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Originally published Wednesday, March 12, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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UW likely to play without Jon Brockman

Jon Brockman has been about the only thing the Washington Huskies have been able to count on during these past two frustratingly erratic...

Seattle Times staff reporter

Tonight

UW vs. Cal @ Staples Center, 6 p.m., FSN (joined in progress)

Jon Brockman has been about the only thing the Washington Huskies have been able to count on during these past two frustratingly erratic seasons.

"You go to work and you look out on the floor and you see Jon Brockman next to you and you feel pretty good," said UW coach Lorenzo Romar.

But today, when the Huskies report for duty at the Pac-10 tournament, they are almost certain to do so without the player who is the living embodiment of every cliché about being a team leader.

"He's kind of the engine that makes us go" was the phrase guard Ryan Appleby picked Monday to describe Brockman, who is ailing from a sprained ankle suffered Saturday at Washington State and remains doubtful to play.

So does that mean the Huskies will be stuck in neutral when they tip off without him at 6 p.m. in a first-round game against California?

"They know they can do it without me," Brockman maintained. "It's not impossible by any means."

For proof, Brockman pointed to the last time the Huskies played Cal, an 87-84 win in Berkeley on March 1. Brockman played just 23 minutes in that game due to foul trouble.

When he was out the last 5:14 of the first half, the Huskies outscored the Bears 22-17 to take a halftime lead they never relinquished.

"We've had a little practice with it when he's been in foul trouble," said senior guard Tim Morris. "We'll have to go in with a different mind-set. The hardest part will be replacing the intangibles that he brings. But we can produce his rebounding and scoring."

Cal coach Ben Braun said Tuesday, "We haven't talked about playing them without him," and noted that when the Bears won at UW in February, they were without center DeVon Hardin, who was ill.

"If they don't have Jon they are not going to cancel the game," Braun said. "They are going to be ready to go, so either way our team has to be ready to play against a very hungry team."

There was no word on who would step into Brockman's starting role. Romar on Monday mentioned Quincy Pondexter, Matthew Bryan-Amaning and Joe Wolfinger as candidates. Each played well in the recent Cal game, particularly Wolfinger, a 7-foot sophomore who scored a career-high 17 points. Regardless of which one gets the start, all will be counted on to do more.

"It's going to take a team effort," said Pondexter. "He's putting up great numbers right now. It's hard to mimic that."

Some wonder, however, if the Bears might be the best matchup (other than downtrodden Oregon State) for UW to face without their leader. Cal is the most up-tempo team in the conference and finished last in the Pac-10 in scoring defense (79.1 points in Pac-10 play) and ninth in field-goal-percentage defense (46.8).

"We might turn it up a little bit, running, putting pressure on a little bit more," Morris said.

Pressure will be felt all around by teams coming off heartbreaking losses — UW in double overtime to WSU, Cal in controversial fashion at UCLA — and each might need a victory to assure some sort of postseason play.

The winner will advance to a quarterfinal game against UCLA, so a long stay may not be in the offing for either. But both teams stand a game above .500 (UW 16-15, Cal 15-14) and can assure leaving here a game above .500 with a victory tonight.

With the strength of the Pac-10 this season, that could be enough to land a berth in the NIT — the Huskies were projected as a No. 8 seed in the latest NIT-ology bracket produced this week. Or at the least, in the new College Basketball Invitational.

"Obviously everyone has in the back of their mind the scenarios that can happen," said Appleby. "But we are not trying to concentrate on [the postseason] but just coming into the Pac-10 tournament and winning every game that we can."

Cal might have even more at stake. There are rumblings about the future of Braun, who is completing his 12th season but has advanced to the postseason just once since 2003, with close road losses to USC and UCLA last weekend only clouding the issue.

Braun, however, said his team has had good practices leading into the tournament and said "this has been as resilient a team as I've been around."

Romar will find out about his team in that department tonight, as well.

Notes

• The game will be televised live on FSN. But because FSN Northwest is showing the Sonics game at Boston (4:30 p.m. start), the network will join the Huskies game in progress. The conflict will affect only viewers within a 75-mile radius of Seattle. Viewers outside that area will receive the game in its entirety. FSN Northwest will show live "look-ins" at the UW game until the conclusion of the Sonics game. Also, the game will be shown on Fox College Sports (Channel 415 on Comcast).

• Hardin missed the UCLA game with a hip injury but Braun said he will play tonight.

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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