The three times the University of Washington men’s basketball team played in Los Angeles this season, the results were disastrous. Whether it was the second-half meltdown against Georgetown, the buzzer-beating loss at UCLA or the tail-kicking at USC, the Huskies have had a devil of a time winning in the City of Angels.
If that trend continues tonight, UW may well be back in Seattle hosting a National Invitational Tournament game this time next week. That prospect alone should be enough to get the Huskies fired up for their quarterfinal matchup with Oregon State in the Pac-10 tournament.
“If we can’t find energy (today),” head coach Lorenzo Romar said earlier this week, “then we don’t deserve to be there. I don’t care if we’re playing in an alley or an ice-skating rink. I don’t care where we’re playing. At this point, the entire season is on the line.”
A loss by the third-seeded Huskies (21-9) at any point this week might mean the bursting of their NCAA bubble.
“You’ve got to always think for the worst,” sophomore guard Isaiah Thomas said. “We’ve got to keep working hard and try to get the most, and that’s trying to win the Pac-10 tournament for us.”
The most immediate goal, as Thomas himself acknowledged, is to beat sixth-seeded OSU (14-16) tonight in a game that’s scheduled to start around 8:40 p.m. UW won both meetings with the Beavers in the regular season, including an 82-70 victory Saturday. It’s enough to have gotten OSU’s blood flowing this week.
“Our guys are pretty motivated,” Beavers coach Craig Robinson said Tuesday.
The Huskies have beaten a single opponent three times in the same season in four of the nine years since the Pac-10 tournament returned — Arizona in 2003-04, Arizona State in 2004-05 and 2006-07, and Stanford last season. The Huskies are 4-2 in that span when playing a team they’ve beaten twice in the regular season.
Historically speaking, it’s not as rare to beat a team three times in one season as it’s made out to be. Maybe that explains the response of UW’s Thomas this week when asked why he thinks it’s so hard to beat a team three times.
“I don’t,” he told a group of reporters Tuesday. “That’s you guys. I don’t know. I just say it because you guys say it.”
Asked whether that means he thinks it will be easy to beat the Beavers a third time, Thomas said: “I’m not saying that, either. We’ll be ready, that’s all I’m going to say.”
The Huskies certainly have been ready for most of the challenges put before them in the past six weeks, posting a 9-2 record. UW has won four road games along the way and risen to No. 49 in the all-important RPI rankings, meaning that a potential semifinal matchup with Arizona State on Friday could mean an at-large NCAA bid for the winner.
But the Huskies aren’t thinking in those terms. Their most pressing goal is to beat the Beavers tonight — a loss almost certainly would knock UW out of consideration for the NCAA tournament — while the long-term objective is to leave Los Angeles with a tournament title and an automatic bid to the Big Dance.
In those terms, tonight’s game is as big as it gets.
“A game back in January is not necessarily going to end your season; You can make it up down the road,” Romar said. “This game right here? It sets you back. You probably don’t get in the NCAA tournament. So if you need any other motivation, any other thing to get you going, then I don’t know why you’re playing at this moment.”