Washington and Oregon finished at opposite ends of the Pac-10 last season, but they come into this season’s first meeting with the same goal - trying to stay atop the standings.
So far, the 17th-ranked Huskies seem better equipped to accomplish that, and they’ll be looking for a ninth straight home win over the resurgent Ducks on Saturday.
Washington earned its first outright conference title in 56 years in 2008-09, while Oregon dropped 16 of 18 in Pac-10 play during a miserable 8-23 campaign.
The Huskies remain the league’s only ranked team and opened their title defense Thursday night by holding off visiting Oregon State 76-70. It was their fourth win in a row and 18th straight at home.
Venoy Overton scored 11 of his 13 points in the first half as Washington opened a 10-point lead, but the Beavers trimmed the deficit to three in the final minute before Quincy Pondexter helped seal the win with four free throws.
“It doesn’t always have to be pretty, just as long as you get it done,” said Pondexter, who had 20 points. “Some teams play like this and lose to a team that they’re supposed to beat. Some of us aren’t happy with the way we played but … we’ll take it any way we can get it.”
Even before Thursday’s game, Pondexter talked about the Huskies (10-2, 1-0) will face difficult moments in their attempt to repeat as conference champions for the first time since sharing the crown in 1984 and 1985.
“We’re going to be wearing the bullseye - the biggest, reddest bullseye on our backs, chests, ankles, everywhere there can be one,” said Pondexter, third in the Pac-10 with 21.8 points per game. “We’re going to be ready.”
Washington might get a challenge from a Ducks team that’s already topped last season’s victory total and has gained momentum by winning five straight.
The latest victory was Thursday’s 91-89 double-overtime thriller at Washington State.
It was the first road win of the season for the Ducks (9-4, 1-0), who caught a huge break in the first overtime when the Cougars were called for a technical foul after the celebration of a go-ahead basket spilled on to the court.
Tajuan Porter hit both free throws as part of a season-high 31-point night, and Malcolm Armstead, who scored 16 points, made the winning layup in the final second.
Michael Dunigan had 22 points and had a career-high 12 rebounds, three days after scoring a career-best 26 in a win over Arkansas-Pine Bluff.
The Huskies, who enter as the Pac-10’s highest-scoring team at 82.8 points per game, averaged 93.5 points in sweeping both regular-season meetings with Oregon in 2008-09.
Washington’s Isaiah Thomas combined for 47 points in those two games and is coming off a 19-point outing against Oregon State. He had been held to a total of 13 points in the previous two games while going 4 of 22 from the field.
Porter, tied for ninth place on the Ducks’ career scoring list with 1,554 points, scored 33 in his last visit to Seattle but Oregon lost 103-84 on Feb. 14.
That was the Ducks’ eighth consecutive road loss in this series since an 85-73 victory Feb. 17, 2001.