Hoop Dawgs back on the brink

Just like that, the Huskies --a preseason favorite to win the Pac-10 title in many circles -- are back on the brink. A shocking 62-61 loss at UCLA on Thursday was Washington's fourth defeat in its last six games, and it dropped the Huskies to 12-6 overall, 3-4 in Pac-10 play. And means that Saturday's game at USC is suddenly critical for Washington's postseason hopes.

Indicative of the topsy-turvy Pac-10, the loss dropped Washington into eighth place.

"We cannot keep waiting," Washington senior forward Quincy Pondexter said after UCLA hit a game-winning shot at the buzzer. "We have to take care of business."

Washington has been in just this spot before. Washington last year lost at UCLA on a Thursday night, then won at USC two days later to begin a stretch of four consecutive victories that clinched the school's first Pac-10 title in 56 years.

That Washington team went 14-4 in Pac-10 play. This Huskies team has already matched that loss total with 11 games remaining.

The Huskies will have a chance to get well, returning home after the Los Angeles trip to play four in a row at home (including a non-conference game against Seattle University).

But the Huskies don't want to have to enter that stretch with no margin for error in a year when the Pac-10 may only get two or three bids into the NCAA Tournament.

The UCLA loss was especially disheartening, as the Huskies hoped they had turned the corner with blowout wins last week at home against Stanford and Cal. But Washington could never put away a struggling UCLA team, scoring just 20 points in the second half, hitting only 22 of 53 shots (41.5 percent).

Washington now plays a USC team that has been among the nation's leaders in defense.

"It's a very, very tough loss," Washington coach Lorenzo Romar said. "Now the key is to rally up and play against a very good USC team Saturday night."
UCLA 62, WASHINGTON 61: UCLA guard Mustafa Abdul-Hamid hit a 19-footer at the buzzer as the Bruins upset the Huskies in a back-and-forth game.

Washington's Venoy Overton scored on a lay-in with 3.2 seconds left that figured to allow the Huskies to escape with a win despite a sloppy offensive effort. But Abdul-Hamid got an inbounds pass near half court, took two dribbles, pump-faked Venoy Overton, and hit nothing but net as time expired.

Senior forward Quincy Pondexter led Washington with 23 points but was the only Husky on his offensive game. Guard Isaiah Thomas was the only other Washington player in double figures, scoring 11.

The Huskies struggled late against UCLA's 2-3 zone. Washington hit six of 12 3-pointers in the first half to take a 41-37 halftime lead, but went just 1-for-7 in the second half.
--Washington is now 0-5 away from home this year, including a neutral court loss to Georgetown. The Huskies are 0-3 in road Pac-10 games.
--Washington climbed back into the conference race by routing Stanford 94-61 and Cal 84-69 on a home weekend that the Huskies began in last place.

"I never thought about us losing this game or the last two games," said forward Quincy Pondexter, who scored 52 points in the two victories. "I never even thought that was a possibility."

Once the games started, there wasn't even a possibility the Huskies would lose. Washington led 41-22 at halftime against Stanford, 50-31 against the Bears.

"If we play this way, we have the ability to separate ourselves and we can catch back up (in the conference standings)," Pondexter said.

The Huskies used their depth, quickness and aggressiveness to dominate the Bay Area visitors.

Cal coach Mike Montgomery said when the Huskies play that way, they are the class of the Pac-10.

"They played harder than we did," he said. "They were more physical than we were. They were energized and we got back on our heels, which is something that they do to people and they've done before."

On the heels of three straight defeats, coach Lorenzo Romar made a couple lineup changes for the weekend and got immediate dividends from junior forward Justin Holiday, whom he called the catalyst for the win over Stanford.

"He was inserted into the starting lineup because the things that he brings are the things that we were lacking," Romar said. And within five minutes of the start of the Stanford game, he drew a charge on Cardinal star Landry Fields, setting the tone for the night.

"He's a defensive general on the court," Pondexter said. "It's like Ray Lewis in football."

Sophomore Isaiah Thomas said the Huskies were ready to break out.

"You have to come out and play hard or just be moving to the bottom of the Pac-10. We don't want that. We want to win, and we have to show that's what we want," he said after beating Stanford. "We didn't win for all the fans and everybody else talking about us. We had to win for ourselves."

--NFL legend Joe Montana and wife Jennifer sat at midcourt for the Cal game on the weekend their son, Nick, made a football recruiting visit to Washington.
--With his 157th victory at Washington, Lorenzo Romar moved past Tippy Dye (1951-59) into third on the school's all-time victory list.
ON THE SPOT: One of the reasons for the high expectations for Washington this season was the addition of freshman PG Abdul Gaddy, regarded as one of the best in the nation at his position in high school last season.

But Gaddy, who just turned 18, hasn't made as quick an adjustment as hoped. After what looked to be a breakout weekend against Cal and Stanford, he had another tough game against UCLA, scoring just two points on 1-of-3 shooting. He had four assists and two turnovers in 25 minutes.

UCLA played the entire game in a zone defense, and Gaddy isn't much of a threat with his outside shot right now. He had trouble getting much done in the half-court offense.

He'll need to step up against a USC team that was allowing opponents to shoot just 36.2 percent in Pac-10 play before Thursday night. The Trojans also were allowing a conference-low 50.8 points per game.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "People think I can't play defense, but I can. Maybe not the way Venoy (Overton) does, but I'm not a liability out there." -- Sophomore Isaiah Thomas, after helping limit Cal star Jerome Randle to a season-low five points.
SEASON RECAP: The Huskies were breezing along at 10-1 through the end of the nonconference schedule -- they were the Pac-10's only nationally ranked team -- but then 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 the 90-79 upset victory. Arizona State followed with a 17-point romp of Washington in Tempe, and Arizona was equally dominant with a 17-point victory of its own. Washington then swept the Bay Area schools.

PLAYER ROTATION: Usual Starters -- F Quincy Pondexter, F Tyreese Breshers, F Justin Holiday, G Abdul Gaddy, G Isaiah Thomas. Key Subs -- G Venoy Overton, F Darnell Gant, C Matthew Amaning-Bryan, G Scott Suggs.

   Arizona 87, Washington 70
   Washington 94, Stanford 61
   Washington 84, Cal 69
   UCLA 62, Washington 61
   at USC, Saturday, Jan. 23
   vs. Seattle, Tuesday, Jan. 26
   vs. Washington State, Saturday, Jan. 30
   vs. Arizona, Thursday, Feb. 4
IN FOCUS: As the club's only senior, it falls on the shoulders of Quincy Pondexter to take charge. Pondexter scored 52 points in wins over Stanford and Cal at home last weekend.

--Junior F Matthew Bryan-Amaning, who started 13 games before being benched two weeks ago, played a season-low four minutes Thursday, none in the second half, his defense apparently keeping him off the floor.
--G Isaiah Thomas had another tough shooting game Thursday, hitting just four of 11 overall and going 0-for-5 on 3-pointers. He is shooting just 40.5 percent for the season, including 32.3 on 3-pointers (though just 6-for-32 in Washington's last six games).
--Redshirt freshman F Tyreese Breshers had one of his better games Thursday, leading the team in rebounds with six and also blocking two shots. He scored just two points while taking only two shots.
--Freshman G Scott Suggs hit his first two 3-pointers and had eight points at halftime. But symbolic of the rest of the team, he went cold in the second half and didn't score, finishing 2-for-5 on 3-pointers.

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