Houbregs led Washington to its last outright conference title, in 1953. The Huskies shared Pac-10 titles in 1984 and 1985.

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Legendary Husky Bob Houbregs knows exactly what the Washington men’s basketball team is thinking these days.

“There’s some nerves there at the moment prior to getting ready for the game,” said Houbregs, who led UW to its last outright conference title in 1953. “The nerves fade away the closer you get to the game, and when you run out onto the floor the crowd will roar, and that will just pump them up and the nerves will disappear altogether. But until then, there’s nervousness because everybody around you, on campus and in the city, is talking about this great thing that you have the opportunity to accomplish.”

The 21st-ranked Huskies (20-7, 11-4 Pac-10) carry a half-game lead in the Pac-10 standings over second-place No. 14 Arizona State (21-5, 10-4) entering their game Thursday at Edmundson Pavilion.

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If Washington wins its final three conference games, the Huskies will claim their first outright Pac-10 regular-season title. Washington shared the conference crown in 1984 (with Oregon State) and 1985 (with USC). Houbregs’ team won the Pacific Coast Conference, which consisted of the teams now in the Pac-10 team except the Arizona schools, plus Idaho.

“There’s great excitement because this is an opportunity that hasn’t been around for a long time, and to be able to get that, to be alone in first place at the end of the season, would be a great accomplishment,” Houbregs said during a Monday afternoon telephone interview. “They’d probably go down in the history of Washington as one of the great seasons.”

When the discussion turned to which UW team ranks as the greatest, the 76-year-old Houbregs, who attends every Huskies game, stopped short of taking sides.

Obviously the former center is partial to his 1953 team that navigated a 22-team field and advanced to the Final Four before losing to Kansas. He also singled out the 1983-84 and 1984-85 teams led by Detlef Schrempf and Chris Welp, plus Brandon Roy’s squads, which made three straight NCAA tournament appearances between 2004 and 2006.

But if Washington wins the Pac-10 title, Houbregs noted, the discussion would have to include these Huskies, who have exceeded modest preseason expectations.

“It’s difficult to compare eras really, because the game has changed so much,” Houbregs said. “You can only compare how you fared against the competition at that time. Winning a title, especially a conference title, is special because it separates you from the pack and it will always be there.”

Schrempf added: “It’s different than winning a tournament. It’s a different challenge, a full season compared to a handful of games.”

The former Huskies standout drew comparisons between his ’83-84 team and the current Huskies.

“One similarity is both teams kind of came out of nowhere,” Schrempf said. “It wasn’t a preseason kind of expectation with us. It just kind of happened. We took it from one game to the next.”

That season, the Huskies compiled a 15-3 record in the Pac-10 before winning a pair of games in the NCAA tournament, including an 80-78 upset of No. 14 Duke, to advance the Sweet 16, where they lost to unranked Dayton.

“Back then it probably wasn’t as sophisticated as it is nowadays with the scouting,” Schrempf said. “We watched some tape of Duke, and I remember that and said we can beat them. We played Duke and beat them. We didn’t have expectations of hey, we want to do this or that.

“We had confidence in ourselves and as a team. And that grew during the season. I see that in this team. When you see these guys play, they play hard. They play all out. And it seems like they really care for each other. So it’s been a lot of fun watching them the last couple of years grow and come together.”

Percy Allen: 206-464-2278 or pallen@seattletimes.com

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