Matchups muddy Apple Cup outlook

SEATTLE - As it's been all year long, the Washington Huskies will travel with two hats this coming weekend. Will they doff the one that has helped them to win 18 games so far this year, or the one that has cost them nine games, seven away from the friendly confines of Hec Ed? UW Head Coach Lorenzo Romar believes it's all a matter of matchups. If you want proof, look back a few days.

"I think the greatest example of matchups in the league is Cal and Oregon State," Romar said Tuesday, noting that the Beavers have beaten Cal three of their last four games head-to-head, despite the Golden Bears having every possible advantage. OSU just took care of Cal by 16 in Corvallis this past weekend, while the Huskies dismantled UCLA by 29 - the same UCLA team that beat Washington State by 20 Thursday. Extrapolate that line of thinking out and you just might lose your mind in the mental tangle.

"(Washington State) just come off of a very good victory against a USC team they swept this year," Romar said. "It was the opposite for us with USC. We had a tough time with them. They came to our place and were very, very focused. They came out with a lot of intensity. So I would imagine it would be at least that this time."

Since the Huskies and Cougars are playing at Friel Court in Pullman at 7 p.m. Saturday night, let's take a look at their matchup for a second. Just as you'd expect in this topsy-turvy league, the game was indeed one of two halves. Washington State led at the half by four despite only five points from their leading scorer, Klay Thompson. But UW opened up a can of instant offense (just add water), and outscored WSU by 32, ultimately winning the game 92-64.

It's hard to make much of that, other than both teams are capable of taking this game by the scruff of the neck. Take Thompson: it's doubtful he's going to go for seven again - which was a season-low before the two points he scored in the Cougars' 51-47 win over USC on Saturday. But is he going to go for 33, like he did against Oregon on New Year's Eve?

Or how about Abe Lodwick, the Cougars' 6-foot-7 sophomore guard from Bend, Ore. - who had more points against the Trojans (11) than he's had the rest of the Pac-10 season combined?

"We have to make sure that we come out ready to play," Romar said. "I thought the second half, we gathered ourselves and came out with more intensity than the first half when we played them. Against anyone we play, it's more about us. If we come with the right focus and energy, we've got a chance."

It's not a guarantee that Cal, who is currently leading the conference, is going to get an NCAA berth. Right now the Bracketology isn't looking kindly upon the Pac-10, and many teams - UW included - know the Pac-10 Tournament is where they can cover up a multitude of sins.

"I think the guys really know, to be honest," junior forward Matthew Bryan-Amaning said Tuesday. "In everybody's heads, we need to win out. Obviously we've put ourselves in a position where our opportunity is winning the Pac-10 Tournament. We're still focused on the next three games before that, but we just know we've got to take care of business out in LA."

A four-game winning streak heading to the Staples Center in March is something Romar wouldn't be adverse to. "Our backs are against the wall," he said. "We're still trying to get to the NCAA Tournament, and every time we step out on the floor, if we do well we take another step in that direction. Whether we have to win the Pac-10 Tournament or not, we want to be as good as we've been all year by the time that time gets here. Every day you're trying to get better."

"You always know the NCAA looks at your last 10 or so games of the season to see how you've been playing," added Bryan-Amaning. "So we always look at it like their eyes are on us 24/7. So we've got to do the best we can and finish out the season."
Notes:
Game Day helping?: Romar was asked if getting the blowout win over UCLA on national television might influence what people think about the Huskies. "I thought it was good," he said. "We were against Cal the week before on ESPN2. This was Game Day, national stage. Maybe it allows someone to see this team has a lot of potential, and given half a chance maybe they could do some damage. Still, I don't think this will be based on one game. Maybe this just opens some eyes or alerts someone to the University of Washington."

Romar pitches Q-Pon for POY: Not only does Romar think senior forward Quincy Pondexter has a great shout for Pac-10 Player of the Year, he thinks Pondexter also could very easily be named as the league's Most Improved Player too. "I think he's done as much as any player in this league," Romar said of Pondexter. "The only thing he's not been able to do, and I would say we haven't been able to do, is have more wins. If we have more wins it's a no-brainer. He's been Player of the Week four times and up at the top in a lot of statistical categories. Landry Fields is having a phenomenal year. You can't argue with Landry Fields. Jerome Randle's team is leading the league as of today by a half-game, but I think Quincy is definitely worthy of a Player of the Year award. But he does have some good competition, stiff competition."

Holiday taking his shots: Romar was asked about junior forward Justin Holiday and his seemingly more relevant role on the offensive end of late. He had 11 points against the Bruins, and 10 in the Huskies' lone road win against Stanford 10 days ago. "Number one, he's always had the freedom to shoot the ball," Romar said of Holiday. "When you're open, shoot the ball. I don't believe in telling guys not to shoot the ball. I've always encouraged Justin to shoot the open shot, and you've got to be able to make it. If you go back and look at the games he's played in, he takes his shots. They are just going in now - more than earlier."

The numbers would back Romar's claim: in the six league games Holiday played in before the Huskies demolishment of Seattle, Holiday was 14-32 from the field. In the seven games after SU, he's been 19-41. So he's taken an average of just one more shot per game, but he's shooting an average of 10 percent better per game over the last seven.

Zeke to play pigskin: Guard Isaiah Thomas apparently told Seattle radio recently his desire to one day put on the pads and play some football for the Huskies. When he heard about it, Romar just chuckled. "I doubt if we ever have that conversation," Romar said with a laugh. "It's just something he loves to have fun with and get a reaction, which he continually does. We probably won't have that conversation. As long as he can say it and everyone responds to it, he'll keep doing it, probably."

UW's NW recruiting competition: Romar was asked who the Huskies go up against when it comes to recruiting against the other teams from the Northwest. "Oregon first, Oregon State second," he said. "It's new with Seattle (University). With coach (Ken) Bone over at Washington State, it's happening more. And then Gonzaga probably last, in terms of who we go head-to-head with."


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