It has taken all season to establish the Washington Huskies as to who they are. But after their 62-60 loss to Southern Cal at home Saturday night, it’s clear they have become an also-ran.
They don’t lead, they follow. They don’t control their destiny, they have conceded it. They have no guarantees, they are hat in hand.
Count the Huskies much like seven other teams heading for the Pac-10 Tournament next week: They need to win to get in it that is the NCAA Tournament.
Arizona and UCLA are virtually assured. A week ago, most people considered that the Huskies (20-10, 11-7 in the Pac-10) would make it a Pac-10 troika. They had three games at home where they were 14-0 and it wasn’t unreasonable to believe they could run the table at Hec Ed. That would have assured good standing with the NCAA Selection Committee.
Then last Sunday they lost to rival Washington State, 80-69, scoring 17 points in the first half. They managed to beat UCLA Thursday, despite starting with a 24-point first half. Then this struggle against the Trojans. The 60 points are a season low at home.
Our guys understand our backs and really, really against the wall right now,” UW coach Lorenzo Romar said.
This once great perimeter shooting team, made 16 of 58 attempts (13.8 percent) from behind the arc in the three games, including 2-for-16 against the Trojans. They scored a combined 67 points – a 22.3-point average – in the first half of the three games.
We have to be mentally ready,” said guard Isaiah Thomas on the slow starts. The first four to eight minutes we have to pound teams and take the first punch. Seems like we’re letting them take the first punch the last couple games and it hurt us because we dug ourselves a deep hole.”
It was a one-two punch from Trojans guard Jio Fontan and Maurice Jones that put the Huskies down early. The duo came out and dominated, streaking through the defense, penetrating, dishing, assisting and frustrating. Fontan had a team-high 20 points hitting 10 of 12 free throws with four assists.
Their guards came out very aggressively, especially Fontan,” Romar said. They came out in attack mode and had us on our heels early. With a team like USC that plays such good defense, you get down and dig yourself in a hole that early, they make it really difficult to come back.”
What makes it worse was they did it for long stretches of the shot clock. The Trojans’ game plan was to have the guards control the ball well out above the key and not make a move toward the basket until inside 15 seconds left on the shot clock. They did that while making only 11 turnovers.
We knew if we couldn’t control the tempo, they’d win,” USC Coach Kevin O’Neill said. Come on, they’re the second highest scoring team in the country. They’re talented, they’re deep. We don’t have the depth or the players to really play with them at a high speed. So we have to do that and defend.
What worked for us is penetration. Both Fontan and Jones did a great job penetrating, making some big plays and we were able to hold on down the stretch.”
So if the Trojans could do that so effectively against them, then why couldn’t the Huskies do that to the Trojans?
Their defense is a packed-in defense,” guard Venoy Overton said. They really don’t come out and guard you too far out. They probably don’t do that to everybody. They know we’re a pressure team. They had a better game plan tonight.”
The way the Huskies have beaten the packed-in defenses is to shoot over it with better success than their 12.5 percent from three-point range Saturday.
C.J. Wilcox, who saved the team Thursday when the Bruins had no answer for his career-high 24-point effort, made just one of seven from the floor, 0-for-5 from behind the arc. Justin Holiday and Thomas we both 0-for-3 from out there.
It’s not very high right now,,” Thomas said of the team’s confidence.
That much was apparent from the players’ body language.
I told the dudes in the locker room, soak it in tonight, tomorrow is a new day and turn the page,” Thomas said. “We have bigger things to try to accomplish, playing in the Pac-10 Tournament. We got to be ready. Turn the page after tonight.”
They play Washington State, the only team that has beaten them twice this season.
It was WSU that started the Huskies on their journey down the road to lost confidence. The Cougs won Jan. 30 in Pullman, 87-80. That started the Huskies on a inexplicable three-game road losing streak in which they forgot their team tenets.
Then WSU came to Seattle last Sunday and did it again. The Huskies shot 22 percent in the first half, 33.8 for the game.
It’s do or die now,” said Thomas, who has made just three of 14 from three-point range the past three games. At the end of the day, you have to win games. I haven’t checked to see where we are. I think we’re all right but we have to assure that and win some games in the Pac-10 Tournament.
It’s March. No more excuses. Everybody got to be held accountable for what they’re doing. Same as me.”
As they prepare for LA., they know the score. They understand that they aren’t in the same group with Arizona and UCLA anymore. They have much more in common with last-place Arizona State. Much like last season, the Huskies may have to win it to get in it.