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January 19, 2006

Will Pauley's momentum continue vs. Beavs, Ducks?

Down by a dozen to the hot-hitting Bruins last Saturday, the Washington Huskies were confronted with their largest halftime deficit of the season at Pauley Pavilion, where the UW hadn't won since Jon Brockman was born. But after being held to their lowest first-half production of the year, 28 points, the Huskies blew past the Bruins with their best half of the season for a defining 69-65 triumph. Silencing any road doubts, the Dawgs rallied with an impressive team-wide effort that catapulted them towards the top of the Pac. First place awaits if they can successfully defend their turf against the invading Beavers and Ducks this weekend.

"This was a great learning experience for us and a great confidence-builder," said coach Lorenzo Romar after Washington won at Pauley for just the third time since it opened in 1965. "We can always talk about being 15 down (in the first half) to the No. 11 team in the country and we came back and won."

The Huskies (14-2, 3-2) got 11 second-half points, in addition to 12 rebounds, from Bobby Jones, and clutch performances from two of the younger Dawgs. Brockman, in the best game of his budding Pac-10 career, posted 12 points and six rebounds, while Ryan Appleby hit three times from triple-town and added a steady hand at the point. In the building where Lew Alcindor (soon-to-be Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) refined his "sky hook," Jamaal Williams led the Huskies in scoring with 14 points, draining several jump hooks on the move.

"I think this team knows if it comes out and plays the way it knows how to play, and we trust in each other, we can be a special team," said Jones, who was awarded the Pac-10 Player of the Week for his 33-point, 21-rebound performance in the rare road sweep of USC and UCLA. Mr. Jones' sixth double-double of his UW career came after falling one rebound shy of another against the Trojans.

With the Bruins collapsing on Brandon Roy, the Husky big men-Mike Jensen, Brockman, and Williams-all hit jumpers from beyond 16 feet. In their two biggest wins, Gonzaga and UCLA, Roy has been limited to 10 points, but the team has found a way to overcome the defensive schemes and quickness. Though Roy was held 20 points below his previous average in Pac-10 play, the Huskies bounced back from shooting 36 percent in the first half with crisp ball movement. They repeatedly found an open look in the second half, shooting 64 percent (16-of-27) while limiting the Bruins to 42 percent after the break.

The defensive adjustments at halftime, such as switching on screens, paid immediate dividends as the hustlin' Huskies held UCLA to 25 points in the second stanza. Appleby did a nice job of silencing Michael Roll, who had been on a 14-point first-half roll. Jones and Roy slowed the Bruins' leading scorer, Arron Afflalo, who had the majority of his 16 points in the first 20 minutes. Though point guard Jordan Farmar had 12 assists, he was less effective after the break and was held to a career-low three points.

"If we play with a sense of urgency for 40 minutes, we feel we can be competitive with anyone," Romar said Tuesday. "If we don't play with urgency, if we don't go out and lay it all on the line, then we'll be inconsistent from here on out."

While No. 10 Washington is off to a 2-0 conference road record for just the second time since 1984, they haven't forgotten about dropping the last two Pac-10 games at home. The first opportunity to rectify the slide comes against Oregon State Thursday. In what was a wild series last year, the Beavers handed the UW its worst loss of the season, a 90-73 drubbing in Corvallis. While the Dawgs were 4-for-27 from 3-point range, OSU shot 60 percent from the field for a small measure of revenge. A month earlier at Edmundson Pavilion, the Huskies cruised to a 108-68 victory, the UW's highest point total ever against a conference foe.

The Beavers (9-7, 2-3) have taken down a couple of Pac-10 contenders in the last two weeks, winning at Cal and then holding off a furious rally by Arizona last week for a 75-65 victory. But they'll be without senior point guard Lamar Hurd, who suffered a strained groin/lower abdominal in the overtime loss to Arizona State last Saturday. Hurd, who had been a driving force behind the Beavers recent improvement, will be replaced by Jason Fontenet, a quick senior who can't match Hurd's production, nor his assist/turnover ratio. In five Pac-10 games Fontenet has a shaky 12 assists against 20 turnovers, with a team-worst 51 turnovers on the season. OSU is 4-6 when committing more turnovers than their opponents.

"I remember how we did against them here last year, I think we defended them really well," said Roy. "We pressed them for 40 minutes and I think they did a bad job of handling it. I think we'll approach it the same way at home. Just get all over them and try to force them into a lot of turnovers and get into a transition game. I think it's proven that they don't shoot the ball as well on the road, so I think we'll try to speed the game up a lot."

Shooting guard Chris Stephens leads the Beavers in scoring, averaging 14.1 points on the season. The Huskies will also have to keep an eye on two sweet-shooting big men. Senior Nick DeWitz, a 6-foot-8 Iowa transfer, and reserve Sasa Cuic, a 6-foot-10 Croatian, are both shooting over 50 percent from 3-point range in Pac-10 play for the Beavers, who lead the league with a field goal percentage of .502 over the same period. Sophomore forward Marcel Jones is averaging nine points and nine rebounds over the last five games.

Oregon State is the Pac-10 leader in FG percentage defense (.414) and 3-point FG percentage defense (.266) in conference action. But the most telling stat may prove to be the battle on the boards. Washington has a rebounding margin of +8.4, while OSU is -1.1 on the season. The last time the Beavers beat a ranked opponent on the road was 1985, when they upset the 15th-ranked Huskies. But streaks don't ensure success. After the 32-game home winning streak, the UW has gone 1-2 since.

After humbling losses to the University of Portland and Portland State that dropped Oregon's non-conference record to 6-6, the Ducks have played more competitive basketball in the Pac-10. Following a two-point loss at Stanford, Oregon has a two-game winning streak heading into their Thursday match-up with Washington State. The Ducks (9-8, 3-2) swept the Arizona school and will be fighting for their post-season lives when they land on campus Saturday.

Point guard Aaron Brooks, a graduate of Seattle's Franklin High, is coming off a big weekend. He had 19 points in the Ducks' defeat of Arizona State and 17 points in the 73-68 upset of then-No. 24 Arizona. The junior is third in the Pac-10 with 4.4 assists per game and is leading the Ducks in scoring (16.0) over the five conference contests. Malik Hairston, the 6-foot-6 swingman, scored 23 against the Wildcats, including 11 straight midway through the second half. Averaging 15.3 points on the season, Hairston currently has an unusual statistic. Over the last four games, 80 percent of his scoring has come in the second half.

Sophomore Maarty Leunen, the Ducks' leading rebounder, sprained an ankle versus Stanford and sat out last week's action. If he's held out on Saturday, Jordan Kent, a 6-foot-5 sparkplug, will likely start, forcing the Huskies to use a shorter lineup similar to the USC game. Kent, whose father Ernie coaches the Ducks, is the proto-typical coach's son: always ready for some dirty work. Kent didn't score a point, but contributed 12 rebounds, eight assists, and three steals in last week's victories. Dawg fans may remember him from the overtime thriller in Eugene last year, when the younger Kent had a career game with 19 points and 16 rebounds. Kent became the first three-sport Pac-10 athlete since 1970 when he lettered as a receiver for the football team, following two seasons as a sprinter on the track team. The basketball team struggled, especially defensively, while Kent was in San Diego for the Holiday Bowl.

Oregon has lost six consecutive road games going back to last season and three consecutive games to the Huskies, but Washington hasn't won four straight against the Ducks since 1983-85. The Huskies are looking to avoid any surprises or letdowns. Conferences teams are only 15-12 at home in Pac-10 play, with the top two teams, UCLA and Washington, having already lost twice in front of the hometown fans.

"When we played Wazzu, that was our eye-opener game," said Jones, who was humble about taking home his first Pac-10 honor. "I don't want any more eye-openers."

Oregon is a solid rebounding team, though a notch below the Huskies. The Ducks lead the conference in 3-point field goals, though they hit the majority of their 112 treys in non-conference play. The Huskies, meanwhile, are first in the Pac-10 in scoring (88.4 point per game), rebounding (39.9), field goal percentage (.496) and assists (18.9), to name a few. This weekend will determine if they're first in the most important category, the standings.

"I'm really interested to see how we respond now that the media is back on our (bandwagon), and we're back in the top-10," said Roy, wanting to avoid the lull that followed their No. 7 ranking at the beginning of conference play. "If we respond to that pressure again, then I think it's fair to say, 'Yeah, the team is as good (as last year's),' but it's still hard to say right now."


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