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March 12, 2009

Washington ready to defend Pac-10 crown

Washington finished the regular season with the best conference record in the Pac-10, winning the conference championship outright for the first time since 1953.

It's only been four years since the Huskies' last conference tournament title, but the team sounds just as anxious to end that drought.

The 13th-ranked and top-seeded Huskies open Pac-10 tournament play Thursday when they meet No. 9 seed Stanford at Staples Center.

Washington (24-7) was picked to finish fifth in the Pac-10 in a preseason poll of media members covering the conference, but the Huskies used the highest-scoring offense in the league to finish at the top at 14-4, ending their 55-year drought without an outright regular-season conference title.

The 1953 team that won the Pacific Coast Conference advanced to the national semifinals. While this year's Huskies are a long way from that kind of success, senior guard Justin Dentmon isn't ruling it out.

"All I can say is, whoever's playing us, look out," Dentmon said Monday, after he and fellow senior Jon Brockman were selected first team all-conference. "They are going to have a hard time playing us, a hard time defending us."

Dentmon and Brockman were in high school when the Huskies won the 2005 Pac-10 tournament, but they were members of the Washington team that reached the regional semifinals in the 2006 NCAA tournament. Brockman thinks this year's team has potential to go even further.

"This team had bought into the total team concept, said Brockman, whose 58 career double-doubles are the most of any active college player. "This team, because we play together, because we have such good pieces, I think this team definitely can be a little more special."

The Huskies hope to back up their talk by defeating the Cardinal (18-12) for the third time this season. Brockman made a game-winning putback with 4.6 seconds remaining in an 84-83 home victory Jan. 8, and Quincy Pondexter led the Huskies with 20 points as they snapped a 15-game road losing streak against the Cardinal with a 75-68 win one month later.

Stanford, though, also lost two regular-season games against Oregon State before rallying for a 62-54 win over the Beavers on Wednesday night.

The Cardinal, who were 6-12 within the conference during the regular season, were making their first appearance in the tournament's play-in game one year after losing to UCLA in the title game.

Anthony Goods scored 17 of his 23 points in the second half as Stanford outscored Oregon State 41-26 after intermission Wednesday.

Goods, Stanford's leading scorer with 15.9 points per game, averaged 15.5 against Washington this season but was held to 34.6 percent shooting (9-for-26) from the field in those games.

Huskies freshman guard Isaiah Thomas, averaging a team-high 15.4 points, scored 17.5 per game while shooting 54.2 percent (13-for-24) against the Cardinal.

Washington has also had a significant advantage over Stanford in the paint. The Huskies have outrebounded the Cardinal 83-62 in the first two meetings thanks in large part to Brockman. The 6-foot-7, 255-pounder has averaged 15.0 boards against the Cardinal this season and has posted six straight double-doubles against them since the start of his sophomore season.

The winner of this game will meet No. 4 Arizona State or No. 5 Arizona in the semifinals Friday night.




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