Washington got off to a strong start by taking advantage of a favorable schedule before two losses against stiffer competition took the shine off that early success.
Though a meeting with a West Coast Conference team might look like a prime opportunity for the Huskies to get back on track, Portland has been anything but a pushover.
The 24th-ranked Huskies look to rebound from their second loss in three games and stay undefeated in Seattle on Saturday night when they host the Pilots, looking to improve to 3-0 against the Pac-10.
Washington (6-2) won its first five games of the season at home, climbing to No. 12 in the Nov. 30 poll. In their first big challenge of 2009-10, however, the Huskies fell 99-92 in overtime at Texas Tech on Dec. 3. They rebounded with a home win over Cal State Northridge before losing 74-66 to then-No. 15 Georgetown last Saturday in the Wooden Classic in Anaheim, Calif.
Washington committed 25 turnovers and was outscored 20-6 at the foul line against the Hoyas.
“We let up a little bit,” said senior forward Quincy Pondexter, who led Washington with 23 points while going 10 for 15 from the field. “That’s all it takes to lose these games. Any slippage or breakdown on the defensive end can cost you.”
Washington doesn’t want to overlook a Portland team that’s already defeated Oregon and UCLA. The Pilots also started 5-0, highlighted by a victory over then-No. 22 Minnesota.
The Pilots have shown they can compete with the Huskies as well, beating them in the 2008-09 season opener. Robin Smeulders had 20 points while going 7 for 9 from the field as each Portland starter scored in double figures in the 80-74 victory Nov. 15, 2008.
The Huskies haven’t had nearly that much balance lately. Pondexter and standout sophomore Isaiah Thomas are averaging 22.1 and 20.4 points, respectively, but no other Washington player is scoring more than 8.4 per game. Pondexter and Thomas combined for 44 against the Hoyas, but none of their teammates had more than five.
“Our other guys have to find a rhythm and shoot the ball more confidently,” coach Lorenzo Romar said. “These guys have to come out and be aggressive. (Pondexter and Thomas) have been carrying the scoring load whether we were at home or on the road.”
Thomas had 10 in his college debut against Portland last season, while Pondexter was held scoreless on 0 for 6 shooting.
The Pilots took the No. 25 spot in the Nov. 30 poll for their first ranking since February 1959, but they dropped their next three before beating Denver 72-62 last Saturday. Nik Raivio led the team with 12 points and six other players scored at least seven as Portland pulled away in the second half.
Pilots coach Eric Reveno thinks his team will need a more complete performance to hang with the Huskies.
“It’s a big game,” Reveno told the team’s official Web site. “Our guys need a couple of days to recover, we need to stick with what we do and try to be the best basketball team we can be on Saturday. Between now and then will require rest, staying on top of their schoolwork and figuring out how to handle UW’s athleticism and pressure.”