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Originally published Thursday, January 17, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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UW Men | Huskies begin key stretch tonight

Whenever the Washington Huskies start to struggle, they can look to their recent history for a little bit of solace. In 2004, the Huskies...

Seattle Times staff reporter

Today

Oregon @ Washington, 6 p.m., FSN

Whenever the Washington Huskies start to struggle, they can look to their recent history for a little bit of solace.

In 2004, the Huskies pulled off the greatest comeback in Pac-10 history, rallying from an 0-5 conference start to finish 12-6 and in second place, good enough to qualify for the NCAA tournament.

But they also know that's not the recommended course, which is why they view this weekend's games with Oregon, tonight at 6 p.m., and Oregon State on Saturday as especially critical. The Huskies are 9-7 overall and 0-3 in Pac-10 games after being swept last weekend in Los Angeles.

The team apparently feels the urgency enough that it held a rare players-only meeting Tuesday.

"We've got to get some serious work done here," said Huskies forward Jon Brockman. "You let too many weekends go like last weekend, and all of a sudden you are too deep to dig yourself out of the hole. This is a huge weekend for us."

In fact, tonight's game is the beginning of an eight-game stretch that figures to determine whether UW's season will have any life beyond Pac-10 play. The Huskies have six of their next eight at home, where despite recent struggles, they remain tough to beat. Washington is 8-2 at home, losing by one point to Pitt and four to Washington State, each ranked among the top 15 this week.

Coach Lorenzo Romar pointed this week to the return home as a reason he's not yet ready to push any panic buttons, particularly in regard to a suddenly anemic offense.

Romar said he thinks some of the disturbing trends from the first three Pac-10 games might be halted by playing in more comfortable surroundings, and against teams that play a more familiar style. After losing to the top two defensive teams in the conference (WSU and UCLA) the Huskies face an Oregon team that is the most up-tempo in the conference, allowing a Pac-10 high 73.1 points per game.

"It would help if we could get in transition a little bit more," said Huskies guard Ryan Appleby. "I think everyone would get some more open shots."

Most of all, maybe Appleby himself. He was held scoreless in the two L.A. games, going 0 for 7 from the floor, highlighting UW's offensive inefficiency. The Huskies haven't scored more than 55 points in any of their conference games, averaging 52.7.

"They were half-court games, and they [opposing defenses] could kind of just sit on Ryan," Romar said.

But UW's struggles have been teamwide.

Consider a few numbers from the first three Pac-10 games:

• UW is shooting 39.3 percent compared to 46.1 for the opponent.

• UW has made 19 of 39 free throws (48.7 percent) compared to 51 of 59 (86.4 percent) for the opponent.

• UW has 49 turnovers to 36 for the opponent.

Romar maintains it's all fixable, saying some of the turnovers are the result of hustle plays gone awry and pointing out that the Huskies missed at least a half-dozen layups or putbacks against USC, something he doesn't think will happen again.

On the other hand, the first three games seemed to reveal some unhappy truths about a UW team that has completed half of the games it is guaranteed to play this season.

Foremost among them, opponents were able to devote most of their defensive energies to containing Brockman and Appleby, confident that no one else could do enough to beat them.

"We need effort from someone else to kind of step up and hit the open shots," Brockman said. "Our guys are doing a good job of it, but we just need a person to get real comfortable doing it to where all the sudden people are saying, 'Well, now what are we going to do with this guy?' "

The most logical candidate is sophomore forward Quincy Pondexter, who was 4 of 17 against USC, missing a handful of close-in shots. Romar said he liked Pondexter's aggressiveness and thinks those shots will start to fall.

Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or bcondotta@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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