Huskies on their way to San Jose

With the regular season all said and done with, the slate has been wiped clean and 10 teams will gather at San Jose's HP Pavilion with hopes of winning the Pac-10 Tournament. The Washington Huskies (21-6, 13-5) are the No. 2 and will have a bye into the second round. They will await the outcome of the USC vs. Washington State game on Friday night before going to work on Saturday morning.

The Huskies find themselves in a familiar situation. Last season, the ladies were the No. 2 seed but ousted from the tournament in their first game against the hometown No. 7 Oregon Ducks. With the Pac-10 assigning this season's tournament at a neutral court, it gives the teams a chance to do see just how good they are without the benefit of a home court advantage.

"I think we have to be more prepared and more focused," said junior guard Giuliana Mendiola, who was named the 2003 Pac-10 Player of the Year on Thursday. "Last year we struggled and were inconsistent and that's why we didn't make the (NCAA) tournament. This year I think we are more improved, more focused and more ready than ever so there's no doubt in my mind that we'll take care of business."

The Huskies have had a year now to reflect on last year's tournament misfortunes and head coach June Daugherty feels that this season, her team has learned a valuable lesson.

"I think we've learned a lot," said Daugherty of last season's experience. "We are a confident team and we are a much improved team from last year. I think we know that if we can go in there and play hard for three games and be defensively very, very sound and rebounding wise, take care of business, then we can come out with the championship."

Washington has been perfect at home (14-0) but are just barely above .500 on the road. (7-6) Playing at a neutral court for this season instead of Oregon's "the Pit" last season may give each team an equal opportunity. But just how neutral can the HP Pavilion be? After all, Stanford and Cal fans will have a significantly less difficult time making it to San Jose. It may be a similar situation as if the tournament was being held at the Key Arena in Seattle, but Daugherty believes that this is still a great situation for her team.

"Being at the HP Pavilion is a great step in the right direction for the Pac-10 Tournament," Daugherty said. The Huskies have the opportunity to make a statement to the NCAA selection committee. With Stanford clinching its' third straight regular season conference championship, the Huskies have their eye set on claiming the next big prize.

"We look at it as a great opportunity for us to win a ring, improve our seed with the NCAA, and most importantly show just how good we really are."

Sophomore guard Kristen O'Neill, who is still nursing a minor injury on her left wrist, does believe the bay area schools will have some sort of advantage, but the Huskies are finally ready to overcome this so called "road disadvantage."

"No team understands about having that home crowd advantage better than us so there will be a little bit of adjustment for us to make but it's a challenge that we are ready to overcome," said O'Neill.

To overcome the challenge, Washington will have to dig deep to test out their stamina and endurance this weekend. After playing just one game in two weeks, the Huskies will have to go through a stretch where they must play three games in three days in order to bring home the title. The long period of rest may give the team a little rust, but Daugherty sees the positive aspects of the situation.

"I think it's fortunate that we are in that sort of situation at this time of the year because it gives us a chance to mend up a little bit with little nicks and bruises and nagging injuries and those are starting to go away," Daugherty said.

"I love playing games," Mendiola added confidently. "I wish we played three games every week. I think our team is prepared mentally and physically to play these three games. I'm just excited to get started already."

In looking at the competition, Washington swept both USC and Washington State this season which gives both teams an incentive to take at least one game this year from Washington should they advance. Meeting these teams for the third time this season will obviously call for some sort of adjustment to schemes and play.

"It's really difficult, (to beat a team three times in a season)" said O'Neill. "Both of those teams are really talented. We're just going to go and prepare with our game plan and try to come out play like we how to and hopefully we can take care of business."

Daugherty agrees and expects both teams to come out fighting for their lives.

"They're (USC or WSU) going to be improved, and hopefully see improvement from us," said Daugherty. "They're going to have some new little wrinkles in and we're going have some new wrinkles. To us, it's a new season and not the third time around and we're just going to go out and play best to our abilities."

"It's time to put it all on a neutral court and find out just who is the best team," said Daugherty. "We believe that we are and it's time to prove it against the best competition."

"We're just looking forward to it. It's March Madness and it's time to play."

Let the madness begin.

2003 Pac-10 Tournament Schedule Friday, Mar 7th
Game 1: #7 USC vs. #10 WSU
Game 2: #8 ASU vs. #9 Cal

Saturday, Mar 8th
Game 3: #2 Washington vs. Winner Game 1
Game 4: #3 Arizona vs. #6 Oregon State
Game 5: #1 Stanford vs. Winner Game 2
Game 6: #4 UCLA vs. #5 Oregon

Sunday, Mar 9th
Game 7: Winner Game 3 vs. Winner Game 4
Game 8: Winner Game 5 vs. Winner Game 6

Monday, Mar 10th
Championship Game @ 7:30pm
TV: Fox Sports Net Top Stories