Huskies at the break
Most valuable player: Through all the hype of Washington’s freshman class, sophomore Jon Brockman has been the team’s best and most consistent player. In Pac-10 games only, Brockman leads the team in scoring (15.0), rebounding (8.8), shooting (55.4) and minutes played (32.1).
Biggest win: Those who still believe this can be an NCAA tournament team cling to the memory of UW’s 88-72 blowout of then No. 12 Louisiana State on Dec. 20, a game in which three frontline starters combined for 57 points. Marring it a bit is that LSU has since dropped out of the top 25.
Biggest surprise: Who could have figured that 20 games into the season, touted freshmen Spencer Hawes and Quincy Pondexter would be coming off the bench? OK, so there are extenuating circumstances — nagging injuries and illness, particularly in the case of Hawes. Still, it’s also an indication that things haven’t gone as smoothly as might have been expected for UW’s touted freshmen.
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Most telling statistic: Coaches insist that defense is at the root of Washington’s struggles. In nine Pac-10 games, the Huskies are allowing their opponents to shoot 50.7 percent from the field, last in the conference.
Biggest setback: How different would Washington’s season be if it had held on to a four-point lead at USC with less than five minutes left in the conference opener, a game in which the Trojans shot 38 free throws to UW’s 12? Not only would it have been another win, it might have given the team confidence it could win on the road. Off the floor, the biggest problems have been injuries to guard Joel Smith and center Joe Wolfinger, each of whom figured to get regular playing time.
Second-half outlook: For several reasons, it could get better down the stretch for the Huskies:
• UW will have five of nine conference games at home, where the Huskies are 13-1, with two of the road games coming against Oregon State and Arizona State, the ninth- and 10th-place teams.
• The team is getting healthier with Hawes and Pondexter apparently returning to form and Smith possibly coming back next week.
• The Huskies appeared to get a boost in confidence with the wins over Oregon and Oregon State last week.
What do they need to claim a school-record fourth straight NCAA tournament berth?
The Huskies have to go at least 6-3 the rest of the way in Pac-10, which would leave them at 9-9, to have even a remote chance. No Pac-10 team worse than 10-8 ever has qualified.
A win at Pittsburgh on Feb. 17 would also do wonders. A 7-2 run, plus a win at Pitt, would almost certainly get a bid. A 6-3 Pac-10 run and a win at Pitt might do it as well. Anything less, and the Huskies will be NIT-bound, barring winning the conference tournament.