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1st place at stake as Huskies host Cal, Stanford

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POSTED January 18, 2012 10:49 p.m.

SEATTLE (AP) — For this year at least, Lorenzo Romar is a big fan of an odd scheduling quirk in the Pac-12.

The idea of getting to host California and Stanford, the two teams at the top of the Pac-12 standings with Washington, and not having to make a trip to the Bay Area later in the year is quite appealing.

"I think this year I really like it given that they're playing the best basketball, two of the best teams in the league," Romar said. "Yeah, I kind of like that idea this year."

Yes, it's still extremely early in a conference season that doesn't end until the first weekend in March. But considering Washington and the Bay Area schools match up only once this season, this week's meetings between the Huskies (11-6, 4-1 Pac-12) and Golden Bears (15-4, 5-1) on Thursday night and Washington and Stanford (15-3, 5-1) on Saturday afternoon could be significant down the road.

Washington doesn't have many impressive notches on its season resume thus far. They aren't alone in a Pac-12 that has scored no victories over teams in the AP Top 25 this season and has no program ranked higher than Cal's 40th place spot in the RPI.

Because of the general lack of impressive victories throughout the conference, pundits have wondered whether the Pac-12 will be limited to just a couple of bids when the NCAA tournament rolls around in March. That means any win with some significance that can be added to the resume is amplified because the perception is that the conference is down this year.

So no matter how each game goes this week, it could be a boost for any of the three schools.

"We're going to need to be focused and really dialed in for this one," Washington guard Abdul Gaddy said about Cal. "They're just solid all around. They don't really have any weaknesses."

All three schools are on remarkably similar runs of late. Each is currently on a three-game winning streak. Washington has won seven of nine after dropping three straight back in early December. California has wins in nine of its last 11following a loss at San Diego State. Since losing to No. 1 Syracuse at Madison Square Garden, Stanford's only losses have come against Butler and Oregon.

But the three are finding success in completely different ways. Washington is the second-highest scoring team in the league that can play defense when it wants, evident when it outscored Washington State 38-18 over the final 12 minutes in last Sunday's 75-65 win against the Cougars. Terrence Ross scored 26 of his career-high 30 points in the second half of Washington's rally.

"They're a great offensive rebound team, as usual. They get to the glass really well. They've got a bunch of guys that can score the ball," California coach Mike Montgomery said. "Obviously, (Tony) Wroten can get to the glass anytime he wants. You've got a guy in Ross that can really, really score the ball. ... They've got a lot of the pieces."

Stanford is the best team in the league in rebounding margin and is second to California in scoring margin. Even though the Cardinal had just two 20-point scorers all season, they are third in the league in scoring behind Oregon State and Washington.

Romar called California the most complete team in the league, noting the scoring punch of Allen Crabbe, the all-around skills of Jorge Gutierrez and the Golden Bears' impressive defense, which is holding opponents to fewer than 60 points per game. Since the start of conference play, California has allowed 70 points or more only once.

"Defensively they don't give you anything, they play really good man-to-man defense and they will change their defense at times," Romar said. "But offensively, their starting five, there is not a player out there that can't make a play. ... They're a really good team right now in my opinion."

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