Quincy Pondexter remembers the bus ride home from Portland last season.
He was crying.
So were some of his teammates.
The Washington Huskies had traveled down with great expectations for their coming season, and returned home with an 0-1 record after an 80-74 loss to the Portland Pilots of the West Coast Conference.
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Washington gets another shot at those same Pilots tonight, when Portland visits Hec Edmundson Pavilion.
And they really are those same Pilots. Portland returns 12 players and all five starters from last season’s team.
What will be different, several UW players promised, is the Huskies’ attitude.
“We came in last year thinking we were going to beat them,” junior Justin Holiday said. “This year, we can’t just think we’re going to beat them. We have to take them seriously like everybody else.”
That ought to be easy enough.
The veteran Pilots opened this season with six straight wins and slipped into The Associated Press Top 25 for the first time in half a century. Along they way, they defeated 16th-ranked Minnesota and two Pacific-10 Conference teams: UCLA and Oregon.
Since then, they have lost three of their last four games and fallen out of the rankings.
But 24th-ranked Washington also has endured recent struggles, losing two of its last three. The most recent defeat came one week ago, a 74-66 loss to Georgetown in which the Huskies trailed by as much as 20 and committed 25 turnovers.
“On the offensive end, we obviously didn’t take care of the basketball,” coach Lorenzo Romar said. “(And there was) too much standing around on offense.”
Turnovers have become a smoking gun through Washington’s recent troubles. Over UW’s first five games – all wins – the Huskies averaged 11 turnovers per game. Over the last three games – including both losses – Washington has averaged 21.3.
“It’s not the end of the world,” Pondexter said. “We lost to two ranked teams and teams that are going to be dancing in March. We just have to rebound from it. We’ve got a good stretch of games coming up where we can only get better and we have to get these wins.”
For that to happen, the Huskies will have to play better than they did last season in Portland.
In that game, five Pilots scored in double figures, led by forward Robin Smeulders, who had 20. Meanwhile, Washington committed 23 turnovers, and Pondexter was held scoreless.
“It felt like a nightmare, that’s really the one thing that I remember,” Pondexter said. “We had a lot of expectations for our team that year, and we wanted to come out strong and we slipped up. We let them catch us in a bad situation. It really hurt. I remember that ride home: Most of the guys were just sobbing, sad. I cried. It was just a terrible experience.”
After that, the Huskies split their next four games and stood at 2-3. Then they swept their remaining seven nonconference games and surged on to the Pac-10 regular season title.
The Huskies hope to begin another turnaround tonight.
It’s not a matter of revenge against Portland, they said. They just think it’s time to get back to playing the kind of basketball they played at the start of the season: taking care of the ball and moving offensively and defensively.
“We just want to win, really,” Holiday said. “And we know obviously from playing Portland the first time that we can’t come into any team just thinking we’re going to beat them. We’re a more mature team in that way right now.”