Huskies set to face rival Cougars in Pac-12 opener

SEATTLE (AP) It was less than two weeks ago that Washington last saw its rival, yet Lorenzo Romar believes Washington State is a completely different team now.

There may only be a little bit of evidence, but to Romar it's clear the Cougars that swept UCLA and USC last week are not the same team the Huskies beat in Seattle on March 3.

"They've been an offensive juggernaut for the last two games in my opinion," Romar said Monday. " ... I think they all were clicking at the same time over the past two games."

Romar will get an up-close view of just how different the Cougars are when the rivals face off Wednesday night in the opening round of the Pac-12 Conference tournament in Las Vegas. Washington (17-14) is the No. 6 seed in the tournament while Washington State (13-18) is the No. 11 seed. It will be the third time the rivals have met in the conference tournament.

The winner will face No. 3 seed Oregon in the quarterfinals on Thursday night.

When they met less than two weeks ago a 72-68 Washington victory the Cougars still had DaVonte Lacy in the lineup, but were without Mike Ladd. That lineup shifted dramatically the final week of the regular season as Lacy was lost for the remainder of the year due to a knee injury, while Ladd returned from a lingering knee problem and played 27 minutes in the finale against USC.

The Cougars also found a way to get more looks for Brock Motum. After being held under 20 points in 15 of the previous 18 games, Motum went off for 20 in the upset of UCLA and a season-high 31 points in beating USC. Motum earned Pac-12 player of the week honors for his performance.

Washington has been one of the teams to have the most success slowing Motum, thanks mostly to forward Desmond Simmons. Motum had 15 and 18 points respectively against the Huskies earlier this season.

"Just don't let him catch the ball. That's the object," Simmons said of defending Motum. "That's the way to make it hard for him, is to make it uncomfortable."

Washington opened conference play 4-0 and finished 3-1. In between was a remarkable amount of inconsistency and frustration. The Huskies swept Arizona State and Washington State and won at California and Stanford. Yet they flubbed at home versus Utah and were swept by UCLA, Oregon and Arizona.

Barring a dramatic run to the championship, Washington will miss the NCAA tournament for the second straight year. It'll be only the second two-year span in Romar's tenure where the Huskies have failed to reach the NCAAs. Last year came with the added distinction of being the first power conference regular-season champion to not make the NCAA tournament after the Huskies bowed out in the first round of the conference tourney.

It will be the first time where this group of Huskies has no other option in reaching the NCAAs than winning the conference tourney.

"One game at a time, but our goal overall is to win the tournament," Simmons said.

While Colorado proved last year that's possible, the Huskies have the added issue of not being the deepest team, typically using only eight players. Washington leading scorer C.J. Wilcox also wondered Monday if his sore left foot could hold should the Huskies make a run.

"I'm a little nervous about the four games in four days thing if we continue to go just as far as my foot goes, but other than that I'm ready to go," Wilcox said.