Huskies, Cougs meet in Pac-12 opener

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LAS VEGAS — Before you can win four in a row, you have to win the first one.

That’s the message Lorenzo Romar is telling the Washington’s men’s basketball team before Wednesday’s start of the Pac-12 tournament.

The Huskies coach knows of what he speaks.

Romar has guided Washington to three conference tournament championships, including a 2011 title run that began with an epic 89-87 win over Washington State in the quarterfinals at Staples Center in Los Angeles.

When asked what he remembers from that game, Romar immediately blurted: “Klay Thompson went berserk. That’s what I remember.

“The fact that he didn’t score the first time he had the ball was a great victory for us. Then I think a couple of possessions later there was a loose ball that squirted out to him and he hit it. He went off.”

The Huskies survived a conference tournament-record 43 points from Thompson.

“People would talk about Klay was quiet and wasn’t a vocal leader, but Klay was an assassin. He didn’t say a word. I don’t remember him ever talking the entire time he was at Washington State.

“I don’t remember his lips moving, but he was an assassin. He would score 70 points if you didn’t guard him and be ticked if he didn’t get 72.”

Once again No. 6 seed Washington’s quest for a conference title begins with a grudge match against cross-state rival No. 11 Washington State at 8:30 p.m. at the MGM Grand Arena. The winner faces No. 3 Oregon in the quarterfinals Thursday.

The back story of their rematch is simple. The Huskies swept the regular-season series, winning the games by a combined nine points.

In each contest, the Cougars had a chance to win before stumbling in the final minutes.

In both games, WSU’s biggest weapon, Brock Motum, was held in check.

The Huskies limited the high-scoring senior forward to 15 points on Jan. 5 in a 68-63 win at Beasley Coliseum. Ten days ago, he tallied 18 points in a 72-68 UW win at Alaska Airlines Arena.

Since then, Motum has been on a tear.

Last week he averaged 25.5 points and 10.5 rebounds in wins against then-No. 23 UCLA and USC, including a 31-point outing in the regular-season finale.

“I saw a guy that was on a mission in Brock Motum, especially in that last game,” Romar said. “You could just see he was very, very aggressive offensively.”

If anyone knows the trick to slowing down Motum it’s 6-foot-7 sophomore forward Desmond Simmons, who was the unsung hero in the victories over WSU because of his defensive performance against the 6-10 Australian.

“Don’t let him catch the ball,” Simmons said. “Make it hard for him. Make it uncomfortable. He’s a great offensive player. He can go for 30. The biggest thing is not letting him get comfortable and don’t let him get going.”

Motum and Washington State (13-18) are playing with a sense of desperation. Another defeat ends a disappointing season that’s put coach Ken Bone on the hot seat.

“What I’d be most happy about, I feel like these guys deserve as many wins as we can get,” Bone said. “They’ve been a great group. They’ve been a fun group to work with. It would be just neat to see them continue their season.”

Washington (17-14) needs to win four games to advance to the NCAA tournament or else it’ll likely return to the National Invitation Tournament for a second straight year.

Despite their inconsistencies, the Huskies believe they can make a title run.

“We’ve shown that we can play at that high level,” Simmons said. “We’ve shown we can compete against those top teams in the league. It’s just a matter of us executing and getting it done, but I have all the confidence in the world.”

Confidence is one of the qualities a team needs to win four straight tournament games, said Romar, who accomplished the feat in 2000 when he guided No. 9 seed Saint Louis to a Conference USA tournament title.

He also noted his championship teams played good defense, had reasonably good depth and incredible focus.

“But it starts with that first game,” Romar said. “You can’t think about winning a title. That’s too big. You start with the first game and see where you are after that one.”

Last year Washington had the No. 1 seed in the Pac-12 tournament, but bowed out early. The Huskies were upset in the quarterfinals against Oregon State, a team they beat twice during the regular season.

“We have to make sure that we understand a couple of things,” Romar said. “No. 1, we were in this situation before and fell short.

“No. 2 ... that team that we beat here a couple of weeks ago is not the same team that we’re playing Wednesday night. We better be ready to play.”

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