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Originally published Saturday, January 17, 2009 at 12:00 AM

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UW Men's Basketball | Huskies meet a friendly foe in new-look OSU

While the events of a year ago are mostly a laughing matter for the Huskies, it's ancient history in Corvallis, where the main principals involved have moved on (either through graduation or transfer) and new coach Craig Robinson has set a new course for a long-downtrodden program.

Seattle Times staff reporter

Tonight

Washington @ Oregon State, 7 p.m., FSN

CORVALLIS, Ore. — As Washington coach Lorenzo Romar greeted a few reporters following practice Friday, he peered over each shoulder, then grinned.

"There's not any Oregon State guys here, are there?" he asked.

It was a joking reference to Washington's Friday practice at Gill Coliseum a year ago, when a few OSU players arrived at the end of the workout, took offense at some clowning around by the Huskies, and challenged UW players to a fight. Several OSU players were alleged to have shown up a few hours later at Washington's hotel, hoping to pick up the battle.

"I remember looking back and thinking, 'What in the world is going on?' " said UW forward Jon Brockman, who remained on the sideline throughout. Brockman said he spoke at Pac-10 media day this season with OSU guard Seth Tarver, who told him, "We don't hold anything against you guys."

"I knew it wasn't a big deal," Brockman said, "but it was still good to hear it from him."

Washington and OSU play tonight at 7 p.m.

While the events of a year ago are mostly a laughing matter for the Huskies, it's ancient history in Corvallis, where the main principals have moved on (either through graduation or transfer) and new coach Craig Robinson has set a new course for a long-downtrodden program.

"Oregon State is so different than they were in that regard," Romar said. "Just a different team."

Nationally, Robinson is known mostly as Barack Obama's brother-in-law. He will be in Washington, D.C., for Inauguration Day ceremonies next week.

But in Corvallis, he is merely the fifth coach taking his shot at reviving a program that has been in the doldrums since the retirement of Ralph Miller in 1989.

Robinson has already had a few successes, including a win over USC two weeks ago as well as some impressive recruiting hauls. But mostly he's created a no-nonsense attitude, typified by 5:30 a.m. practices, a policy he has relaxed at times — this week, practices started at 6 a.m.

"Everybody felt good about that," said forward Omari Johnson with a smile.

Seemingly charged up by the challenge of the day before, UW recorded its biggest road win of the season here a year ago, beating the Beavers 97-59.

Romar said he isn't expecting as easy a time of it today, even though his team is showing an uncommon grit on the road this season. Washington has won its first two Pac-10 road games by an average of 18.5 points, including an 84-67 win at Oregon on Thursday. With a win today, UW would get its first weekend road sweep since 2006 and tie its conference road victory total of last season.

"We're mentally tougher and we have a lot more experience," Brockman said. "And in that, we are able to handle a lot more adversity. There is always adversity on the road, no matter what."

OSU's past two home games have each gone to overtime, the win over USC and a loss Thursday to Washington State. In each, the Beavers were able to stay close with their 1-3-1 zone defense and deliberate Princeton-style offense. Each will put pressure on UW today to maintain patience and discipline.

"It'll be a marathon test of mental toughness," Romar said.

A battle this year confined strictly to the court.

Notes

• Romar said Darnell Gant had his shoulder pulled back with four minutes left in the Oregon game, aggravating a previous shoulder injury. But Romar said Gant should be fine and will start today.

• Guard Elston Turner (ankle) is questionable but is closer to playing, having missed the past four games.

• Freshman guard Isaiah Thomas has moved ahead of Brockman as UW's leading scorer — 16.2 to 15.8. The difference is even more pronounced in Pac-10 play, Thomas at 20.5 compared to 13.8 for Brockman (Justin Dentmon is second in conference games at 18.0). Romar said he thinks it's a sign of how quickly Thomas is maturing. "What I like about it is that I thought early in the season he was forcing the issue a little too much," Romar said. "I've been impressed that he is letting the game come to him a little more."

Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or bcondotta@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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