Saturday, Washington (8-5) travels to Pullman to take on cross-state rivals Washington State (9-4) in their conference-opener.
Washington head coach Lorenzo Romar doesn't think their current record reflects who they are now as a team. Saturday will give the Huskies a chance to show the improvements they've made since the season began.
"I think we're a better team right now than we were," Romar said. "It's not a video game where we can start over and push a button, but I just think we're much better than we were early in a lot of those games."
The team will have a chance to prove whether they've gotten better as they head on the road to start conference play. The next three games ? Washington State, California and Stanford ? are all away games for the Huskies.
For senior guard Abdul Gaddy, these three road games will test their ability to react and improve.
"I know we're getting better as a team and we've got a really tough test coming up," Gaddy said. "We're all about getting better. Really, we want to improve on our weaknesses."
Senior guard Scott Suggs agreed.
He said they've been working on understanding principles and making sure they're guarding the ball as a team.
Despite injuries, Romar said the team should've been able to do some of these things better.
Not overnight, they're getting to that point, Romar said.
"In our guys' absence there were times that we should've played better basketball, obviously, but today, January, I feel we have the ability and the potential to be a much better team down the road because we have a better understanding of what we're trying to do offensively and defensively," Romar said.
Now Washington is going into the hostile Washington State environment to show if they've reached their potential.
It will be a difficult way to start conference play. But it will be fun.
Hey, rivalries usually are, right?
"Their crowd is a little more antsy, they say a little bit more, worse things than other teams, so it's always a little more difficult going there than other places," Gaddy said.
Pullman may not rank first or second on Romar's toughest-places-to-play list ? those spots are reserved for Southern Mississippi and Wyoming, respectively ? but it's still up there.
"When we get there, they're always festive, the students are waiting for us, cussing at us and all that stuff," Romar said. "It's definitely not a 'blah' place when we go and play the game."
"They make it festive. They make it quite festive," Romar said with a smile.
In this "festive" environment, or any away game for that matter, Romar gave a quick list of things Washington will have to do in order to have a chance of winning.
"You have to guard, first of all, when you go on the road. You must guard," Romar said. "But secondly, you have to play with poise and you have to have great shot selection. You've got to take care of the ball."
And you've got to stop senior forward Brock Motum.
It's no secret that Washington will have to stop the Washington State power-house Motum if they want to start off conference play with a win.
Of Motum, Romar said he may be the most versatile player in their league.
"He plays on the perimeter, he shoots on the perimeter, he drives it from the perimeter, he can post you up, he can pass, he makes free throws. At 6'9" or 6'10" that's a tough cover anywhere.
He can just do so many things. He's a guard and a big all in one. I'm not telling you he's as good as Carmelo Anthony, but a guy like that, at that size, that can do all those things, is difficult to deal with," Romar said.
So, Romar was asked, what do you do with him?
"Good question," Romar responded with a laugh.
Through Pac-12 games through January 2, Motum ranks second in scoring (19.7 points per game on average), 14th in rebounding (average seven), 13th in blocked shots (15 with an average of 1.2 per game), tied for 15th in offensive rebounds (27 for an average of 2.1 per game) and tied for 12th in defensive rebounds (64 for an average of 4.9 per game). He also averages 32.5 minutes per game.
So what does stopping Motum do for an opponent's game?
"It helps your cause. It certainly helps you, helps your chances, but they have other guys that are capable as well," Romar said.
Romar named sophomore guard DaVonte Lacy, redshirt sophomore guard Royce Woolridge and redshirt senior guard Mike Ladd as WSU players who are "definitely capable of going out there and playing."
As a whole, Romar said he thinks the Cougars are playing as good of defense as they have in awhile.
Washington State ranks first and second in scoring defense and rebounding defense, respectively, in the Pac-12 in games through January 2, while Washington ranks 10th and seventh in the same areas.
It will be a battle of Washington's defense showing that they've improved, while Washington State tries to hold onto their current decent defensive performances.
It will be a battle of offenses, especially for high-scoring players like C.J. Wilcox, Suggs, Gaddy and Motum.
It will be a battle that will leave the winner with rivalry bragging rights until the teams meet again on March 3 in Seattle.
The Washington vs. Washington State game will tip-off from Friel Court in Pullman on Saturday, January 5 at 6:30 p.m. PT.
The game will air on ESPNU and will also be broadcast on KJR 950 AM and 102.9 FM.
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