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Originally published Friday, February 16, 2007 at 12:00 AM

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"Make-or-break time" for UW men

There was no rest for the weary Thursday. About 13 hours after one of the toughest defeats of the season, the Washington men's basketball...

Seattle Times staff reporter

There was no rest for the weary Thursday.

About 13 hours after one of the toughest defeats of the season, the Washington men's basketball team boarded a plane Thursday morning for snowy Pittsburgh, where it will play the Panthers at 11 a.m. Saturday.

It's a rare nonconference game for the Huskies during the Pac-10 season. Only once since 1997 have the Huskies played a nonconference regular-season game after January. That came during the magical 2004 season when UW journeyed to North Carolina State on Feb. 22.

Washington coach Lorenzo Romar referenced the memory of that game shortly after the Huskies lost to Washington State 65-61 Wednesday night and was asked whether he felt this was a good time to be making such a trip.

"We did it a few years ago and it worked out well," Romar said, recalling that just as it must do now, UW headed east three days after playing host to Washington State, losing a competitive 77-72 game to North Carolina State that actually bolstered the team's NCAA tournament chances. "So we'll see."

That was a team on the way up, however, one that had won eight of its previous nine games. These Huskies, conversely, are reeling, suddenly realizing their NCAA tournament hopes are unquestionably slim and heading toward none.

But while UW's NCAA tournament chances seem bleak, beating Pitt — No. 7 in The Associated Press poll and No. 5 in the RPI rankings — would give them a much-needed boost.

"It's make-or-break time," said Washington center Spencer Hawes. "We are going to have to handle that."

When this game was scheduled last July, UW coaches envisioned it as a chance to showcase Hawes and the rest of the Huskies to the nation.

The game will be televised on ESPN, UW's first appearance on that network since the Great Alaska Shootout early in the 2004-05 season, which was actually on ESPN2.

"We were just looking for a national game, an intersectional game," Romar said. "This one worked out."

It did so after Pitt agreed to come to UW next Dec. 8, giving Washington a marquee home game next season. Money isn't a huge factor as the two teams will simply keep their home gates with no guarantee to the visitor.

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Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said he was happy to get the game as the Panthers were looking to bolster their home schedule as well.

It helped that the two coaching staffs have a long association.

Dixon and Romar have known each other for more than 20 years, meeting first when they played in summer leagues in the Los Angeles area. Dixon, then in high school, says his performance against Romar, who was then in the NBA, helped convince coaches at Texas Christian to give him a scholarship.

"They said, 'If you can compete against an NBA guy, you're good enough for us,' " said Dixon. "I always tease him about that."

Romar can only hope Dixon might feel in a mood for some return charity Saturday.

Note

• UW guard Quincy Pondexter played just three minutes in the second half against WSU as the Huskies went with Adrian Oliver instead. "You try and go with what is working at the time," Romar said afterward. Rebounding was one reason for the change. Pondexter had just two in his 19 minutes, and the Huskies were actually outrebounded in the first half 15-13. Oliver had four rebounds in 17 second-half minutes as the Huskies came back to dominate the boards, outrebounding WSU 36-26 for the game.

Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or bcondotta@seattletimes.com. Read his blogs on Washington football and basketball at www.seattletimes.com/huskies.

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