Almost a month ago today, the Washington Huskies were the overwhelming favorite to win the Pac-10 and perhaps even make some noise in the NCAA tournament.
Given fan expectations and how well the team had played in a previous road trip to Los Angeles, that first loss to Stanford was shocking and shrouded in an additional layer of mystery because it went untelevised.
The whole thing left a bitter taste in the players' mouth, as described by Scott M. Johnson of the Kitsap Sun.
Stanford had every reason to celebrate after shocking UW, which was ranked 17th in the nation and unbeaten in Pac-10 play when the teams squared off on Jan. 13. The Cardinal had a respectable 9-5 overall record and had won two of their first three conference games, but Stanford didn't appear to have any realistic shot at being a Pac-10 contender.
Then the Cardinal rallied from an 11-point second-half deficit and shocked UW 58-56.
So after using a three game losing skid as motivation prior to their win against Cal on Thursday, perhaps their motivation for tonight's game is a bit more personal. Given that they're playing in front of the home crowd with a desire to reassert themselves as the class of the Pac-10 against the team that handed them their first conference loss, there should be no shortage of motivation tonight as UW coach Lorenzo Romar noted after their last game.
However, that's not exactly ideal.
"It takes certain things to make us come out and play a certain way, which it shouldn't but sometimes that's just how it is," said UW forward Justin Holiday. "We're human."
As Holiday mentioned, it shouldn't be this way.
The challenge is that they're not going to have built-in motivation for every single game they play and, in particular, they can't take the Dawg Pack with them on the road. As nice as it is to see them play so well when their backs are against the wall, they also have to figure out how to manufacture that focus when they're on the road instead of relying on outside factors. So after one of their best offensive performances of the season, Romar addressed that challenge given everything that's happened since that Stanford loss.
"The trick is to find out how to continue to do it," said Romar when asked about what enabled that impressive offensive performance.
Meanwhile, the Cardinal come in probably wondering how they can maintain an offensive surge of their own after their performance against Washington State on Thursday night, as described by Scott Allen of SBN's Stanford site Rule of Tree.
As reader Cardinal&Orange commented in the GameThread, "There must be something wrong with GameTracker. It says Stanford has scored 45 in the 1st half, is 7-8 on 3s, 3-3 on FTs, and has 7 fastbreak points. I mean, really, that is just not possible."
But it was possible, and a wacky Pac-10 season got wackier. The Cardinal got big games from Jeremy Green, Dwight Powell, and Anthony Brown, and shot 50% from the field as a team, holding off Washington State's second half rally with some uncharacteristically good free throw shooting. Stanford pulled into a three-way tie for fourth place in the conference with the Cougars and Cal, which got hammered at Washington.
So with UW insisting that their defense is what they thrive on - despite plenty of doubters who insist their offense is the problem - they have an opportunity tonight to at least show that they can maintain the type of 40 minute defensive intensity that they showed on Thursday night at least at home.
And as Don Ruiz writing for the Olympian describes in elaborating on Romar's previous point, continuing to do what they did on Thursday night has to be the focus over any sort of revenge factor.
Huskies after payback? Nah - University of Washington - The Olympian - Olympia, Washington
Given the ground that Washington has lost in the conference, coach Lorenzo Romar doesn’t believe his team can devote much energy to viewing this game in terms of payback.
“I know our guys are aware of it,” he said. “But coming off the heels of a win (Thursday against California), that’s got to be your motivation. You’re circling every game now because you’ve put yourselves in a hole. But I’m sure that’s in the back of the guys’ minds.”
Tonight's game will be a start toward making up ground, but still won't entirely explain the lapses they've had on the road when the motivation to win isn't all around them.