The University of Washington men'ês basketball players get to bask under the tanning-lamp comfort of being Pac-10 leaders until at least 7:30 p.m., Jan. 29, when the next game ends in an inhospitable gym in Tucson. At that point the artificiality of the Huskies'ê command of the conference may give way to a chillier reality: that the team won'êt be league champ at season'ês end.
That'ês because of the competitive trajectory of the next play-dates: four straight road engagements with opponents the combined record of which is 57-19. Yet the Dawgs seem eminently capable of rising to challenges, if only given the evidence of a pair of home wins secured by showing admirable persistence. The triumphs over the Los Angeles programs (78-73 on Jan. 22, versus USC; 86-75 two days later with UCLA) mean at the very least that the team probably will bound into the national top-25 rankings for the first time in several years. The victories also brought the season record to a lofty 14-4. A quick glance at the remaining schedule indicates at least six more wins and a 20-something regular-season record: good enough to get the club into the NCAA tournament in March.
But a gander backward gives the indication that the club could be even better. Certainly there was no reason to lose an early exhibition with the University of Portland. More to the point: The Dawgs seemingly had the Jan. 10 Cal game won several times before succumbing in triple overtime. The UW ought to be 16-2 and 7-0 in the conference going into Arizona later this week. On the other hand, after playing in Tucson, Tempe, Berkeley, and Palo Alto, the Huskies easily could stagger back to Seattle at 14-8.
Players and coaches would remind pessimists that this has been a resilient contingent, consistently clawing back from deficits. UCLA led 7-0 and 9-1 Saturday, only to yield to a tenacious Dawg defense and opportunistic offense late in the game. The Huskies'ê patience gave them an enviable advantage during the second half when UCLA accumulated more team fouls than their opponents. The Dawgs put in what for them was an unheard of 36 free throws in 43 tries; the Bruins, losing for the fifth-straight occasion in Seattle, went to the line just 15 times, making 10 attempts.
The Huskies also are winning by getting solid individual efforts no matter what combination of personnel is on the floor. Against the Bruins UW coach Lorenzo Romar sent in eight players for anywhere from 17 to 33 minutes each — remarkable balance for a club gearing up for a post-season run. Anchor forward Jon Brockman, who hadn'êt scored a field goal against USC, had five from the floor and eight from the line, pulling down eight rebounds to go along with his 18 points. His prize-fight-worthy defense at one point sent a Bruin player to the sidelines with a bleeding forehead gash.
After the game Romar seemed to seize upon the pugilistic moment, saying: 'êWe just completed a weekend of heavyweight fights here. The USC Trojans and UCLA Bruins are two heavyweights and we had to have a heavyweight response.'ê It was a cool comment. The remark will sound even cooler if Romar is able to repeat it after playing six of the next eight games in the glaring heat of California and Arizona.