For Huskies hoopsters, last chance to win a roadhouse dance before the Big Dance.
Each Thursday, Art Thiel checks out the weekend sports scene locally and offers more casual sports fans some observations that can get them in and out of conversations without anyone catching on to your, ahem, casualness.
Whether at the water cooler, bus, lunchroom, frat kegger or cocktail party, you can drop in a riposte, bon mot or bit o’ wit to start a conversational conflagration, or put one out. Then walk away.
Huskies basketball: 5:30 p.m. Thursday, UW (17-7, 9-4) at Arizona State (9-15, 1-11), 5:30 p.m. (no freakin’ TV); 3p.m. Saturday, UW at Arizona (21-4, 10-2) — For all the expectations that attended this Washington basketball season — preseason media vote to win the Pac-10 title, forecasts of a final eight appearance in the NCAA tournament — the Huskies have yet to win an impressive game on on the road, which is probably the measure of team quality that most influences the tourney selection committee when it comes time in March to seeding its 68-team field.
In November, the Huskies lost neutral-court games in Hawaii to then-highly ranked Kentucky and Michigan State. In December, they had a one-point loss at Texas A&M. On New Year’s Eve in Los Angeles, they had what is considered their biggest road win, 74-63, over UCLA. While it’s true that it seemed like Washington had not won at Pauley Pavilion since before the earth’s crust had cooled, the fact was that the match was almost a home game. Many Huskies fans were in town following the football team’s Holiday Bowl win in San Diego, and many Bruins fans were doing what SoCal sports fans often do for less-than-championship events — read scripts, do three-hour lunches and run from mudslides.
Washington subsequently lost conference games at Stanford, Washington State, Oregon State and Oregon. Beating Cal (13-12, 6-7) does not count for much. So in the vernacular of the college game, the Huskies are needy of a statement game. Or rather, a good statement game.
“We made a statement,” said UW coach Lorenzo Romar Tuesday, “when we lost three in a row.”
That was a bad statement. Really bad statement. They fell into third place and into question as to their tourney viability. The two home wins last week against Cal and Stanford were helpful, but only in the sense that it’s helpful if a driver uses his or her turn signal. No one gets a standing O for doing the expected.
Nor will many hoo-rahs accompany a win Thursday over Arizona State, the sick man of the Pac-10 that has lost eight in a row (and 15 of the last 18 against Washington).
The season’s pivot point comes in Tucson Saturday, when Washington plays its last road game of the regular season (not counting Tuesday’s non-conference walkover against Seattle U at KeyArena). The Wildcats are good, but not in the fashion of retired coach Lute Olson’s national-title contenders of yore. The Huskies bashed Arizona handily 85-68 Jan. 20 at Hec Ed, and are as overdue as a college-hoops team can be to avoiding spitting up on themselves in front of meanies.
If Washington cannot handle another 2-3 zone defense, nor the badgering of the Arizona fans, they will have continued to make the same statement to which Romar referred.
To which you can make your own rejoinder:
“If I wanted to see ball played badly in the desert by a local team, I’d go to Peoria to watch the Mariners. I’d get a tan, an In-and-Out burger and see Felix’s latest weird haircut. You gotta almost half-like these guys.”
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