notes: Washington's 23 victories are the most since the 1984 team won 24. The Huskies' only Final Four team of 1953 won 28. The school record for season wins is the Hec Edmundson team of 1938 that went 29-7. Included in that mark were seven wins during a post-season tour of Hawaii … Like Oregon the week before, California will not be hosting a Senior Day, since it has no seniors on the roster … The Bears are 1-11 when it allows more than 70 points … The Cal media guide shows the Bears leading the series 70-69. However, their 1995 win over Washington was later forfeited …
Rick Samek can be reached at Top Stories