This time, it's for real

Don't look now folks, but your Washington Huskies are starting to look like they're for real: Not the superficial false-hype of the preseason, but rather honest to goodness, Pac-10 Championship-hype real. They're not perfect, but we've beat their flaws into the dirt, and they've earned a bit of optimism with their recent run of play. In short, there's an awful lot to like about them.

First and foremost, the consistency of effort since the Seattle University game has been the single most significant factor in their resurgence. Credit it to having their backs against the wall, Justin Holiday's insertion into the starting lineup, or a simple recognition of the obvious, but the improvement has been colossal. Mostly the improvement has come on the defensive end, but as is the case with all Lorenzo Romar-coached teams, defense initiates the offense, and they're dialing it in. It also doesn't hurt to have a couple of standout defenders to get the job done and Washington's got two of the best.

Holiday is one of the finest defenders to ever wear the purple and gold, and he deserves much of the credit for putting the Huskies back on firm defensive footing. His efforts, which can't be truly appreciated by reading a box score, never wavers, and his teammates feed off the energy he carries to the court. Venoy Overton brings a level of defensive intensity to the rotation missing since the days when Will Conroy and Nate Robinson prowled the backcourt. And there's plenty of hard-won kudos to go around. Quincy Pondexter has matured into a stellar defender, becoming one of the most versatile stoppers in the conference. Isaiah Thomas has turned the long-standing perception that he only cares about offense on its head.

Offensively, The Huskies appear to be figuring it out too.

Lost in the Huskies' mediocre start was the fabulous play of Quincy Pondexter who is having one of the finest seasons in University of Washington history. The frontrunner for Pac-10 Player of the Year is putting up some mind bending numbers, ranking among Pac-10 leaders in eight separate categories. His nearly 21 points and 8.3 rebounds a game has been Brandon Roy-esque, and every stuffed stat sheet has been earned. It's rare to see a player transform from a post to a guard in a season and a half, but somehow he's managed to do it.

But the Huskies senior captain can't do it all himself, and that's where the Huskies have gotten a lift. Scott Suggs came into the season with a renewed dedication to the team, and it's paid off handsomely of late. Overton, though lacking prototypical shooting guard skills, has found a way to make his mark, slowly growing in confidence while remaining a terror in transition. Elston Turner has been an enigma, but when he's focused and playing hard, good things happen when he's on the floor.

Thomas has been a lightning rod for criticism this season; some of it deserved, and some of it totally unfair. Isaiah can flat out do things that few players are capable of. Unfortunately, at times he'll do things that no player has any business doing, and that's what gets him into trouble. If that was all he brought to the lineup, you could make a case for diminished playing time, but it isn't. Not by a long shot. He's emerged as one of the team's top rebounders and better defenders, and he is the emotional leader of this team.

His stat line versus Arizona State – 7-of-15 shooting for 17 points, seven rebounds and five assists - is just the tip of the iceberg for a player still struggling with his confidence. The fact is, Washington needs him; a scoring playmaker doing what he does best, which is to say everything - though hitting his free throws would help.

Washington has put together their best two weeks of the season by a country mile. This is the "team" we knew was lurking beneath the surface of a collection of very talented individuals; a "team" that shouldn't fear road trips as long as they replicate the level of effort allowed them to claw their way back into the Pac-10 race.

As it turns out, it was the "team" that was missing all along. Top Stories