The Huskies are tied for the Pac-12 lead with Stanford and Oregon State, but getting past the Bruins could prove difficult since they have the nation’s second-longest home winning streak at 25 games.
With four games left, the Huskies can’t clinch the Pac-12 women’s basketball title Friday, but a win potentially removes the biggest obstacle between them and their first conference championship in 16 years.
No. 18 UCLA is the only ranked team remaining for No. 9 Washington, which finishes the regular season road schedule at USC on Sunday before home games next week against Colorado and Utah. UW’s final three opponents are in a three-way tie for ninth in the conference at 4-10.
The Huskies (24-3) are tied for first in the Pac-12 with No. 10 Stanford (22-4) and No. 11 Oregon State (23-3) at 12-2. Each team has four games left.
Considering Stanford plays at Oregon State next week, Washington seemingly has the easiest path to the conference crown.
However, winning at Pauley Pavilion has been virtually impossible recently.
UCLA has won 25 straight home games, which is second only to Connecticut (62).
“That’s pretty impressive,” coach Mike Neighbors said. “At least one of them is against us. They’re playing really well at home.”
During their home winning streak, the Bruins upset Oregon State 66-56 on Jan. 13 and knocked off then-No. 16 Arizona State 69-60 on Jan. 27. UW lost 63-59 at UCLA last year.
“I think there’s a certain level of confidence they feel when they step on that floor,” Neighbors said. “It’s the magic in Pauley. You see (John) Wooden on the court. … They’ve got a very engaged crowd.
“But the bottom line is they’re good. They’re the team that was picked to win our league in the preseason and have back-to-back No. 1 national recruiting classes. We know what we’re up against.”
After an 82-70 defeat at Washington on Jan. 8, UCLA won six straight games – five at home. Since then, the Bruins are 1-3, the win an impressive 85-76 victory at Stanford.
It remains to be seen if Bruins junior point guard Jordin Canada, who is second on the team with 17.8 points per game and first in the Pac-12 with 6.8 assists, will be available.
In Sunday’s 68-61 loss at Oregon State, the All-American candidate left the game late in the second period after falling and reportedly hitting her head.
She did not return in the second half after tallying a season-low four points on 2-for-11 shooting in 18 minutes.
Meanwhile, the Huskies appear to be gearing up for another extended postseason run. They’ve won four in a row while holding three opponents to 57 points or fewer.
Washington has secured its first first-round bye in the Pac-12 tournament in a record-breaking season that’s included a slew of individual milestones.
Senior guard Kelsey Plum is closing in on the NCAA Division I all-time scoring record.
She’s third on the list at 3,241 points and needs 42 to catch former Baylor star Brittney Griner (3,283) for second.
In many ways, Plum’s pursuit of the scoring record and Chantel Osahor’s march to becoming the second player in UW history with at least 1,000 points and 1,000 rebounds has helped the Huskies block out distractions.
“I do know that this group has learned the hard way that the second you take your eye off of what’s important now, stuff happens,” Neighbors said. “It’s happened to us. So I think this group actively avoids those conversations about things like breaking records or conference titles.
“For us we focus on what’s next? Who do have? Where do we play them? What do we have to do to beat them? Eliminate losing first. That’s one of our sayings around here. Let’s get losing off the table, then everything else will take care of itself.”