Justin Holiday is a Los Angeles guy, but since enrolling at the University of Washington, his homecomings have been grim.
Over Holiday’s first three seasons, his teams have gone 1-5 on the home courts of USC and UCLA in Los Angeles.
If the current Huskies are more able to compete on those courts – and they think they are – they will find out quickly. UW flies to Los Angeles this afternoon and will open its Pacific-10 Conference season Wednesday at USC’s Galen Center, followed by a Friday game at UCLA’s Pauley Pavilion.
“We obviously want to get two Pac-10 wins,” Holiday said Monday. “We lost twice to USC last year. I think I’ve only won there once since I’ve been here. I haven’t won at UCLA since I’ve been here. So it could be the first time we get both of these wins and help our season.”
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Last season, the Trojans were a particular nightmare matchup. They swept by margins of three points in Seattle and 26 points in L.A.
However, both teams have evolved. The Trojans are just as deliberate in their offensive and defensive approaches, but they don’t seem to pose the physical mismatches of last season.
“They’re much quicker and handle the ball better because they have multiple guards that can handle the ball,” UW coach Lorenzo Romar said. “Last year, (Mike) Gerrity really did all of the ballhandling for them and did a really good job. This year, they have several guys that can handle the basketball. It makes them a more efficient offense team. And then I think on their perimeter last year, you dealt with length; this year, you deal more with quickness.”
That makes the Trojans different. But it doesn’t necessarily make them any easier to handle.
Asked which Pac-10 teams have impressed him most in nonconference play, Romar complimented Washington State, but his most enthusiastic praise went to USC.
“They don’t do a whole lot of things wrong,” he said. “They have a heck of a front line that is averaging near a double-double. And now with the addition of (Fordham transfer Jio) Fontan they have another good scoring guard. They play really outstanding defense. What they did on the road almost beating Kansas – and in my opinion had the game won – and what they did at Tennessee, that’s pretty impressive.”
USC (8-5) also has lost to Rider, Nebraska and TCU. But since losing to the Horned Frogs, the Trojans have gone 4-1, with the only blemish a two-point loss to the Jayhawks. Over that stretch, USC has held opponents to 35.3 percent shooting from the field.
That makes Romar eager to see how these Huskies handle one of the toughest challenges they will face in the Pac-10.
“You’re always excited about it,” he said. “This is where the ultimate tests begin: Is your team prepared to go into conference play? Well, here it is: everything that you’ve worked for. You’re starting to prepare yourself to really make a run for that NCAA tournament with your conference play. So we’re excited to get ready to get into this. We have a very tough opponent, though, at their place in the Trojans.”
Holiday (foot) and guard Venoy Overton (ankle) aren’t 100 percent healthy, but both are expected to play Wednesday. Romar said he will open conference play with what has become his regular lineup: Holiday, Isaiah Thomas, Abdul Gaddy, Matthew Bryan-Amaning and Aziz N’Diaye. The Huskies dropped to No. 30 in The Associated Press poll released Monday. However, UW remains the top voter-getter among Pac-10 teams. Others receiving votes were Arizona, WSU and USC. USC’s Fontan was Pac-10 player of the week after averaging 17 points, four assists and 3.5 steals in his second and third games with the Trojans. UW’s Thomas and WSU’s were among the nominees.
Don Ruiz, 253-597-8808 firstname.lastname@example.org