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Originally published December 18, 2009 at 9:14 PM | Page modified December 19, 2009 at 8:07 PM

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Portland men's basketball learned valuable lesson with early success

For a few days last month, it was 1959 all over again in Portland, with the Pilots the darlings of the college basketball world.

Seattle Times staff reporter

Today

Portland Pilots

@ Washington,

7 p.m., FSN

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For a few days last month, it was 1959 all over again in Portland, with the Pilots the darlings of the college basketball world.

• They beat Oregon in Portland.

• They throttled UCLA by 30 points in the 76 Classic in Anaheim, Calif.

• And they knocked off then-No. 22 Minnesota on the road.

After starting the season 5-1, the loss coming at No. 8 West Virginia, the Pilots were ranked 25th in The Associated Press poll.

It was the first time Portland had been ranked in 50 years. During the 1958-59 season, the Pilots spent three weeks in the AP poll.

"Definite high point for this program," coach Eric Reveno said. "No question about it. We were all pretty pumped around here when the polls came out.

"It lets you know you're on the right path and people are starting to take notice."

Portland State took notice. And in its first game as a ranked team, Portland lost 86-82 to its crosstown rival.

The Pilots lost again four days later, falling 68-48 to Idaho.

During its brief stint as a ranked team, Portland learned a valuable lesson about success.

"It's so fragile," Reveno said. "It's not like we're that good.

"It's a little bit scary because you're playing so well and you're doing so good, but all of a sudden you get away from a few core basics in terms of some offensive balance and some tough-minded defense, and all of a sudden you don't look too good."

Portland (6-3) seeks to add another impressive win to its résumé tonight when it faces No. 24 Washington (6-2) at Edmundson Pavilion.

The Pilots return the same team that upset the Huskies 80-74 in last season's opener at the Chiles Center and narrowly lost 67-63 in Seattle in 2007.

"They shoot the ball well, but the biggest strength is they're a senior-dominated team," Washington coach Lorenzo Romar said. "That team has been together for three years.

"Most people forget that when those guys were freshman and sophomores, they came in here and almost beat us in here. When teams grow together and when they're seniors, that experience, it says a lot."

The Pilots start four seniors in guards T.J. Campbell and Nik Raivio and forwards Robin Smeulders and Ethan Niedermeyer, and junior center Kramer Knutson. Juniors Jared Stohl and Luke Sikma, son of former Sonics center Jack Sikma, are the top reserves.

The Pilots score more than a third of their points on three-pointers, shooting .404 from behind the arc, second-highest in the West Coast Conference and 34th in the nation.

The Huskies counter with a defense that has allowed opponents to shoot just .270 on three-pointers. Washington also has yet to lose at home, where it averages 87.0 points a game and holds opponents to 67.8.

Another UW advantage: revenge.

Admittedly, the Huskies overlooked the Pilots last season. But Washington has no reason to be overconfident this time.

"We can't just think we can come in and beat them," junior forward Justin Holiday said. "We have to think things seriously."

In last year's game, Portland converted 7 of 18 three-pointers and all five Pilots starters scored in double figures, while Washington forward Quincy Pondexter, who was hampered with foul trouble, went scoreless. Huskies guard Isaiah Thomas had 10 points.

The Huskies were undone by 23 turnovers, poor three-point shooting and a lack of offensive cohesion.

Washington, which has lost two of its past three games, is experiencing those same problems this season as it faces an early crossroads for a team with Final Four aspirations.

"We really need a signature victory just to show we are one of the best teams in the nation," sophomore forward Darnell Gant said. "Portland is a good team this year. They're better than last year.

"If we beat them and then come out and play good against Texas A&M [on Tuesday] and win, those are two key wins for us."

Percy Allen: 206-464-2278 or pallen@seattletimes.com

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