Updated Thursday, January 31, 2013 at 07:07 AM
If the pep rally, free T-shirts and pizza, the arrival of ESPN and Hall of Famer Bill Walton doesn't alert you to the importance of Washington's game on Thursday night against No. 8 Arizona, then you haven't been paying attention to the Huskies.
These are desperate times for the defending Pac-12 regular-season champions, who are riding a three-game losing streak.
Of course, Lorenzo Romar will never say that.
Rather than panic, the Washington coach is reciting history.
"We lost three games in a row in conference and we were able to come back," he said Monday on his weekly radio show. "A couple of guys played more. Some guys played less.
"We finally got it. We finally caught on and went on to play good basketball. So we've been able to come back before."
However, the last time Washington lost four in a row was 2007-08, when it finished 16-17 overall and 7-11 in the conference. That was the last time UW had a losing record.
The next four seasons, the Huskies won either the regular season or tournament title and three times they needed to overcome a three-game losing streak.
Once again, Washington is teetering on the edge in a season that's been filled with surprising defeats at home, redeeming victories on the road, brilliant defensive performances and woeful offensive outings.
"It's a big week for us," guard Abdul Gaddy said. "We see it as must-wins. We need to come out and play with great intensity and play Husky basketball."
The Huskies have run the gamut in finding ways to thrill and disappoint their fans. The inconsistent play might explain why attendance is down at Alaska Airlines Arena.
However, Romar believes the Pac-12's new scheduling has adversely affected the gate. This season, the conference has played games on Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday. Washington tip-off times are as early as 11 a.m. and as late as 9 p.m.
Whatever the reason, UW officials have expressed mild concern about a home attendance average of 7,635, which is fifth in the conference and is down from 8,785 last season.
The Huskies are hoping the noon on-campus pep rally and pregame promotions for the 6 p.m. contest will attract their first sellout this season. As of Wednesday night, 8,175 tickets were distributed.
"We need to play at our highest level, and we want our crowd to be at their highest level," Romar said. "It's the same thing that allowed us to win 32 straight home games. I know what that's like. We need everything we can get."
Romar acknowledged fan support has waned this season, which might be reflective of a disappointing season that's included four home defeats.
He said the Huskies had "lackluster efforts" in losses to Utah and Oregon State, but was encouraged after Saturday's 81-76 defeat at Oregon because Washington "played with a heartbeat."
The Huskies received strong performances from reserves Andrew Andrews, a redshirt freshman point guard, and sophomore forward Shawn Kemp Jr. They scored 15 and 12 points, and Romar said their continued development bodes well for the future.
But it's getting late for Washington (12-8, 4-3 Pac-12), which faces its first ranked team at home since defeating No. 23 Texas A&M on Dec. 22, 2009.
Arizona (17-2, 5-2) is 1 ½ games behind conference leader Oregon (18-3, 7-1), and the Wildcats have Pac-12 title aspirations.
First, Arizona coach Sean Miller would like to get his first win at Alaska Airlines Arena. He's 0-3 in Seattle and 2-5 against the Huskies, including three games decided at the buzzer.
"Playing against Washington, we've always played against an extremely competitive team," Miller said. "A team that plays very hard and that has played well. Just to have that next gear of competitive fire that if you're not ready to match it you're going to have a hard time winning."
Those close to the Washington program have put the onus on Gaddy and Scott Suggs — the co-captains — to lead the Huskies' turnaround. At the very least, the senior guards are expected to divert the defensive attention from leading scorer C.J. Wilcox, who averages 19 points.
"There's no reason I can see how Scott is just not going to get on fire sooner or later," Romar said.
It's not as if Suggs has been awful recently. During UW's three-game skid, he equaled his season average with 12 points.
However, he's shot 32 percent during that stretch. He's had just one assist in each of the past three games and one rebound total in the past two games.
Meanwhile, Gaddy has seemingly recovered from a six-game shooting slump, scoring 14 and 13 points in his past two outings.
"It's going to take a team effort to get it going," Gaddy said. "It's all of us playing defense like we're supposed to and helping each other. It's our bigs rebounding. It's me and Andrew pushing the ball and C.J. and Scott making shots.
"We've won games in the league this year, so we know what it takes. It's time to get back to that, and it starts with this game Thursday."
Buzzer-beatersThree of the past four games between Washington and Arizona have been decided in the final seconds.
Jan. 28, 2012: Final score: Washington, 69-67.
Final play: In front of a sold-out, white-out McKale Center crowd, Tony Wroten Jr. blocked Josiah Turner's layup.
March 12, 2011: Final score: Washington, 77-75 (OT).
Final play: Isaiah Thomas hit a game-winning jumper as time expired in the Pac-12 tournament title game.
Feb. 19, 2011: Final score: Arizona, 87-86.
Final play: Derrick Williams poked Justin Holiday's inbound pass away as time expired. On the previous play, he blocked Darnell Gant's short jumper with 0.2 seconds left.