Washington appeared on its way after a road sweep in Los Angeles, but the month of February has been a mess and put what seemed to be a sure NCAA Tournament bid into question.
The Washington Huskies haven’t played UCLA since last year – a 74-62 victory on Dec. 31 at Pauley Pavilion but it does seem like the game was played last season.
Over the past two months, there have been a plethora of changes for the Huskies. They lost starting point guard Abdul Gaddy just three days after that trip with a season-ending knee injury. Players such as guards Venoy Overton, C.J. Wilcox and Scott Suggs all have missed games with injuries.
The Huskies went 7-2 in the first half of Pac-10 play and 3-4 thus far in the second half, including a strange three-game road losing streak. They are coming off an 80-69 loss to rival Washington State Sunday, their first home loss in 15 games.
How have the Huskies (19-9, 10-6 in the Pac-10) progressed?
Not very well,” said UW Coach Lorenzo Romar. I don’t think we have progressed nearly as much as we needed to.
When we 4-0 or 7-1, we talked to our players about the fact that we can’t remain stagnant. Teams are going to get better. We have to make sure we have to get better. I don’t think we’ve improved as much as we needed to.”
Two teams that have gotten better are two teams they’ll be playing this week at Hec Ed. On Thursday, they play UCLA (21-8, 12-4), which has won 10 of its last 12 games and annihilated first-place Arizona last week (71-49). Then on Saturday they will face USC (17-12, 9-7), which has won four consecutive.
Defense is the area where I’d like to see more improvement,” Romar said. UCLA has definitely improved. One reason they are playing the way they are is because they’ve improved on the defensive end.”
Romar puts some of the blame on himself, especially that unsettling three-game losing run in early February in which they didn’t resemble a Romar-era team.
When the Huskies play out of character, it’s generally because they are not playing up to their defensive tenets. When they are hustling, filling passing lanes, taking charges, scrambling for loose balls, blocking shots, playing help defense, all of a sudden their offense clicks as well.
However, there are times in which their defensive intensity fades.
We understand intellectually, but deep in our guts we have to understand who we are, what makes us successful when we’re successful,” Romar said.
They were understanding that in the first half of the WSU game. They only scored 17 points at halftime missing eight layups along the way but they held the Cougars to just 25 points at halftime.
In the second half, they allowed 55 points.
Whenever the Huskies are not playing well, it’s because of that (defensive lapse),” Romar said. We probably had too many mental mistakes on the defensive end. We can get better at that.”
Defense is harder, as any player will tell you. It’s something that needs attention and concentration for 40 minutes. As Romar said, this team really needs to focus on focus.”
It will help this week that Suggs, who strained his left knee early in the Feb. 17 game at Arizona State, should return to face the Bruins. He won’t start but will bolster the team’s rotation.
The Huskies also should play better because they are not lock for the NCAA Tournament. A victory over UCLA and subsequent win versus USC will be significant victories to impress the NCAA Selection Committee. That’s one thing they understand.
We have to play Husky basketball, sharing the ball, pressure defense, get in the passing lanes, rebounding,” said senior forward Darnell Gant. They (Bruins) are better than when we first played them and I think we’ve gotten better.”
Isaiah Thomas, who stepped in and stepped up his play after Gaddy was injured, said, that whole month of February was not a good month for us. We have to just turn it around ASAP. We have to work hard in practice and not worry about things that happened in the past.
We can get there. It’s not like we were at our best when we played in L.A. This week we might play as good as we did down there. Who knows?”