Feb. 25, 2011
By Gregg Bell
UW Director of Writing
SEATTLE - The Huskies don't usually need extra motivation to play Washington State.
They've got it anyway - thanks to an ugly, 87-80 loss to the Cougars in Pullman in late January. The Dawgs are still smarting from that defeat. It started a three-game spiral that has essentially cost UW a chance at the regular-season Pac-10 championship.
"They got us good down there. And we know what they did," Huskies star guard Isaiah Thomas said.
Oh, yeah, there's also the Cougs' postgame frivolity that the Huskies still remember.
As the buzzer sounded Jan. 30, the frenzied, near-sellout crowd that included an entire side of the arena from floor to ceiling full of WSU students stormed Friel Court. They carried Cougar players around on their shoulders. It was as if the Final Four had come to Pullman in January.
Yes, the Huskies (19-8, 10-5 Pac-10) noticed. And they still are on notice heading into Sunday night's nationally televised rematch with Washington State (17-10, 7-8) at 7 p.m. inside Alaska Airlines Arena.
Fox Sports Network has the cable broadcast of the 171st meeting of the Huskies and Cougars. The Washington IMG College network has the radio call. And we will again have a live game chat, statistics and streaming audio here at GoHuskies.com.
Asked this week if he had issues with how the Cougs and their fans celebrated that night, UW forward Darnell Gant nodded and said flatly, "Yes."
"It's going to be emotional. Their coach (former Huskies assistant Ken Bone) was at U-Dub. They are into the rivalry," Gant said.
"You can't really get distracted by that. But in the back of your mind it's still there that they celebrated."
But wait, there's more. When the Huskies opened their postgame sandwich boxes prepared by a Pullman shop that night, they found a photocopied condolence note designed for deaths of loved ones.
"May memories of the fun you share bring you gentle comfort. So sorry for your loss," the prank note said, over a serene beach scene of footprints in sand.
More than one Husky noticed it. A member of the coaching staff asked for the note to keep for future reference - such as, say, this weekend.
Yet even with all these relatively superficial reasons for motivation, the Dawgs have plenty of reason to be ready for this one.
Washington has three conference games remaining in the regular season and is two games behind league leader Arizona, which was upset Thursday night by USC and next plays at UCLA. The Huskies also entered Saturday one game behind UCLA in the Pac-10, with a home date against the Bruins on Thursday.
UW ends its regular season at home against USC on March 5. It is trying to finish undefeated at home for the third time in the last half century. The Huskies have won 14 consecutive games by at least 10 points at Hec Edmundson Pavilion, a school record.
They were cruising along this season, ranked 18th in the country and seemingly on their way to the conference title - until they committed a season-high 24 turnovers, shot just 37 percent and allowed their most points of the season while losing at Washington State four weeks ago. Washington blew a seven-point, halftime lead and missed 20 of its 31 shots from 3-point range, costing it a chance to go 8-1 in the conference for the first time since 1984.
The Dawgs felt they settled too much for 3-point shots and didn't get the ball inside to Matthew Bryan-Amaning enough - a common theme to most of UW's nine losses this season. The 6-foot-9 senior has emerged by averaging 20.7 points per game over his last six games, but scored just six points on 1-for-8 shooting in Pullman.
The Huskies are also going to have to turn up its defense on the perimeter. UW let Cougars star shooter Klay Thompson make 9 of 18 shots in that first meeting, after he had gone just 4 for 26 in WSU's two losses to the Huskies last season.
So even if the Cougars' students hadn't stormed the court and the sub shop hadn't slid snide notes into their postgame lunches last month, the Huskies would still have plenty priming them for Sunday night.
"I mean we always want it bad, especially because it's Wazzu. But we didn't play the way we should that game," said senior co-captain Justin Holiday, who had 16 points and 12 rebounds in that first meeting at WSU - but made just 4 of 12 shots.
"Obviously, it's going to be different this time."