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Originally published March 9, 2011 at 6:43 PM | Page modified March 10, 2011 at 9:37 PM

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Huskies seem like they're behind before game starts against Washington State

Washington faces Washington State in the Pac-10 tournament on Thursday without Venoy Overton and possibly Justin Holiday. And the Huskies have already lost twice this season to the Cougars.

Seattle Times staff reporter

Thursday

Washington vs. Washington State, 8:40 p.m.

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LOS ANGELES — Washington suspended Venoy Overton from the Pac-10 tournament while Washington State lifted Klay Thompson's one-game penalty, clearing him to play in the quarterfinal game against the defending champion Huskies.

And Washington might also lose senior co-captain Justin Holiday, who suffered a concussion Saturday and has been unable to practice this week. Meanwhile, Washington State regains the services of Reggie Moore. An ankle injury forced the sophomore point guard to sit out Saturday, but he practiced Wednesday and is ready to return.

So far it's WSU 2-0 in the personnel battle before the biggest game of year for both teams.

It's also 2-0 for the Cougars, who swept the regular-season series.

"It's a new season right now," Huskies junior co-captain Isaiah Thomas said. "Everybody is 0-0."

Maybe so, but given the off-the-court upheaval Tuesday when Overton was charged with a gross misdemeanor that led to his suspension, the Huskies must feel like they're playing from behind before the game begins.

Injuries have sapped what used to be a deep roster, and Washington's confidence is at a low in a season filled with disappointments.

The Huskies are a 5 ½-point favorite, but in many ways they're the underdogs against their cross-state rival.

"Nobody is feeling sorry for us," Thomas said. "I'm not feeling sorry for us. We've got to go out and win basketball games.

"Our backs have been against the wall before. We know what it takes to win a Pac-10 tournament championship. We've got to play every game like it's our last, because it can be our last."

That's not an overstatement or some rally cry.

Many projections have UW between a No. 9-12 seed in next week's NCAA tournament, but the Huskies don't want to leave anything to chance.

They understand a win or two practically guarantees an at-large berth while three victories wins a second straight Pac-10 tournament crown and an automatic bid to the Big Dance.

"The mindset of the guys, especially the guys coming back from last year, is nothing is a sure thing," senior forward Matthew Bryan-Amaning said. "You never know what is going on with the (NCAA tournament selection) committee.

"The year before I got here, they thought they were watching it just to see if they made it and they didn't make it. They thought they were going to play in the NIT and they didn't even make that. So you never know what is going to happen."

Washington and Washington State stumble into Thursday's 8:40 p.m. rematch at Staples Center after defeats in the regular-season finale.

The Huskies (20-10) lost 62-60 to USC, and they dropped six of their last 10 Pac-10 games.

The Cougars (19-11) fell 58-54 in overtime to UCLA, and they were 5-6 in their last 11 conference games.

The good news for WSU is that two of those wins were against Washington. The Cougars won 87-80 on Jan. 30 in Pullman and 80-69 two weeks ago at Edmundson Pavilion.

The adage says it's difficult to beat a team three times in a season, but that's not entirely true.

Last season, the Huskies swept Oregon State and Stanford in the regular season before beating them in the conference tournament before a 79-75 win over California in the title game.

Bryan-Amaning said the Huskies feel comfortable playing at Staples Centers and remembers fondly the team cutting down the nets.

"We're trying to play for another championship," he said. "These three days in L.A. is another opportunity to make another statement."

The first chance arrives Thursday with a simple question: Can UW solve the riddle that is WSU?

"We can beat Wazzu," Thomas said. "They're not like the best team in the country to where we're like, 'Man, playing Wazzu, this is going to be tough.'

"They played two good games. We give them all the credit. They battled those two games and beat us. But it's hard to beat a team three times and we're going to be well-prepared for what they've got."

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

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