Hoops Preview: Portland Pilots

Isaiah Thomas (Kim Grinolds/Dawgman.com)

As openers go, The Huskies are looking at a doozy Saturday night, as they visit a veteran Portland Pilot team on the road at the Chiles Center at 8 pm. This will be the first road opener in the Lorenzo Romar era, as well as the first game for freshmen Isaiah Thomas, Scott Suggs and Elston Turner, Jr.

The Pilots return seven of their top eight scorers from last year's young squad: Including junior guard Nik Raivio, who averaged 12.6 points a game last season and junior German native Robin Smeulders, a match up challenge who stands 6-foot-10, 240 pounds and averaged 9.7 points and 6.2 rebounds a game last season.

At first glance, the Huskies' talent advantage is obvious, but this is a hungry Portland team that starts four upset-minded juniors who nearly toppled the Dawgs at Hec Ed last season and are very familiar with the Washington roster.

The Huskies of the last two seasons have developed a bad habit of letting unknown shooters pick them apart. Last year, it was Raivio and Taishi Ito who battered them from outside, combining for 36 points. In Thursday night's 20-point exhibition against Western Washington, the Vikings hit 13 of 21 from downtown.

The good news is that the Pilots are a marginal defensive team, and won't have an answer for Thomas, who should have no problem initiating the offense. Thomas's ability to beat perimeter defenders off the dribble means the task of guarding him will shift to Portland's post players, who will have to collapse on Thomas in the lane. That should mean plenty of open lay-ins for Jon Brockman and Quincy Pondexter, who will also find themselves recipients of easy offensive rebounds and put-backs as the Portland posts are drawn out of position.

Pondexter, in particular, is a match-up nightmare for the Pilots, who lack an athlete capable of defending the forward's versatility. Because Matthew Bryan-Amaning will be unavailable due to injury, Pondexter will probably find himself playing power forward much of the night.

Look for the Huskies to run full tilt from the opening bell, exploiting their depth at guard as Romar rotates fresh legs. The Pilots, meanwhile, will try to control the pace as they work the ball around the perimeter for open shots, by extension limiting fast break opportunities for the Huskies.

On paper, this game only goes two ways: It's either a grinder, with Portland keeping this one close the entire forty minutes, or a Washington blowout.

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