Washington stands a half-game ahead of UCLA in the Pacific-10 Conference men’s basketball standings – but the teams are even in the loss column.
And with heavyweight battles coming up next week in Los Angeles and the following week against the Arizona schools, the Huskies understand their title hopes might not survive becoming the first Pac-10 team to lose to Oregon, which visits Hec Edmundson Pavilion at noon today.
“We almost have to take this game a lot more serious than any other game, because they’re going to knock somebody off,” senior Jon Brockman said. “... And it would be terrible to be that first group to get knocked off by them.”
Since the league expanded 30 years ago, only one team has gone through league play without a win - Oregon State last season.
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However, none has survived without a loss. Pac-10 champions have been crowned with as few as one league defeat or as many as five. The average since the 1978-79 season has been 2.5 - a figure already certain to be topped this season.
“I think (UCLA coach Ben Howland) went on record early to say the winner of the Pac-10 will probably win it with four or five losses,” UW coach Lorenzo Romar said Friday. “That looks like that’s probably going to be the case.”
With six and seven league games remaining respectively, the Huskies (9-3) and Bruins (8-3) already have three league losses with plenty of challenges ahead.
“We were just talking in our staff meeting that every game right now seems like the heavyweight division with (George) Foreman and (Muhammad) Ali and (Ken) Norton, and every fight was just a big brawl,” Romar said. “You look at (Thursday) night: UCLA and Arizona State, USC and Arizona battling; then next week Arizona plays Arizona State, we go to Los Angeles and play. These games are just incredible.”
Then there is Oregon.
The Ducks arrive on a 12-game losing streak. Their latest loss might have been the ugliest: a 67-38 mauling Thursday at Washington State.
That Oregon point total matches the lowest by a league team this season, and the Ducks’ 20.8 shooting percentage ranks alone at the bottom.
Embarrassed Ducks offered the Oregonian a litany of humbled quotes.
Freshman forward Drew Wiley: “We just came out and laid and egg. We’re not that bad - honest.”
Junior guard Tajuan Porter: “We took a beating today. There’s not much I can say about it.”
Coach Ernie Kent: “We got our butt kicked. We didn’t play very well - we all know that. Now, just bounce back from it.”
For the season, Oregon is last in the Pac-10 in scoring defense, scoring margin, field goal percentage, field goal percentage defense, 3-point percentage defense, rebounding margin, defensive rebounding and assist/turnover ratio.
Romar has an explanation for why the Ducks are struggling: They’re young. But he won’t bother trying to deny those struggles to his team.
“A coach I worked for - Jim Harrick - would always say, ‘You can’t con a con, and you can’t kid a kid,’” Romar said. “... Guys know. They know if teams are good or had not played well. They know a lot more than we might want to give them credit for. So, we try to be consistent with (a message of) trying to get better. And if we’re playing the No. 1 team in the conference, the No. 2 team in the conference, the No. 10 team in the conference, we are trying to get better.”
The No. 1 or 2 team may turn up as soon as Thursday, when UW visits UCLA. But today brings the No. 10 team, and that’s the one the Huskies say they are concentrating on.
“I haven’t even thought about (UCLA),” Brockman said. “I’m just trying to take it one day at a time. If I start thinking too far ahead, I’m not even going to be able to remember anything from my senior year. We have a home game here - one of our last home games - and we just have to come out and perform.”