BY Art Thiel 03:22PM 03/20/2011

Huskies hoops: Hard season, noble end

Romar’s “hardest season” ends, but no shame in near-miss vs. NC.

Matthew Bryan-Amaning and Leslie McDonald of North Carolina battle for possession during Washington's narrow loss in the NCAA Tournament / Getty Images

Whatever oddness happened in the final seconds of Washington’s 86-83 loss to North Carolina Sunday in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament was secondary to the fact that the element of contest came down to the final seconds.

Fercripesake, the Huskies were up against the Tar Heels, two years removed from a national championship and playing in their home state, where they had won 28 of 29 previous tourney games. The Huskies had an 11-point lead in the first half and controlled the game until the last five minutes.

Taller, more pedigreed and more pressure-tested, UNC and its over-wrought fan base were in semi-freak that they were about to be had by interlopers who had come 2,800 miles to stain the sissy-blue tradition.

In the end, Carolina cool prevailed. The Huskies in the last five minutes missed nine of their final 12 shots and made four turnovers. But the margin between the teams perhaps was even smaller than the margin on the scoreboard.

The game was not one of the tourney’s predictable anomalies where the high-seed team fails to take seriously the low-seed team, where the underdog plays out of its mind while the favorite snoozes.

To prevail, Carolina had to play a high-end game, requiring an uncommonly productive effort from the least-regarded starter – 13 points and 14 assists from point guard Kendall Marshall – for the edge.

For the Pac-10 outlanders, it was their fifth consecutive premier performance against a quality opponent. Given the hand-wringing attendant to their regular season finish – 5-6, including losses in two of the final three home games – the Huskies finished with a flourish, even if it didn’t get them again to the round of 16.

Starting with the Pac-10 tournament, in which they beat sudden nemesis Washington State for the first time in three tries, the Huskies defeated Oregon (which beat NCAA selection UCLA), Arizona and Georgia, and nearly pulled off the upset of a No. 2 seed Sunday.

Some responsibility for the shortfall inevitably will land on Isaiah Thomas, who had an off-game shooting (5-for-15). But Washington had relied so much on him, and Carolina’s defense was so geared to stop him, that big help was needed elsewhere.

“We limited his touches,” said Marshall, who drew the defensive assignment,  “and forced other players to step up.”

Unfortunately for the Huskies, a couple of veterans, Justin Holiday (four points in 23 minutes), and Venoy Overton (five points in 12 minutes, and some dubious judgments) failed to step up. Beating the Tar Heels in front of the their home fans was an all-hands proposition, and all hands weren’t quite there.

But given the distractions of the season – the injury loss of starter Abdul Gaddy and the foolishness of Overton’s sexual encounter with two 16-year-old girls – to get as close as they did to the next round was an estimable feat.

Coach Lorenzo Romar said on the day Overton was charged with supplying the girls with liquor, a gross misdemeanor, that the season had been the hardest of his nine at Washington. He hasn’t said specifically what that meant, but managing the players’ attitudes and emotions through such awkwardness had to be a large part of the trial.

Since the police investigation became public without identifying Overton, every player fell under some public suspicion, even though knowledge of the subject of the investigation became widespread, including opposing fans and their taunts. The players also had to work through the issue of backing a teammate and friend while being irked that his knuckleheadedness put the success of the season in jeopardy.

The midseason disturbance cost Washington a lot of basketball momentum, and burned up some political capital for Romar, whom some said should have booted Overton. But since conflicting witness accounts precluded a sexual-assault charge, Romar was right in not firing him. The lesser charge also could have merited a boot, but Romar’s Christian conscience prevailed in concluding Overton, and the nearby world, were better off with a suspension rather than an expulsion.

Certainly, it worked out for the team and its fans, who saw the Huskies play with greater abandon once resolution lifted the cloud.

Since many will conclude that basketball welfare was the primary reason for Overton’s retention, Romar and the program will have to live with the hit.

Following the decision, the only real retort was to play basketball hard and well. That they did, for all but the last five minutes of the season.

Since the NCAA tourney crucible is less forgiving than Romar, coming up five minutes and four points short was sufficient to end matters.

If there was shame in the middle, there was no shame at the end.


YourThoughts

  • Inch12

    Still waiting to read a headline saying something along the lines of…

    `Seattle Team wins big national game on BS call.’

  • Diane

    They were FAB…..it was one of those ALMOST….but they were great the whole game…..Go Huskies !!!!

  • SeattleNative

    Superb analysis of a season gone awry.

  • Lucky Infidel

    In the end they are just kids who gave it a good ride and made mistakes, on and off the court, that essentially were not entirely uncommensurate with their ages.
    Ya, I saw Romar get up and talk at the Greg Laurie weekend last year at Key Arena and I am pretty sure that his decision-making is pretty sound as to how to deal with people. He comes from both sides of the street.
    I guess I am in the minority, but I bet Thomas takes a good, long look at his pro chances before really committing to coming back.

  • John_S

    I for one and am glad it was Venoy Overton’s last game in a Husky uniform.

    It was a microcosm of his whole career. He played hard, played tough, played stupid when it counts.

    His selfishness is what I will remember him for. His selfishness outside of the court and his selfishness on the court for example his attempt at a layup against UNC’s two bigs instead of passing it out to IT to run down the clock in your best players hands.

  • Dave J

    It’s been a great year. Definately going to miss these seniors!
    Looking forward to next year and see how these young men further develop. More great things are on the horizon!

  • Gordon Hansen

    I think we see where the next step for the UW program needs to be. We have played 3-4 Top-10 teams this year, away from home, and lost each on in the closing minutes. What do we need to do to win those games? Yes, better players will help, but I feel it has to come from the coaching, and I’m a big Romar fan. Romar needs to get tougher and expect more from his players. That’s why the Duke’s, UNC’s, Kentucky’s win these games – their coaches expect perfection, demand perfection, and in doing so, come close to it. That’s what it takes to get to the next level. Not accepting bad play, “good try”, driving between players and losing the ball, bad defense, bad decisions. Looking forward to next year!

  • Mark Thurston

    If anyone remembers what this program was like before Lorenzo Romar, you’re thankful for where we are now and what the future holds. While no Christian man is perfect, being a Christian makes him a solid choice to lead young men in the right direction. We have a young and talented Husky Alumn committed to winning the right way. Each year we have witnessed the elevation of Husky Basketball. The type of play is quick paced and exciting. Guys like Terence Jones will commit and stay committed to a program where the Coach is an example of how a Man should handle himself in all situations. In the case of Venoy Overton I believe the right decision was made. The foundation for winning Husky Basketball has been established.

  • http://seattlealaskasports.blogspot.com/ Soggyblogger

    Great synopsis of the season. There is no shame in this end, yet we all know the difference between losing to UNC and moving further in the tournament is microscopic. I sincerely believe and hope that Romar can improve his coaching while Gant, IT, Suggs, and the rest of the team will make the effort to improve their play, but I have an idea which might add that little extra to the program to put it over the top.

    HIRE LENNY WILKINS as a coaching consultant or coach emeritus or whatever position he would be willing to take with the Washington Huskies. He has a strong connection to Seattle, and is unquestionably the most qualified BB genius available. His X’s and O’s knowledge could easily add an extra win in the tournament. His eye for making adjustments during a game could easily be the difference maker throughout the season.

    As much as I respect and admire coach Romar, he is no Wooden (or Wilkins) – at least not yet, and I believe Lenny Wilkins could mentor Romar to reach a higher level of coaching excellence. From what little I know about the full coaching staff of the Huskies, Romar mentors his assistant coaches, but no one is mentoring him. Lenny Wilkins is the obvious choice for such a position.

    • jerry

      Hire Wilkens? Yeah – I’m sure Romar wouldn’t mind that old fart looking over his shoulder. And besides, Lenny wasn’t an “X’s and 0′s” kind of coach. He was a lot like Lorenzo in that he let his players play.
      If you need someone to blame for the loss to NC look no further then Justin Holiday. He had no game. He missed shot after shot and turned the ball over during crunch time. Offensively, he was the invisible Dawg.
      This sounds like a cruel assessment, but I believe that if Holiday would have played up to what we all know he is capable of, the Huskes would have won going away.

  • Fairmontdave

    Dude, Seattle should have won this game 2-0. Milton, your arm isn’t worth the bat. Milton DH, Jack Cust, bye. Hurry up Franklin, come back soon! And Sanders, D-Day is coming soon.

  • Fairmontdave

    Dude, Seattle should have won this game 2-0. Milton, your arm isn’t worth the bat. Milton DH, Jack Cust, bye. Hurry up Franklin, come back soon! And Sanders, D-Day is coming soon.