SEATTLE (AP) — For a team with just one true road game during its entire non-conference schedule, Washington is beginning its quest as the preseason favorite in the Pac-10 with arguably its toughest road trip.

It’s against a team it couldn’t figure out last season.

Washington begins Pac-10 play on Wednesday night at Southern California — not only as the class of the Pac-10 but also the target for everyone else in a conference lacking ranked teams.

Washington was the preseason favorite in the conference for the first time.

It’s 8-3 mark during its non-conference schedule has done little to dissuade the belief the Huskies are the best in the league, even if their record lacks marquee wins.

The Huskies seven home wins came by an average of 30.9 points, Washington’s largest margin for home non-conference games since 1947-48.

Their closest victory was a 22-point win over Portland. The Huskies start conference play as the second-highest scoring team in the country, trailing only VMI.

“The real season starts now. It’s like a brand new season,” Washington guard Isaiah Thomas said. “Everybody is 0-0. You don’t really care about your non-conference now. You have to be ready.”

The upcoming two-step in Los Angeles — the Huskies play at UCLA on Friday — will be the first time coach Lorenzo Romar’s team faces hostile environments in consecutive games this season.

Spending a week on Maui and playing on a neutral floor doesn’t count, even if the competition Washington faced included two ranked teams.

The Huskies lost to No. 11 Kentucky and No. 20 Michigan State.

But Washington’s only game in an opponent’s arena came just a few weeks ago at No. 18 Texas A&M.

The Huskies were held to a season-low in points and lost 63-62 when Thomas forced a game-winning attempt at the buzzer and was blocked.

It’s a debate Romar’s been questioned on before. Five seasons ago, Washington played zero road games during its non-conference schedule and still went 13-5 during league play.

The experience on his roster often plays a role in how Romar views playing road games, but he doesn’t believe the Huskies need more than a couple of games away from home to get ready for conference play.

Washington won its final four road games of the 2009-10 conference season and can set a new school record for consecutive conference road wins by beating the Trojans.

“This isn’t a team that has never played on the road in their careers before. I disagree with ‘you got to play three or four road games to get you ready for conference.’ Everybody doesn’t do that. … I don’t think it’s necessary to schedule three, four road games every year. One or two are fine.”

When the Huskies arrive in L.A. they should have the services of starting forward Justin Holiday and backup guard Venoy Overton. Holiday sustained a right foot strain late in the Huskies 90-60 rout of Nevada last Wednesday.

While Holiday says he doesn’t feel like he has the same explosiveness, he said he expects to play
against the Trojans.

Same goes for Overton, the Huskies pesky guard. Overton sat out the win over Nevada after hyperextending his knee.

Washington will be trying to avoid its Pac-10 start from a year ago when the Huskies began 1-3 and were 3-5 before closing strong.

“We probably get the toughest road trip right out of the gate.

And that’s really good for us so we can start out strong,” guard Abdul Gaddy said. “We can come out with more of a mental focus and we can’t lay down against these guys. We can’t come out thinking this is an easy road trip.”

(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)


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