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Originally published January 16, 2010 at 6:42 PM | Page modified January 16, 2010 at 10:19 PM

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Jerry Brewer

Huskies rediscover who they truly are

The Huskies didn't just rebound from a befuddling stretch of three straight Pac-10 losses. They gouged the idea that their season is headed to Nowheresville.

Seattle Times staff columnist

Well, guess the panicking can stop now.

What's wrong with the Huskies? No, how about what's right with the Huskies?

In a dramatic, euphoric blur of a week, the University of Washington men's basketball team has restored its moxie. The Huskies didn't just rebound from a befuddling stretch of three straight Pac-10 losses. They gouged the idea that their season is headed to Nowheresville. Then they dismissed it like Isaiah Thomas did Jerome Randle.

With Thomas proving to be the biggest of the little guys, the Huskies earned their second blowout victory of the week Saturday. If you thought Thursday's 33-point thumping of Stanford was the best Washington has looked all season, then what's an 84-69 follow-up win over California say about this team?

"It says that we are really capable of doing a lot of things this season, still," senior forward Quincy Pondexter said. "We had a little slippage early in the Pac-10 season. We just came out, and we had to start from scratch and prove to people that we are a talented team, and we have to come together. Once we do those things, the sky's the limit for us, still."

The Huskies have found their balance again. Before we declare them fully healed, let's see how they fare this week on the road against UCLA and USC, but it's safe to say they've made significant progress.

Weird team, huh? Out of the turmoil of three double-digit conference losses came the Huskies' best back-to-back performances of the season. Maybe even of the past few seasons.

"This was one of our better weekends, I think, since we've been here," coach Lorenzo Romar said.

They could've beaten Cal by 30. They overwhelmed the Bears with their focus and intensity on defense and then turned into the Husky highlight reel. It started with Thomas, who was the primary defender on Randle.

Randle entered the game averaging 20.4 points. He had scored 39 against Washington State on Thursday. In this game, the 5-foot-10 guard didn't score for the game's first 27 minutes. He finished with only five points and committed eight turnovers. Meanwhile, the 5-8 Thomas looked like the best player on the court most of the time, mixing his tenacious "D" with his usual offensive brilliance.

When Thomas wasn't the best player on the court, it was Pondexter, who finished with 25 points. Add in his 27-point effort against Stanford, and Q-Pon seems destined for another Pac-10 Player of the Week award.

But this was about more than the stars. As a team, the Huskies are playing with energy and effort again. There's Justin Holiday, a new starter, deflecting every pass thrown near him. There's Venoy Overton, being both disruptive and solid on defense. There's Darnell Gant and Matthew Bryan-Amaning, finishing with ferocity, seemingly in competition to determine who can make a better poster out of 7-foot-3 Bears center Max Zhang.

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A week ago, the Huskies walked off the court at Arizona's McKale Center with their heads down, confused, flustered. They had lost three in a row. They had forgotten who they were, and it showed.

"I was really embarrassed," Pondexter said. "I never thought in a million years our team would turn out to be what it was in those three games."

But out of embarrassment came an understanding. The Huskies are good, but not overpowering. They can't show up and win games solely through intimidating in the layup line. They don't have a dominant frontcourt player to make the game easy. They're not a team of former McDonald's All-Americans, but one of overlooked and self-made players who compete with chips on their shoulders and must play scrappy basketball to excel.

Once the Huskies rediscovered their fight, they thought about their struggles and came to another realization: Their problems weren't difficult to decipher. They could fix them easily.

"It was things that we could control," Pondexter said. "We can control our energy and effort."

Now that they're steady again, the Huskies (12-5, 3-3 Pac-10) can find more comfort in knowing they're only one game off the lead in the conference. Hard to believe that a team can stumble the way they did and recover so quickly, but such is the state of the league. Cal coach Mike Montgomery theorized the Pac-10 champ might have a 12-6 record this season.

The Huskies need to prove they can win on the road (0-3 this season so far) before we proclaim them a true contender. But if they stay true to who they are, they'll be fine.

"I think we learned we can't do it this way," Romar said. "We've got to play the right way."

Clearly, the right way works. After these two games, the Huskies should never opt for wrong again.

Jerry Brewer: 206-464-2277 or jbrewer@seattletimes.com, Twitter: @Jerry_Brewer

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