BY Art Thiel 07:29PM 03/11/2012

Thiel: NIT-bound Huskies make history wrong way

Washington is the first regular-season champion of one of the “power six” conferences to fail to win an NCAA tourney bid; a lack of maturity brought them down.

Washington coaches, from left, Paul Fortier, Jim Shaw, and Lorenzo Romar, will have one day to convince the Huskies to take an NIT game seriously after whiffing on an NCAA bid. /Drew Sellers, Sportspress Northwest

The Washington Huskies had such a hard fall in their last two games in Los Angeles, I’m wondering if the Pac-12 Conference will check to see if former Saints assistant coach Gregg (“Bounty Hunter”) Williams was in town with an envelope full of $100 bills.

After the regular-season champs lost the regular-season finale at UCLA, then lost to ninth-seeded Oregon State in the first round of the Pac-12 tournament, it looked like someone put a hit on a team that won 16 of its previous 19 games. They were knocked back to old habits — defensive neglect, poor ball movement, fleeting concentration.

In fact, there was no external foul play, nor misdeed by the NCAA tournament selection committee. The Huskies were left out of the 68-team field purely because they failed too often, despite being regular-season league champions — the first denial of a champion from one of the “power six” conferences in modern tourney history.

While the Pac-12 feebleness this season played a part, it wasn’t the decisive factor, and coach Lorenzo Romar knew it.

“All we needed to do was win any one of the 10 games we lost, and we’re in,” he said Sunday on a teleconference. “Pick any one of those losses and and we’re looking for tape (to scout the NCAA tourney opponent). Our guys are very disappointed. Very disappointed.

“I thought we had righted the ship, then came the last two games.”

The Huskies accepted a bid to host a first-round game in the 32-team National Invitation Tournament at 7 p.m. Tuesday against Texas-Arlington (15-1 in the Southland Conference, 24-8 overall), televised on ESPNU. But that’s a consolation prize equivalent to Charlie Brown’s lump of coal. The NIT is a glorified set of practices for next season, even if the championship final four is in New York’s Madison Square Garden.

Apart from RPI, the easiest way to look at what happened is that Washington lost to, in order, Saint Louis, Marquette, Duke, South Dakota State, Colorado and Cal.  They are all in the tourney field. The Huskies beat no one in the tourney field.

Any questions?

Nevertheless, Romar was having a hard time with it.

“Are we the  69th-best team? No way in the world. We’re better than that,” Romar said. “Usually winning the conference is worth something.”

Not this time. Not this season. So lame was the conference that a big-time win was not possible because there were no big-time teams.  The mere fact that Colorado, refugee from the Big 12 and a basketball power up there with the Saskatoon TaterTots could, in its rookie season in the Pac-12, win four games in four nights to claim the automatic bid, told the selection committee all it needed to know.

Cal was the league’s only other entry, and that is in a play-in game that didn’t exist two years ago. It was pretty much a courtesy gesture. And again, the Bears and Buffs beat Washington.

Romar said the thing the most bugged him about the way Washington played its way out of the NCAAs was the first half of the league tourney opener against Oregon State, in which they trailed 46-33 at the half.

“It was just how we came out in the first half,” he said. “If we could get by the first (game), I know we’d be ready to go against Arizona. But we didn’t play any defense.”

They did in the second half — until Aziz N’Diaye fouled out inside four minutes. UW was ahead 77-71 when that happened. They lost 86-84, mostly because the Beavers felt free to go inside for buckets and free throws. That’s how thin the margin was between success and failure — a fifth foul.

Romar said all season that their seven-foot center was the Huskies’ most irreplaceable player. In the crucible, they proved him right. The Huskies never found a way to compensate for the big fella’s frequent foul trouble. Critics of Tony Wroten like to point out his tendency to go all Dominique Wilkins, but his mistakes pale compared to the lack of frontline depth that Washington needed to be a tournament team.

Then there was the issue of maturity with such a young roster. The early season nonconference losses were excusable given the number of new players. Romar had to see what he had. But after roles and patterns were established, defense took a priority and the wins came in bunches. The reversion was an appalling development.

The OSU defeat did not come at the free throw line; all kids choke at one time or another. The loss came because the Huskies weren’t mature enough to take the game seriously. Romar knew it.

Referring to his repeated apprehensions about making the field after the loss, Romar said, “I’ve be been accused of being a pessimist more in last three days than I have in 10 years here.” He knew the drill — they had blown it.

The three days of helplessness until the announcement compounded the anxiety but didn’t mask the truth, as did the soft competition in the Pac-12: The Huskies weren’t big-timers.


YourThoughts

  • Loyal Husky

    Right on the button, Art.  Given their statements, I wonder if Romar and the players really recognize what happened to them this season.  Still making careless November mistakes in March.

    • Czechmate

      As much as I’d like to see you with your purple and gold pom-poms (oh Gawd…please don’t!) … Art,you are spot on.  Here’s an idea for the hoop Dawgs …”Guys: listen to your coaches … and BELIEVE IN THEM for a couple more weeks …dammit!!!”

  • Loyal Husky

    Right on the button, Art.  Given their statements, I wonder if Romar and the players really recognize what happened to them this season.  Still making careless November mistakes in March.

    • Czechmate

      As much as I’d like to see you with your purple and gold pom-poms (oh Gawd…please don’t!) … Art,you are spot on.  Here’s an idea for the hoop Dawgs …”Guys: listen to your coaches … and BELIEVE IN THEM for a couple more weeks …dammit!!!”

  • Omari

    Why not add a positive option to select? 

  • OffTheLows

    Well I picked the most optimistic of the either negative or cynical options. As a “distraction everywhere else he’s been” doesn’t apply for his last two NFL destinations, Buffalo and Cincinnati. The IFL team was more of a scam by their ownership for publicity and they double crossed him after they got their home games out of him.

  • Tian Biao

    Maybe he has matured and learned a lesson. Why not? It has happened before, as with Dennis Johnson.  And if not, well, option four: they have nothing to lose.

  • Old Goat

    Winning usually cures everything although Seattle fans are so unacustomed to it it may cause shock and disbelief, however winning only emboldens TO and will provide sports writers more to write about than they have time for.

    • Artthiel

       By the time Rickey Henderson got to the Mariners, he was a model citizen. Seeing the end of the career has a way of doing that to the most outrageous of knuckleheads. TO could go off, but so might Bruce Irvin or Marshawn Lynch.

      • RadioGuy

        I was thinking about Rickey Henderson too, Art.  As much as he was a pain in the backside for the manager of every other team he played for, he was a positive contributor to the Mariners when he was in Seattle.  Even though his .300 days were behind him, he was adequate in LF, found ways to score runs and I don’t recall hearing about him being a problem in the clubhouse.  BTW, why is baseball the only sport (besides perhaps golf) in which a locker room is called a “clubhouse?”

  • Soggyblogger

    What celebrities do outside of their work is of little interest to me, but because I consume media content the way I consume a free meal – eating everything on my plate – I inevitably get updates from Knuckleheadistan. However, why my fellow humans seem to devour the latest installments, is of more interest to me than the actual behavior of the celebrities.

    Would that humans ranged from great to greater, but such is not the case. Maybe we can learn the lessons vicariously. In that case, celebrity knuckleheads serve a valuable purpose. Yet, it seems a lot like the modern version of following a fire truck to witness a tragedy. 

    Has TO really reformed? is not nearly as important to me as can he still perform? 

    • Artthiel

       Soggy, the issue with TO has always been what he does inside of work, specifically, in the locker room, at practice, on the sidelines. His off-field stuff so far as we know didn’t involve criminal behavior. The performance you’re talking about includes not being disruptive to the team. If he has “reformed” he will be a plus for the Seahawks. If not, he will be gone.

  • jafabian

    If TO follows Jerry Rice’s example, he could be a contributor for the Hawks.  Coleman focused on that and was a catalyst for the M’s.  It’s my hope the Hawks get to the Super Bowl, play the Steelers, TO wins MVP and referee Shannon Eastin calls Steelers for multiple penalties, costing them the win.

    • Artthiel

       Jabfabian, back away from the crackpipe and put your hands where we can see them.

  • Artthiel

     They wouldn’t have done this if they didn’t Rice wasn’t one ordinary tackle away from the PUP list.

     Times isn’t hiring, only laying off.

  • Artthiel

     Didn’t forget it, just was trying to summarize a stunning rap sheet.

  • Artthiel

     Ichiro wanted attention only for his baseball deeds, not his words, celebrations or ideas. His habits and demands within the team were OK when he had good teammates, stood out when he didn’t. Unlike Griffey, Ichiro was smart enough to know that staying quiet goes a lot farther than media manipulation.

  • NixBeeman

    Either way, “Knucklehead,” (connotation:  goofball) is a bit of a charitable description for a criminal/rapist thug, isn’t it? In any other walk of life, he’d be described as a mere felon. Sports: “Knucklehead.” Good gig if you can get it.

  • Artthiel

    Probably an imprecise term to cover such broad behaviors. Thre are better but we’re trying to run a PG show here.

  • NixBeeman

    Ha. True enough.