BY Bob Sherwin 12:05PM 02/28/2011

Huskies up, down, all around

Will they get their act together and get in the tournament?

Washington senior Justin Holiday said winning the Pac-10 Tournament is the Huskies last best option / Drew Sellers, Sportspress Northwest

This season, the Washington Huskies are giving new meaning to March Madness. The team can’t find one direction.

Is there one game that defines who the Huskies are this season? If there is, generally the next one contradicts it.

They began Pac-10 conference play with a pair of gritty victories in Los Angeles, just the third road sweep of the L.A. schools in school history. Then a month later they lost a pair on the road to the middling Oregon schools, part of an inexplicable three-game losing streak.

They have won by an average of 27 points at home, then hit the road and it’s collective amnesia, forgetting how to run, shoot and rebound. They are 6-8 away from Hec Ed with an average margin of victory of 5.4 points over their opponent. That includes a 43-point win over Virginia and 21-point wins over California and Seattle U.

They have a record six 100-point scoring games, yet have had games in which they’ve scored 67, 62, 56 and 56, all losses.

They’ve had a game in which they had just four turnovers (San Francisco), one more than the school record, and a game in which they had 24 (at WSU).

They’ve had a seven-assist game (at USC) and a 30-assist one (California).

They’ve had a 32.3 percent shooting game (at Oregon State) and 61.2 percent (Long Beach State).

They ranked second in the nation in scoring at 86 points a game entering Sunday’s game with Washington State, then scored just 17 points prior to halftime, the all-time low under Coach Lorenzo Romar. They finished with a home season-low 69 points.

“It is devastating, disappointing, especially at home, when our backs were already up against the wall,” said UW senior guard Justin Holiday.

“I don’t think this messes with our confidence. It’s not going to mess with my confidence,” he said. “I still feel like we can do well. I know it sucks. You keep losing and this and that. But you take your confidence away, who knows what we’ll be doing after the Pac-10? We might not be doing anything.”

March begins tomorrow and the Huskies play two home games this week to finish the regular season. Even this late in the season, they don’t really know who they are. Hot, cold, up, down.

If the Huskies (19-9, 10-6 in the Pac-10) can lose by 11 at home to the Cougars (18-10, 8-8), what can they expect to do Thursday against a much-better UCLA (21-8, 12-4) team? Who knows? Based on their season pattern, they should win by 15. Then Saturday against USC (17-12, 9-7) lose by one.

Holiday said the UCLA game is a yardstick game “to see how we react to this (WSU) loss. We’ll get a glimpse of what’s going to happen at the end of the regular season. Depending on what we do, it might fuel us or we’ll sit back and think about what’s happening. It’ll speak a lot about how the season’s going to end.”

Or it won’t make any difference. There are many who believe that winning or losing these next two games won’t have a significant impact on the NCAA Selection Committee. The feeling is the Huskies, like last year’s team, need to win the Pac-10 Tournament to qualify.

“I feel like we have to,” Holiday said. “Looking at what’s going on now, I don’t think there’s much of anything else. I don’t think we can let them make that decision. In doing that, that’s just sitting back. That’s not smart.

“I think we need to go out and win the Pac-10 tournament. Even if we don’t (need it), we should win it anyway to be sure. Last year, that was our situation, we needed to win it to be sure. That’s the same thing this year.”

Washington State is the only team that swept the Huskies this season. If the season ended today, the Huskies would play the Cougars in the first game of the Pac-10 tournament.

“I’d love play them again. I’d love to play Arizona again, Oregon State again, Oregon,” Holiday said. “Whoever it takes.”

At this point, the focus narrows on getting into the NCAA Tournament any way possible. The Huskies need to believe they can move through the brackets. Instead, they’re not even sure they can make the brackets. They don’t know who they are.

In one way, the UCLA game comes at a good time. The Bruins, who have won eight of their past nine games, are probably the best team in the conference at this point. If that doesn’t get the Huskies attention, nothing will. For them, this is the start of the NCAA Tournament. These are the types of teams they’ll be facing.

The Huskies need a challenge like this to get a better understanding of what kind of team it can be and what kind of teams they’ll meet in the big tournament. They’ve already beaten the Bruins. They’re at home. How they respond from the Cougar loss will provide more clues as to what kind of team they can be.

“I think we’ll be OK,” Holiday added. “I think the team that has been through situations like this and I think we’ll be able to answer. I sure hope we do. This is our last go-around, me and Venoy (Overton) and Matthew (Bryan-Amaning). We don’t play this game just to be out there on the court. We know we have to come out and do the best we can. Hopefully, we can play at the point we need to be at.”


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