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February 18, 2009When the Washington Huskies men's basketball team takes the court on Thursday in LA, they will not only be facing the 2008-09 UCLA Bruins, but also the lore of past teams. One look into the rafters at the legendary Pauley Pavilion, and decades of history is on full display. Eleven national championships, 18 final four appearances and 30 conference titles.
"I think everyone realizes the tradition and sees all of the banners hanging there," said Husky senior Jon Brockman. "You just look up and see national championship, national championship, national championship; they are all over the place. There is a lot of respect that goes into that building when you play there. The players take pride in it and it's one of best places in the nation to play."
Throughout the decades, plenty of teams have entered Pauley, but very few have left with a win. The Bruins have an 608-90 all time record on their home court, and at one point enjoyed a 98-game winning streak from 1970-to-1976. However, a few current Huskies were involved in one of those 90 losses in the 2005-06 season when they beat UCLA 69-65.
"I remember that game very well," explained Brockman "We came up with some big plays down the stretch when we needed them. We got down early and just chipped away at the lead."
The Pauley lore is present every time Washington visits LA, but this season is different as the Huskies sit atop the Pac-10 standings and attempt to win their first outright conference title since 1953. If you look at the record books, you understand it won't be easy, but a win Thursday would put Washington in the drivers seat. Senior guard Justin Dentmon's understands just how difficult getting a win will be, as it's his fourth time at Pauley.
"The previous years it has [been hard to win]," explained Dentmon. "UCLA, Arizona and Stanford have been by far the toughest places to play in. UCLA is one of the teams that plays very well at home."
"They play with a lot of confidence there," head coach Lorenzo Romar continued. "When the fans come out, when they decide they're going to come out, you know they're there. UCLA just plays with a great rhythm and confidence when they're playing at Pauley."
Junior forward Quincy Pondexter grew up in California and like many natives of the Golden State, admits that UCLA was his dream school. Pondexter has been on fire lately, scoring 20 points in three of the last four games. He hopes that hot streak continues and he can have a big game at a place he's admired for so long.
"UCLA was one of my dream schools as a kid. I had a couple of them, but UCLA was on top and it's a dream to go there and play well," Pondexter explained. "Pauley is a historic arena and somewhere that every kid wishes he can go and look up at the rafters at John Wooden's championships, and the early 90's championship, and wishes he can play well in front of a national audience."
It's going to take a great game by Pondexter and the rest of the team to give a reeling UCLA team their third loss in a row for the first time since 2005. Despite their lead in the conference, Washington players are looking at UCLA like the threat they are, and want to make sure they take the target off their backs and place them squarely on the Bruin's shoulders.
"They know exactly what it takes to get to the final-four and be a championship team," explained Brockman. "Putting a bulls eye on their shoulders is great and we need to do that with every team. We need to play an entire 40 minutes of Husky basketball."
"It's going to be big, it's a big game. It'll be fun to play there for the first time," said freshman point guard Isaiah Thomas. "They're good. They're a veteran team that has won championships, so they know how to win, but I think we know how to win too and we're going to be ready for Thursday, because that's one of the biggest games this season."
Washington can enjoy Pauley Pavilion when they first arrive, but after the tip-off they had better be ready and treat it like any other game. If they get lost in the lure, the dream of a Pac-10 title could start to slip away.
"It can make you star struck, but at the end of the day it's just a basketball court and that's way we need to think about it," Brockman said in what should be the message of the week.