BY Bob Sherwin 06:09PM 02/05/2011

Half-court Huskies can’t find their game

Absence of injured Gaddy starting to show as turnovers pile up in Eugene, the third successive road loss.

Is Isaiah Thomas wearing down? / Drew McKenzie, Sportspress Northwest file

The Huskies can’t seem to run anymore. They were a transition team, now they seem in traction. Their once-relentless fast-break bursts have gone the way of the rotary-dial phone.

They can’t handle the ball well anymore either, committing 52 turnovers in the past three games, all losses. Six weeks ago, this team committed four turnovers for an entire game.

They can’t find a zone that’s effective for them to use defensively, nor a zone offense that give them steady points.

The Huskies ended a three-game winless road swing Saturday with a 81-76 loss in Eugene to Oregon in the Ducks’ dazzling, new $227 million Matt Court.

They couldn’t overcome the Duck zone just two days after they were unable to deal with same at Oregon State (68-56 loss) and a week after an inadequate effort against the zone at Washington State (a 87-80 loss).

All seven UW losses have come away from home. They average 93.2 in their wins and 66.7 in their losses. Is this the same team we’ve seen in Seattle all season – 11-0 at Hec Ed with nearly a 30-point margin of victory? Not on the road, it’s not.

Critics pointed out how the Stanford and Washington State losses were the partly a result of missing point guard Abdul Gaddy, who tore his ACL Jan. 4 and is out for the season. Isaiah Thomas poked a hole through that argument with his stellar play. The two-time Player of the Week selection took over the Pac-10 lead in assists and running an efficient attack.

But this trip to Oregon, especially Saturday’s game, may finally have exposed the Gaddy absence. The Huskies already were limited without the full use of forward Darnell Gant, playing just five minutes because of a thigh bruise.

Thomas seemingly hit a wall. A week ago he led the conference in assists-to-turnover ratio at 2.9. In these three losses, Thomas has had 17 assists and 16 turnovers.

“The way they (Ducks) went about their game plan was smart. We only have limited ball-handlers out there,” Husky guard Justin Holiday said afterward. “Then they slow us down – we want to run – and have Isaiah and Venoy Overton have to do all kinds of dribbling and running around.”

Thomas has played 103 of a possible 120 minutes in the three losses.

At one point in the first half, Coach Lorenzo Romar had Thomas on the bench for a longer-than-usual spell, through a timeout, while Overton ran the floor. There was  little time when Thomas and Overton were on the floor together. Gaddy’s departure took away that luxury – and advantage.

Romar has been asked after Gaddy’s injury whether the additional court time and responsibilities would take a toll on Thomas. He said he didn’t think it would. He said the long 2 ½-hour practices have ended, now about 1 ½ hours, and he said Thomas has built up his endurance and put in his time in the weight room to be strong enough to handle it.

“When you look at Isaiah, six assists and two turnovers,” Romar said afterward, “I thought that’s back a little more like he was playing. Obviously, they tried to take him out of the game, trying to slow him down. But I thought he played a pretty smart game.”

What has been missing is a more assertive Thomas. He hasn’t been taking the ball to the hoop nearly as much. The drive opens all doors, to the hoop for him, to the foul lane or to a pass to an open teammate, inside or on the perimeter. That’s how the Huskies get momentum baskets this season – dunks and treys – and how they eventually open up the transition game.

But there have been fewer entry passes and dribble penetrations, settling instead for the outside shot, missing more than making. Thomas is 10 of 34 (29.4 percent) in these three losses, 4 of 17 from three-point range (23.5 percent).

As the leader of this team, when his teammates see him settle for jumpers, they settle. In the three losses collectively, the Huskies have hoisted up 87 three-point attempts, making 29 for 33.3 percent.

It wasn’t until there were less than seven minutes left, down six, that Thomas and the Huskies found what the inside can yield. Thomas drove from the top of the key, around two defenders, to kiss the ball off the glass for a relatively easy lay-in. That made it 64-60.

Oregon’s E.J. Singler counter with a driving lay-in that earned a foul for a three-point play. Thomas responded with another lay-in. Next time down he found Matthew Bryan-Amaning for a high-percentage shot underneath and the foul. The Huskies trailed, 68-65 with 5:32 left.

With 2:23 left, Washington was down 74-72. That’s because Thomas again took it to the hole and finished it.

After a couple missed three-point attempts, again Thomas drove in for a layup to close the gap to 76-74, with 40 seconds left. That was followed by an Overton lay-up; 78-76 with 19 seconds left.

But the Huskies were forced to foul and the game got away. The Ducks made their free throws to close it out.

Without a defense that creates stops followed by fast-break opportunities, the only reason they were close at the end was because of dribble penetration.

The down side is it wears them down without Gaddy in the three-man rotation. It’s up to a 35-minute game from Thomas and a 15-minute contribution from Overton.

“We kind of put ourselves in a bit of a hole in terms of winning the league at this point,” Romar said afterward. “But I thought we made progress. We didn’t win the game, but we competed. If this team continues to compete like this, we’ll win our fair share. We’ll be just fine.”

What also makes him optimistic is that the Huskies play five of their final seven conference games at home. They have Cal/Stanford at Hec Ed this week, followed by two at the Arizona schools, then Washington State and the two L.A. schools, plus a nonconference game at KeyArena with Seattle University.

“If we turn this thing around, which I’m hoping we will,” Romar added, “we’ll look back at today and say, ‘We competed and played right for more of the game; that was when we began the turnaround.’ ”


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