Huskies begin final push for regular season crown

TIM BOOTH AP Sports Writer Published:

If Washington is going to gain at least a share of only its fourth regular season conference title in the past six decades, it'll do so away from the comforts of home.

And even in a down year for the Pac-12, that might make the accomplishment more meaningful.

Washington's final push for the regular season title begins on Saturday night against rival Washington State (14-13, 6-9 Pac-12) in Pullman.

The Huskies (19-8, 12-3) need a win to keep pace with California, which won at Utah on Thursday night and could take a half-game lead into the final week of the regular season with a win at Colorado on Sunday no matter what the Huskies do in Pullman.

But the conference doesn't differentiate regular season titles based on head-to-head meetings.

So as long as Washington wins out -- with games next week at USC and UCLA -- the Huskies will at least get a share of the conference title even though the Golden Bears beat Washington in the only meeting of the regular season.

One more win for the Huskies would give them four straight seasons of 20 or more victories for the first time in school history.

"Does that mean we've solved our issues (on the road)? No, but we are better than we were," Washington coach Lorenzo Romar said.

The Huskies have won eight of nine and 11 of their past 13 overall, yet their poor performance and lack of a marquee victory during the non-conference schedule -- not to mention an RPI of 54 that won't get much better -- has Washington squarely in the focus of those trying to determine the NCAA tournament field and those final few bubble teams.

That makes avoiding a letdown against the Cougars vitally important for the Huskies' postseason hopes.

When the teams met in early January, Washington needed an electric second half from Terrence Ross to rally from a 10-point hole and beat the Cougars 75-65.

Ross scored 26 of his career-high 30 points in the final 20 minutes, but it was another number that was just as eye-popping and had just as much effect on the outcome as Ross' career performance. Washington outrebounded the Cougars 46-24, including a 22-4 advantage in offensive rebounds.

Washington State coach Ken Bone noted this week just how unique the Huskies' rebounding prowess is.

"A number of times in the last seven, eight years they've led the conference in rebounding, especially offensive rebounding, and I'm pretty sure they're leading the conference again this year in offensive rebounding," Bone said. "It's a big part of their offense. Tony Wroten is one of the best I've ever seen at shooting the shot and then if it's missed, getting his own rebound."

The Cougars bounced back after losing three of four -- two of those by four points or fewer -- and walloped Arizona State 72-50 last Saturday. Forward Brock Motum would be in consideration for conference player of the year if the Cougars had a better record.

Over the past seven games, Motum is averaging 24.3 points and has scored in double figures in 11 straight. His overall season average of 17.8 points per game is second in the conference behind Oregon State's Jared Cunningham.

Romar went so far this week as to call Motum the most improved player in the conference.

"He's become an exceptional basketball player. He's aggressive, he's tough, he's really good," Romar said. "He's a matchup nightmare."

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