The Washington Huskies currently owned the nation's longest home-court winning streak at 27 games. They hope to make it 28 in a televised clash with Loyola Marymount at 3:30 p.m., Friday. Last season, the Lions put up 93 points on the Huskies in a losing cause. The Lions are 1 and 1 in the current campaign, having opened with an 83-71 win over BYU (the same BYU team that beat WSU by 8 Tuesday) and an 81-75 home-loss to the Montana Grizzlies Monday night.
For new coach Rodney Tention, the team returns four seniors but suffered a couple of significant losses to injury over the summer. Key player and leading scorer, 6-foot-8 forward Matthew Knight (15.4 PPG, 5.9 RPG) tore his anterior cruciate while playing for the Australian National Team in the FIBA U21 World Championships. Knight is the second Lion player from the Australian National team to go down this summer. A 6-foot-2 guard, Damian Martin, who contributed 26 minutes per game last season, ruptured his Achilles tendon in summer play and will red-shirt.
Besides losing a close one to the Huskies last, the Lions took Washington's next opponent (Sunday, December 4, 7:30 PT), the Gonzaga Bulldogs down to the wire, losing by three.
Gonzaga (3-1) has won seven in a row against the Huskies. Fans expected a break- through last season, but scheduling and the loss of Brandon Roy were too much to overcome. After coming home on a Sunday night following three tough games in Alaska, then to go back on the road for a Wednesday game at the Kennel, left little time for preparation and recuperation. This year the stakes may be even higher as Washington and Gonzaga boast the nation's longest home-winning streaks. The Zags will be playing for the honor, and, of course, bragging rights in the State of Washington.
The Bulldogs lost All- conference Ronny Turiaf to the NBA draft. However, if anything, the Zags look better this year. Senior center J.P. Batista (12.4 PPG, 6.2 RPG 2004-05) has proved more than capable and has exceeded 20 points in the Zags first three contests, and 19 in the other. He would have had help from 6-foot-11, red-shirt freshman Josh Heytvelt, but it has just been reported that the tall kid from Clarkston WA has broken his ankle and is out for the year. Six-foot-eight forward All-America Adam Morrison (19 PPG, 5.5 RPG 2005-05) and guard Derek Raivio (13 PPG, 4.8 APG 2004-05) feasted on the tired Huskies for 26 and 21 points respectively last season. Raivio was a perfect four for four behind the arc in that game. Morrison had a fantastic game in Hawaii, scoring 43 points in a triple-over time win against ranked Michigan State. The Zags suffered their only loss in the championship game of the Maui Invitational; losing on a turnaround jumper with just 1.1 seconds on the clock to third-ranked Connecticut 65-63. This is going to be a war.
After nine straight at home, the Dawgs finally hit the road to Arrowhead Pond of Anaheim (California) for an afternoon game (December 10, 12:00 PT,) with the New Mexico Lobos. The doubleheader John R Wooden Classic matches UCLA and Nevada in the second game. New Mexico, Mountain West Conference Champion, will be making its second appearance.
The Lobos (3-1) (aka the Red Menace), lost All-America Danny Granger to the NBA's Indiana Pacers with the 17th pick, but are still a formidable team under coach Ritchie McKay. The won a trio of home games in the Jim Thorpe Classic, including a 95-42 drubbing of Ole Miss while holding all three opponents under 46 points. Wednesday evening they gave up an early 16-point lead and fell Kansas State, 68-56, at Manhattan. New Mexico faces UTEP on Saturday.
Like the Huskies, the Lobos lost 3 starters off last season's NCAA team and more than half the scoring, but will feature four seniors in the starting lineup. Among the returnees are 6-foot-9 David Chiotti (10.4 PPG, 5.1 RPG 2005-05) and 6-foot-2 guard Mark Walters (10.5 PPG, 3.6 RPG, 2.8 APG 2004-05.). Junior-forward Kellen Walter is the tallest player at six feet 10 inches, and can step out and hit the three. He was named MVP of the Jim Thorpe Classic with 51 points and 15 rebounds in three games.
After two tough ones, the Purple and Gold return to Bank America for games with the Big Sky's Eastern Washington Eagles (1-1) (Friday, December 16, 7:00 p.m. PT) and the Lehigh Mountain Hawks (14-15) of the Patriot League (Friday, December 23, 5:00 p.m. PT). The Eagles return five letter-winners while Lehigh returns 4 seniors, 4 juniors, and a couple of sophomores, including dynamite freshman wing Rodney Stuckey from Kent WA. They gave a good effort in losing to Marquette of the Big East Conference in the first round of the Great Alaska Wednesday. Mountain Hawk junior center, 6-foot-10 Jason Mgebroff is from Kent, Washington.
Lehigh, from the Patriot League, is 4-0 following a victory over Stony Brook. Husky fans will have a better idea about Lehigh after they meet fourth-ranked Villanova Sunday evening in Philadelphia.
The Huskies greet the New Year with a final out-of-conference game (January 2, 7:00 p.m. PT) following PAC10 conference games with Arizona and Arizona State. Again, it's a home court affair. The Cornell Big Red (2-2) and Coach Steve Donahue return three starters and eight letter winners after a second place Ivy League finish. All- Ivy League senior guard/forward Lenny Collins (13.3 PPG, 5.2 RPG 2005-05) and Bothell High School's 6-foot-8 forward Ryan Rouke are the strength of the Big Red frontcourt. Rouke was an All-America at Mesa Junior College. The Big Red had a narrow loss (67-62) to high-regarded Syracuse in the Coach vs. Cancer Classic at Syracuse. They will play Husky opponent Lehigh on the same evening Washington plays Gonzaga.
Former Husky star and 1986 draft pick of the Washington Bullets, Paul Fortier, returns to Washington after a two-year stint at Cornell; the last year as a full-time assistant. Fortier spent the 2002-03 season as a volunteer assistant with Washington. His efforts with Cornell's post players helped them improve to the league lead in rebounding.
While the schedule up until now has been certainly one of the softer ones in recent UW history, there are some very real tests of strength here, leading up to conference play, most notably the Gonzaga game and the New Mexico game in LA. This UW team certainly has the look of an NCAA Tournament team, but these out of conference games will certainly help determine how UW is seeded and more importantly how they will perform on the national stage.