Game Preview: UW vs. Portland (Game #9)

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UW Portland preview copy
UW Portland preview copy /

Tickets are still available from the Husky ticket office. The game will be broadcast on FSN NW and KJR-950 in Seattle, or your local Husky radio affiliate elsewhere (click here to find yours).

Tale of the tape:

UW Portland Tale of the Tape copy
UW Portland Tale of the Tape copy /
What you need to know about the Huskies:

The Huskies last played on Saturday afternoon in Anaheim, where a dreadful start to the second half led to a 74-66 loss to Georgetown.

The Huskies are ranked 24th in the AP poll and 21st in the Coaches’ Poll.

The Huskies have lost two of their last three, and will need to win their final three non-conference games in order to keep their place in the Top 25 and do what they can to improve the Pac-10’s abysmal reputation this year.

Quincy Pondexter continues to impress this season. He’s averaging 22.1 points, 9.1 rebounds, 2.3 steals, and 2 assists per game.

The Huskies hold an 11-2 advantage lifetime against the Pilots, but lost in Portland in their first game last season, 80-74.

Projected lineup: G – Venoy Overton, G – Isaiah Thomas, G – Elston Turner, F – Quincy Pondexter, F – Matthew Bryan-Amaning

Husky to watch:

Sophomore guard, Isaiah Thomas: Just as Thomas’s shooting percentage began to improve over the last couple of games (46.4% combined against Northridge and Georgetown), he’s picked up a serious case of turnover-itis (five each in the same two contests).

Truthfully, Thomas has never exactly been ultra-careful with the basketball, but he’s looked out-of-sync at times lately, like he’s trying to figure out what kind of player he wants to be. A shooter? A straight slasher? A floor leader? Pretty impressive that the guy can put up double figures even when he has sub-par games, but this is the period in his college career when Isaiah needs to be rounding out his game, building new skills into the repertoire, including leadership, which will be critical next season when he’s the team’s best player.

What you need to know about Portland:

The Pilots come into the game at 6-3, having most recently defeated Denver last Saturday, 72-62. Portland has already beaten Oregon, UCLA, and (then-18th-ranked) Minnesota this season.

Last season, the Pilots finished third in the West Coast Conference, and finished the season with a 19-12 record overall (9-5 in the WCC).

Head Coach Eric Reveno returns nearly his entire squad from last season and didn’t lose a single key player from last season’s team that upset the Huskies in their first game of the 2008/2009 season.

Portland connects on more than seven three-pointers per game, and shoots 40.4% from deep (only 3.9% worse than Washington shoots overall).

The Pilots are led by a pair of senior guards, Nik Raivio (14.8 ppg, 6.4 rpg, 2.4 apg) and T.J. Campbell (14.6 ppg, 5.6 apg, 45.5% 3-pt.). They have size as well, though, in Robin Smeulders, a Laettner-esque 6’10” forward, and Kramer Knutson, a 6’9″ center.  Neither are terrific shotblockers, but they’re big enough bodies to give the Huskies trouble.

The Pilots’ sixth man is Bellevue native, Luke Sikma. Sikma, son of former Sonic and seven-time all-star Jack Sikma, averages 7.1 points and 7.8 rebounds.

Projected lineup: G – T.J. Campbell, G – Nik Raivio, F – Ethan Niedermeyer, F – Robin Smeulders, C – Kramer Knutson

Pilots to watch:

Senior guards, T.J. Campbell and Nik Raivio: It was actually the Pilot frontcourt that killed the Huskies last season, when Smeulders, Knutson and Ethan Niedermeyer combined for 44 points during the Pilots victory. But, Campbell and Raivio took care of the ball while the Husky guards didn’t. More than any other factor, the Pilots’ 12 turnovers (the Huskies’ 23) was the key to their victory.

The path to victory:

Post-halftime surge: The Dawgs have been a total of 25 points worse than their opponents during the first five minutes of the second half over their last five games. It’s critical that the Huskies come out with urgency from the locker room, particularly after this stretch of the game was so critical in settling their fate against the Hoyas.

Defense: I can’t imagine that the Huskies haven’t gotten hell from the coaches for their awful turnover rate in the last three games (21.3 per game). But, I hope the coaches are equally as appalled by the Dawgs’ lackluster defense.

Jon Brockman and Justin Dentmon were nobody’s idea of defensive whiz kids, but anchored an intelligent and structured team defense last season. The Huskies averaged 69.5 points allowed last year, 72.5 this year. Opponents shot 41.8% in 2008/2009, 44.7% in 2009/2010. The Huskies are giving up too many easy baskets and, other than Venoy Overton’s intense brand of ball pressure, have no defensive identity to speak of.  

What I expect:

This is a dangerous game for the Huskies coming off a tough loss and a one-week layoff. Portland brings in the same personnel that beat the Huskies last season and has already knocked off two Pac-10 schools this year. If the the Dawgs let the Pilots hang around for more than a few minutes, this one could get very tenuous.

I expect Isaiah Thomas to gather up his mojo and have a big game. Yes, the Dawgs need to develop a third scoring option, but I don’t sense that this is the game that starts to clarify that. This is one where I think Quincy and Isaiah combine for 50 or more.

I expect the Pilots’ ability to execute will frustrate the Huskies. With Portland’s three-point shooting acumen, it will take a huge lead to put them away, so the Dawgs will need to put their foot on the gas and not let up. I think the Dawgs will get back to their winning ways, but not without a fight. I’m picking an 81-77 Husky victory.