Forward Shawn Kemp Jr. took a deep breath and issued his own little cheer at Washington’s Wednesday practice. Jernard Jarreau was healthy again.
“‘Yes, you’re finally back,'” point guard Nigel Williams-Goss recalled Kemp saying.
The reason for relief is plain. The Huskies, losers of seven in a row, haven’t had anything to cheer about since C Robert Upshaw was booted from the program Jan. 26 for a violation of team rules. Exacerbating the loss: the 6-foot-10 Jarreau already was out after injuring his knee Jan. 10 in an 80-77 home loss to Washington State.
The Huskies (14-11, 3-10 Pac-12) welcome back Jarreau to the lineup Sunday when they play the Cougars (11-14, 5-8) at Beasley Coliseum in Pullman (5:30 p.m., ESPNU) as both teams jockey for Pac-12 tournament seeding with five games left in the regular season.
Through the first 15 games of the season, all starts, Jarreau averaged 5.1 points and 4.9 rebounds per game before undergoing arthroscopic surgery on his right knee Jan. 17. According to Huskies coach Lorenzo Romar, the redshirt junior forward had almost regained his rhythm from a previous injury — his right ACL torn in the opening moments of the 2013-14 opener against Seattle University. He missed the entire season.
“He was getting his timing from the first surgery,” Romar said. “He’ll still be getting his timing a little bit (now). Jernard, with his timing off, is still a plus for us.”
Jarreau’s first full practice since the procedure was Wednesday, but Romar hinted the New Orleans native may return to the starting lineup Sunday.
How much he plays will be determined by his level of conditioning. He averaged 22.3 minutes per game before getting hurt.
“I don’t want to build Jernard up to: ‘Now that we got Jernard back we’re going to go undefeated and beat everybody by 30 because he’s going to average 20 and 20,'” Romar said. “I’m not saying that. I’m just saying you feel his absence when he’s not on the floor.
“There are just so many different ways across the board where statistically, you may not see it or feel it, but he helps.”
Statistically, the Huskies have been a defensive dumpster fire since Upshaw was dismissed. Sunday’s 78-68 loss to Arizona State was the first time UW held a team to less than 50 percent shooting since its last win, when it beat Colorado in Boulder Jan. 22.
The Sun Devils shot 49.1 percent.
“Obviously, we’ve really been missing him,” Williams-Goss said.
Romar barely let a reporter finish his question Friday when asked where Jarreau’s absence hurt the Huskies the most.
“Defensively,” he said. “He’s a guy that can put fires out. One guy gets beat, he can help. Not necessarily with a blocked shot but just being there, being a deterrent . . . little things like that, across the board. Pointing out that someone should have a certain coverage in a certain situation, because he knows exactly where that guy’s going to be.”
Another benefit: UW likely won’t have to resort to a five-guard lineup that leaves open driving lanes. On offense, they can return to running more high post sets with Jarreau, instead of running 80 to 90 percent motion because of their guard-heavy rotation, according to Romar. That was a product of having just two healthy posts — Kemp and seven-foot, do-nothing Gilles Dierickx.
“It helps us be more complete offensively with him in there,” Romar said.
If the return of a veteran leader such as Jarreau gives UW a psychological boost, the Huskies will take it. WSU hasn’t swept the Huskies in the regular season since the 2010-11 campaign. UW’s current seven-game skid is the longest in Romar’s 13 years since becoming head coach. A loss Sunday ties the longest losing streak since 2000-01.
“You can’t measure his impact on the game by how many points he averages, or how many points he scores because he gets so many deflections. He’ll block a shot,” Romar said. “It’s hard to measure totally, but it’s definitely a positive.”