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Originally published December 30, 2009 at 7:40 PM | Page modified December 30, 2009 at 11:43 PM

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Can Washington men defend Pac-10 men's basketball title?

The No. 17 Huskies open defense of Pac-10 title by hosting Oregon State on Thursday at Edmundson Pavilion.

Seattle Times staff reporter

Today

Oregon State @ UW, 7 p.m., FSN

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The only time the Washington men's basketball team won back-to-back Pac-10 titles, Paul Fortier received a quick lesson on how difficult it was to win it again.

"It wasn't easy and that's what I tell our guys," said Fortier, a UW assistant who starred on the 1984 and '85 teams that shared conference titles.

"Everybody is going to be gunning for you now, and you're going to get their best shot every time," he said. "There's no more surprises about us."

No. 17 Washington, the only Pac-10 team ranked in the polls, begins defense of its title tonight at Edmundson Pavilion against Oregon State.

The Huskies (9-2) limp into the New Year's Eve opener unsure if sophomore star guard Isaiah Thomas will be fully healthy after spraining his right ankle Sunday. He didn't practice early in the week and was limited in workouts Wednesday.

Thomas, UW's second leading scorer at 17.5 points per game, hasn't missed a game as a Husky and expects he'll have to play with pain.

"I probably will," he said. "I've got to do the best I can. This is the Pac-10, so I want to be as ready as I possibly can."

With Thomas ailing, Quincy Pondexter will likely shoulder a bigger load for the Huskies, which looks to extend its 17-game home winning streak.

The senior forward is 15th in NCAA Division I scoring at 21.9 points per game.

He's also second in the Pac-10 in field-goal percentage (.586), fourth in rebounding (8.4 per game), tied for fourth in steals (2.0) and tied for 10th in blocks (0.9).

"He's been our go-to guy," coach Lorenzo Romar said. "I think leaders always show you, 'all right, this is how it's done' and you follow that."

Pondexter scored 15 and 11 points when the Huskies swept Oregon State last season and beat the Beavers by an average of 22.5 points.

Oregon State's strong finish last season, which included winning the College Basketball Invitational, raised preseason expectations in Corvallis, Ore.

Many college basketball fans picked the Beavers to be Pac-10 contenders and expected them to return to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1990.

But a humbling 67-43 loss to Texas A&M-Corpus Christi in the season opener and defeats in two of the next three games sent the Beavers (6-5) crashing back to earth.

Washington hasn't lost to Oregon State since January 2007.

Despite its recent dominance in the Northwest rivalry that began in 1904, Romar cautioned that the Beavers, who have won five of their past seven games, are a dangerous team.

"They are certainly capable of beating anyone in this league," he said.

Still, the burden of expectations has derailed the Beavers while the Huskies seem on track to accomplish their preseason goals.

"The more the expectations, the more we've really got to step it up here," Romar said. "Others wilt over that type of situation. I think our teams have done a pretty good job of going out maybe knowing that teams are out to get us, so to speak, and stepping up to the plate."

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

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