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February 15, 2011The Washington Huskies head to Arizona this week to redeem themselves from their last road trip when they went 0-for-3 against the Pacific Northwest teams.
"The road will always expose any warts you might have - and we were exposed," Washington coach Lorenzo Romar said Tuesday.
On the line is the Pacific-10 Conference regular season championship and the bragging rights associated with it.
The Huskies, following their victories at home last week against California and Stanford, are now 17-7 overall and 9-4 in the Pac-10. They're in third place in the conference, still 1.5 games behind first-place Arizona.
Washington takes on Arizona State Thursday then Arizona Saturday with the understanding that it must elevate its play on the road now more than ever.
The Huskies are 3-5 on the road this season.
"I think it's a make or break trip if we want to win the league," said Romar, whose Huskies' final three conference games are at home.
Junior Darnell Gant agrees that these upcoming games are crucial.
"If we get these two games, they can put us right back in the thick of things," Gant said. "Like coach always says, when you're in the Pac-10, you're one week away from being in first place, and you're one week away from being in eighth place. We've got to be as focused as we can and just try to get it done."
First up is Arizona State, which proved a worthy opponent when Washington hosted the Sun Devils last month in Seattle, making the Huskies work hard for their victory.
"With two minutes to go, it was a four-point game here," Romar said. "I think they're a dangerous team."
Redshirt freshman C.J. Wilcox, who scored 10 points and was a huge off-the-bench contributor in Saturday's win against Stanford, is similarly aware of the trials his team faces heading down to Arizona.
"We didn't do too well against Arizona State here, so it's going to be a tough challenge going down there," he said.
Even more menacing is Arizona, which will host Washington Saturday.
Yet the Huskies do have some advantages on their side. They have Isaiah Thomas, who was recently named Pac-10 Player of the Week for the third time this season, signaling to spectators his immense desire to lead his team back to where he feels most comfortable - in first place.
"Isaiah has an unbelievable will to win," Romar said.
The Huskies will need to rely on the dedication of all their players as they embark on their final road trip of the regular season.
"Every person brings something to the table with your team, and when someone doesn't bring it that day, it's noticed," Romar said.
Players who have been bringing their "A" games recently include senior Venoy Overton, who had a season high 14 points against Stanford, and freshman Terrence Ross, who displayed two explosive dunks against the Cardinal.
When reserve players elevate their play, Romar believes that "it adds a dimension that we can't manufacture."
The Huskies may have dug themselves a shallow hole when they lost three games in a row, but they are ready to dig themselves out and finish their season strongly.
Even if it means on the road, where Washington has struggled yet is 13-0 at home and 1-2 on neutral courts.
"We have to win every game from here on out to get to where we want to get," Wilcox said.