Jan. 13, 2010
SEATTLE - The Washington women's basketball team is learning to enjoy the feel of their hot start in the Pac-10. This weekend, though, it's back to business with a trip to the Bay Area that will provide a more definitive litmus test for the season.
The road swing begins with California at Haas Pavilion on Thursday night, and the Huskies know they'll be facing a desperate team in Berkeley.
A Sweet 16 team last year, the Golden Bears (6-8, 0-3) are coming off a sweep at the Los Angeles schools. In the concluding game of the trip, USC won on a banked-in 3-pointer at the buzzer, making for a glum flight back home.
If Washington is one of the "surprises" of the Pac-10 portion of the schedule, as some pundits have mentioned, then California's slide this year has been just as unexpected.
This is the time where the Huskies are going to learn more about themselves. It's a thought not lost on Coach Tia Jackson, who marveled at the Golden Bears' athleticism after breaking down film of their games.
"Cal is very impressive, very athletic," Jackson said. "...We're going to have our work cut out for us."
The Huskies arrive in Northern California with a little momentum of their own, having three straight and six of their last eight. For the first time since the 2002-03 season, Washington swept the Arizona schools at home, giving them a much needed boost into this weekend's games. Given where the Huskies program was last season, wins are certainly to be enjoyed. As Kristi Kingma put it this week, the winning streak has hardened the players to knowing what it takes to pull out hard-fought games at the end, a feat worth savoring afterward. But the team also knows what lies ahead.
"You have to refocus yourself," said senior Sami Whitcomb, "But we're definitely enjoying each win after they come."
The last time the Huskies played at Haas, the results weren't pretty. Cal held Washington to just nine first-half points en route to a 62-34 victory. Overall, the Golden Bears swept all three games they faced UW in the 2009 season.
Gone are the stalwarts of the Cal program - Devanei Hampton and Ashley Walker, both of whom were integral parts of the Sweet 16 run. Instead the Golden Bears start four freshman, a philosophy tempered by the fact that Cal had the best recruiting class in the nation. Those freshmen surround senior guard Alexis Gray-Lawson, who is averaging a team-high 14.7 points per game.
The Bears, though, have lost three games this year at Haas, including a 68-66 contest to a San Jose State squad that's just 4-11.
A win would give the Huskies their first four-game winning streak in the Pac-10 since the 2006-07 season.
Still, the Huskies understand it would be foolish to underestimate a Golden Bears team quite capable of flipping the script and making a run in the conference.
"I'm sure they're going to be looking to make up for those losses," Whitcomb said. "We're going to have to approach it with the kind of competitiveness that Kristi talked about. Yeah, we're 3-1 right now, but we don't want to stay there. We want to keep pushing that."