BY Art Thiel 06:30AM 03/07/2011

Huskies closer to sadness than madness

A 5-6 finish leaves Romar grasping for answers with a fading lineup

USC was all lined up to deny Matthew Bryan-Amaning and his Washington teammates / Drew McKenzie, Sportspress Northwest

Rank your degree of comfort with the following events:

a) Buying a used car blindfolded;

b) Discovering Charlie Sheen at your door asking to date your daughter;

c) Coaching the Washington Huskies in the Pac-10 basketball tournament.

Personally, I’m better with the first two over the third. You can always re-sell the car and punch Sheen, but there is no option with the Huskies.

They are inert, formless and without alternatives. Coach Lorenzo Romar is as clueless as I’ve ever seen him.

Which doesn’t mean that they can’t do Thursday in Los Angeles what they failed to do twice this season – beat Washington State.

But if they don’t, they’re done. At least as far as the NCAA tournament. And if you think they played with March Flatness Saturday in the 62-60 loss to USC, wait until you get a load of the Huskies’ first-round home game in the National Invitation Tournament against Southeastern Bemidji A&P.

Whether it was Senior Day awkwardness with all family members in the house for Justin Holiday, Venoy Overton and Matthew Bryan-Amaning, or the assertion of will by the visitors over the best home-court advantage in the Pac-10, or the collapse of nearly everyone at once on the roster, USC not only went wire-to-wire on the Huskies, the Trojans were never out of control.

Consider that C.J. Wilcox followed up his remarkable 24-point second half Thursday in the win over UCLA with a meager four points in 16 minutes.

Yet that was four points more than fellow reserve Darnell Gant and two starters,  Holiday and Aziz N’Diaye,  had — COMBINED.

Afterward, Romar was groping for an explanation about his rotation.

“If we had not have played C.J., I would have been vilified, I am sure – send me to a guillotine tonight,” he said. “I probably would have sent myself for not playing C.J. He just came off from playing one of the best performances ever.”

OK. So play him. But by not including in the rotation freshman Terrence Ross, who seems overwhelmed, the Huskies were down to eight players, one more than the Trojans used, and only five players scored. The line at the guillotine Saturday night was long.

In the Romar era, it might have been the worst game to end a winning regular season. Closing at 5-6 with two home losses in the final three games, the Huskies’ swagger is gone, replaced by indecision.

It’s clear that opponents have learned to slow the Huskies into a half-court game, then strangle the post players with zones.

That leaves the offense to the three-point shot, a weapon that is almost exclusively a confidence issue. Right now, the confidence level is zero.

“The zone has been getting us, you could say,” said Overton, the lone Husky player up to speed Saturday. “We’ve gotta get in the gym and everybody’s gotta get to shooting. We’ve gotta be ready.  It’s the big stage, and I think we’ll play good on the big stage.”

This group isn’t vulnerable to stage fright – they’ve had NCAA tourney experience, and they did well on the national TV game in Arizona against the Pac-10 champions. Besides, playing Wazzu in the 8:40 p.m. game between No. 3 and No. 6 Thursday in Staples Center in blasé LA, there won’t be 2,000 fans left by halftime.

This is an internal issue of having lost faith in themselves and one another. Combined with fatigue from the growing shorthandedness, it’s visible on defense, the Washington trademark.

In the early going, quick USC guards Maurice Jones and Jio Fontan penetrated against little resistance. Help defense was negligible. Lots of high percentage shots were available, and the game was lost in the first half, as it was a week ago against WSU. The Huskies started the last three games as if it were a November exhibition opener to work on new tactics.

The tourney match-up is, in some respects, the worst for Washington because WSU’s head coach, Ken Bone, is the former assistant to Romar who knows every UW weakness.

Back when Washington was riding high at 15-4 and 7-1, they went into Pullman Jan. 30 and lost 87-80, Bone offering his beat-UW template available for all to see. The defeat was the beginning of the 5-6 run to the desultory end Saturday.

Post-game, the Huskies had to fall back on hoary bromides to explain themselves.

“It’s hard to beat a team three times in any sport,” said Isaiah Thomas. “So, we’re focusing and getting ready for them and hopefully we will have a good game.”

Actually, it isn’t that hard to beat a team three times in the same year. Happens all the time. Especially when the 0-2 team no longer trusts itself.


  • KJP

    Nice piece.  It’s true, people in Lincoln are generally nice and honestly pleased that people would come visit.  Not to mention that it’s a great town with nice people, and a low crime rate.  If anyone isn’t nice to you, just tell another Husker fan, and the rude offenders will be berated and treated like the pretenders that they are.
    Also, while you’re in Lincoln, don’t forget to check out the nightlife at 14th and O Streets.  Lots of fun bars, and a super fun gameday scene (any night really).  It’s also the home of Duffy’s Tavern, which is a famous gameday venue with a big outdoor area, but an even better known music venue.  Nirvana (among others) played there, and it was rated as the best college bar in America by earlier this year.  Everyone there is super nice.  Have fun in Lincoln.