But that was a Stanford team picked to finish last in the conference. Now the Huskies face Cal, the team picked to finish first, and one coming off a solid 93-88 win at Washington State on Thursday night.
The Bears have also been a tough team for the Huskies of late, sweeping Washington a year ago and winning five of the last seven overall.
A few weeks ago, this looked like a showdown for first place. Now, it's something of a game of survival for the Huskies, who will hit the road to Los Angeles next weekend and would prefer to do it with a .500 conference record instead of two games under.
"We just have to climb out of this hole," Washington coach Lorenzo Romar said. "We took a big step tonight."
The Huskies did it by going to a smaller, quicker lineup, inserting guard Justin Holiday for forward Darnell Gant. Holiday, maybe the team's best defensive player, injected some needed energy in the Huskies and led a sterling defensive effort, and he will stay in the lineup for the Cal game.
"I like it because we can run more," said Washington guard Isaiah Thomas, who had 15 points and seven assists. "Nothing against our bigs, but I don't like to slow it."
But Stanford is largely devoid of good big players, and Washington overmatched the Cardinal out front.
The Cal game will be a better litmus test for Washington's guards, a group generally considered among the best in the country when the season began but struggling at times this season to live up to that ranking.
Cal is led by its perimeter trio of Jerome Randle, Patrick Christopher and Theo Robertson, and the Huskies will have to counter with the kind of defense they played against Stanford (holding the Cardinal to 19-of-46 shooting) while also hitting some outside shots.
WASHINGTON 94, STANFORD 61: In what was billed as a must-win game, the Huskies played with uncommon urgency, taking a 22-6 lead 10 minutes in and never letting up. The Huskies led by as many as 42 points.
Freshman Abdul Gaddy got the Huskies going early, hitting all five of his shots in the first half and finishing with 10 points.
Senior forward Quincy Pondexter took over in the second half, scoring 20 of his game-high 27 after the break, hitting 12 of 16 shots. He also had a game-high 10 rebounds.
--Despite the easy win over Stanforde, Washington's outside shooting woes continued, as the Huskies missed their first 10 3-point shots. Washington rallied, however, to hit six of 19. Still, that remains one of the team's biggest question marks.
--No one saw this coming. Even in what is unfolding as a wacky and unpredictable Pac-10 season, no one imagined defending champion Washington would be 1-3 after four games.
"Maybe there has been a little bit of a regression and we've got to find ourselves," coach Lorenzo Romar said after the Huskies lost 68-51 at Arizona State on Jan. 8.
Upbeat as usual, Romar said he expects the Huskies to weather the storm.
"Since we've been here at Washington, we've gone through worse times and ended up OK," he said. "Went through a year of 0-5 and ended up going to the tournament. Went through a year in 2006 ... we lost three consecutive Pac-10 games and we went to the Sweet 16.
"There are areas where we've got to get better."
That was still very much the case after the Huskies absorbed an 87-70 thrashing at Arizona on Jan. 10.
Six Arizona players scored in double figures, and Washington never really was in the game in the second half while losing by 17 points for the second straight game.
The Huskies lost just once in the non-conference season, albeit in their lone road game. The bigger issue, Romar said, is to not simply play to the level of competition.
"Play to our potential, that's what we want to do," he said. "That's a goal we can't give up. We got to work to our potential, and I don't think we've done that as of late. ... We got to find ourselves."
--The Huskies missed their first nine shots from the field at ASU and never recovered. They finally made their first field goal on a layup by Tyreese Breshers with 12:42 left in the half. UW shot just 27.3 percent in the first half against ASU's 2-3 zone.
--The Huskies are winless in three road games a year after going 6-4 on their opponents' home floor.
ON THE SPOT: Junior PG Venoy Overton earned some national acclaim last season when his stellar defensive that helped the Huskies win a Pac-10 title. He hasn't always played to that reputation this season, however, and after starting seven games earlier in the season, he is again in a reserve, sparkplug-off-the-bench role. But he'll be needed more than ever Saturday as the Huskies search for ways to slow down Cal senior PG Jerome Randle, who blistered Washington State for 39 points Thursday. Randle averaged 22 points a game against the Huskies last season, and the Bears were the only Pac-10 team to sweep Washington.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "We didn't make shots. That's all it was." -- Senior Quincy Pondexter, asked to explain how the Huskies missed their first nine shots at Arizona State.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL:
SEASON RECAP: The Huskies were breezing along at 10-1 through the end of the non-conference schedule -- the Pac-10's only nationally ranked team -- and then they staggered a bit in a six-point win over Oregon State. That should have foreshadowed bigger problems against Oregon, which sliced through their press and pulled off the 90-79 upset victory. Arizona State followed with a 17-point romp of UW in Tempe, and Arizona was equally dominant with a 17-point victory of its own.
PLAYER ROTATION: Usual Starters -- F Quincy Pondexter, F Darnell Gant, C Matthew Amaning-Bryan, G Abdul Gaddy, G Isaiah Thomas. Key Subs -- G Venoy Overton, F Justin Holiday, G Scott Suggs, F Tyreese Breshers.
Oregon 90, Washington 79 Arizona State 68, Washington 51 Arizona 87, Washington 70 Washington 94, Stanford 61GAME PREVIEW:
vs. Cal, Saturday, Jan. 16 at UCLA, Thursday, Jan. 21 at USC, Saturday, Jan. 23 vs. Seattle, Tuesday, Jan. 26IN FOCUS: A tantalizing rematch with Cal -- an 88-85 triple-overtime winner in Seattle last year -- awaits on Saturday. The Huskies should have some momentum back on their side after Thursday's big win over Stanford.
--Redshirt freshman F Tyreese Breshers got his second straight start Thursday. But once again he had trouble staying on the floor, picking up his fourth foul a minute into the second half and playing just seven minutes.
--Freshman G Abdul Gaddy, who just turned 18, had his second straight solid outing Thursday. He appears on the verge of becoming a key contributor to the team after some early struggles. Gaddy was 5-for-6 shooting and had 10 points in 22 minutes against Stanford.
--G Scott Suggs came off the bench to hit three of six 3-pointers and finish with 12 points against Stanford. He is tied with Elston Turner as the team's best 3-pointer shooter in Pac-10 play at 6-for-16.