SEATTLE — The University of Washington men’s basketball team begins Pac-10 play tonight with a much different look than the unit that won last season’s conference title.
There are, of course, the losses of senior leaders Jon Brockman and Justin Dentmon from last year’s Huskies. And then there is sophomore Isaiah Thomas, whose high-energy, force-it-into-the-paint style has been replaced by a more patient approach in recent games.
Over the past three games, Thomas has averaged 9.0 points (6.9 below his career average) and a team-high 7.0 assists (4.3 above his career average) as the Huskies have won three games in a row to vault to No. 17 in the national rankings.
Thomas’s style will also be altered in tonight’s game against Oregon State (6-5) because of an ankle injury that limited him in practice all week. Coach Lorenzo Romar said the injury shouldn’t keep Thomas out of tonight’s game, but it could slow the team’s second-leading scorer.
Even when Thomas was healthy, senior Quincy Pondexter emerged as UW’s go-to scorer this season. He ranks third in the Pac-10 in scoring (21.9 points per game) and fourth in rebounding (8.4 per game) while leading the Huskies in both categories.
While the 17th-ranked Huskies (9-2) enter tonight’s game as the Pac-10’s lone Top 25 representative, the Beavers have not held up under the rare pressure of heightened expectations. After being the most surprising team in the conference last year, OSU was expected to be a contender for, at worst, an NCAA tournament bid this season.
But the Beavers have gotten off to a surprisingly slow start, with losses to Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, Illinois-Chicago and Sacramento State during a modest preseason schedule.
“I think we’ll be ready,” Oregon State coach Craig Robinson said of tonight’s Pac-10 opener. “It is a tough place to start your season. It’s a situation where, if we do what we’re supposed to do, we should have an opportunity to be in the game.”