Last season, Washington earned its first outright conference championship in 56 years. Judging by the state of the Pac-10, it might not take long for it to happen again.
The 17th-ranked Huskies begin defense of their title Thursday night when they host Oregon State in the conference opener for both teams.
Washington (9-2) had not won a regular-season conference crown since earning the 1953 Pacific Coast Conference title before going 14-4 to capture the 2008-09 Pac-10 championship. The Huskies have never won back-to-back outright crowns, although they shared Pac-10 titles in 1984-85.
This could be the season to do it with Washington being the only Pac-10 team in the Top 25. The conference had two teams in the preseason rankings, but California has dropped out.
Hosting the Oregon schools should help Washington ease into Pac-10 play. The Huskies swept both teams last season, beating Oregon State (6-5) by an average of 22.5 points.
Washington enters with a 17-game home win streak after an 86-71 victory over San Francisco on Sunday. Quincy Pondexter continued his strong play with 22 points on 10-of-12 shooting.
The senior forward is third in the conference in scoring with 21.9 points per game, and ranks second with a 58.6 field-goal percentage.
“Maybe we’re getting used to it,” coach Lorenzo Romar said after Pondexter’s eighth 20-point game of the season.
The Huskies have replaced two starters from last season’s club and Pondexter is anxious to get the newcomers up to speed on what to expect in conference play.
“Now, we have to do a better job of that because now it’s money time,” Pondexter said. “Now, if you lose, it’s an upset in the Pac-10 because people think that we are going to do a great job this year.”
Washington would like to see point guard Isaiah Thomas break out of his shooting slump. Thomas has missed 18 of 22 shots over the last two games and is shooting 39.9 percent for the season.
“He’s been a scorer all his life, so I’m sure it bothers him. But he’s not whining, not down about it,” Romar said. “And as we’ve seen the last few games, he’s found other ways to help his team. That’s the sign of a great basketball player.”
Thomas has 11 assists over the last two games while being held to a total of 13 points. He had scored no fewer than 13 in each of the season’s first nine games.
The Beavers are the second-lowest scoring team in the Pac-10 at 63.1 points per game as they begin coach Craig Robinson’s second Pac-10 campaign. Robinson engineered a major turnaround in guiding Oregon State to a 7-11 conference mark in 2008-09 after it went 0-18 before he arrived in Corvallis.
Oregon State hasn’t played since a 73-65 win over Fresno State on Dec. 23. Calvin Haynes matched a career high with 25 points for the Beavers, who had a season-low nine turnovers.
“I thought we took great care of the ball, and I also thought there was a maturity level that you saw with the execution of the game plan,” Robinson said. “Shot selection, taking care of the ball and keeping (Fresno State) off the offensive boards.”
Haynes has averaged 18.3 points in the last three games while going 12 of 20 from 3-point range. He was held to 8 of 25 from the field in last season’s two games against Washington, which has won six straight at home against the Beavers.