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Originally published March 8, 2013 at 8:03 PM | Page modified March 9, 2013 at 3:31 PM

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Huskies trying to finish strong against UCLA

The Washington men's basketball team has won three straight games and finishes the Pac-12 regular season Saturday against UCLA. The Huskies have beaten the Bruins eight straight games in Seattle.

Seattle Times staff reporter

Saturday

UCLA @ Washington,

11 a.m., Ch. 7

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You had to wonder if the Washington Huskies men's basketball team was ever going to regain its winning ways.

After starting the Pac-12 season with a 4-0 record, UW went 2-8 in the next 10 games.

In his 11 seasons, coach Lorenzo Romar's teams have traditionally finished the season in a flurry. In the previous four years, the Huskies were 13-3 in the last four conference games.

Not even a humiliating 18-point defeat at Arizona two weeks ago rocked Romar's belief in his squad.

"I think I've been pretty consistent saying we're this close," he said holding index finger and thumb together, "but yet so far away. There's just some things we need to get, right here, and we can turn it around.

"I've always believed that."

A win in Saturday's 11 a.m. regular-season finale against No. 23 UCLA would cap one of the strangest turnarounds in Washington history.

How else to describe a roller-coaster Pac-12 season that began with unexpected promise followed by the second-worst 10-game stretch since Romar has been at UW.

Now the Huskies (17-13, 9-8) are riding a three-game winning streak, which might have secured them a spot in one of the lower-tier postseason tournaments.

Whether they return to the NCAA tournament after missing the Big Dance last year depends on next week's performance at the Pac-12 tournament.

Washington needs to win four games in Las Vegas to secure the conference tournament title and claim an automatic berth into the NCAA tournament.

But all of that can wait.

Romar promises the Huskies aren't looking past Saturday's game, which will be filled with pomp and intrigue.

For starters, Washington will honor its three seniors — Abdul Gaddy, Scott Suggs and Aziz N'Diaye — in a pregame ceremony.

"These guys won a lot of games," Romar said. "They were able to experience championships. This year, we've been asked a lot about our leadership.

"I think it was kind of like slow-cooking, but now at the end of the year here, our guys have learned how to lead. They've been doing a good job right now."

After bouts of inconsistency, Gaddy has been indispensable recently while Suggs has averaged 19 points the past three games.

N'Diaye has struggled offensively, averaging four points and shooting 30 percent from the floor the past six games.

However, he figures to play a big role against UCLA after finishing with 11 points and 18 rebounds in the first encounter this season with the Bruins.

The Bruins could be thin on the front line because junior forward Travis Wear has a foot injury that limited him to 14 minutes in Wednesday's 73-61 defeat at Washington State.

UCLA coach Ben Howland said several factors, including the team's youth and inexperience, contributed to the embarrassing loss.

"Most importantly, I need to do a better job of impressing upon them," he said. "I'm not going to belabor and go into excuses as to reasons why, but I'm very confident that for the remainder of the 2012-13 season, you will never see another effort like that out of our team."

Romar added: "That wasn't the UCLA that we're going to face (Saturday). They're a group that's capable of going out, putting their minds together collectively and being extremely dangerous."

The Huskies won the regular-season Pac-12 title last season and they're looking to spoil UCLA's bid this season. The Bruins (22-8) are tied at the top of the conference standings with No. 19 Oregon at 12-5.

Washington also is still smarting from a heartbreaking 59-57 defeat against UCLA four weeks ago when Bruins senior guard Larry Drew II nailed a game-winning jumper over forward Shawn Kemp Jr. and N'Diaye as time expired.

The Bruins can use revenge as motivation if needed, considering the Huskies have an eight-game winning streak against them at Alaska Airlines Arena. The last UCLA win in Seattle was an 86-84 overtime victory on Jan. 10, 2004.

Washington's home dominance over the Bruins is tied for the longest by a UCLA opponent.

Romar was at a loss to explain why the Huskies have been so successful against the Bruins recently, but said the streak won't play a role in Saturday's game.

Howland had a few reasons to explain the streak.

"They're really good," he said. "They've won either the Pac-12 title at the tournament or the regular season four of the past six years. They've had really good players. They're very well coached. Lorenzo does a fantastic job.

"He's one of the best coaches not only in our conference ... but he's one of the best coaches in the country. He runs a terrific program. It's a very difficult place to play because it's really loud and they have great fans. So all of the above."


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