The Washington Huskies know that their downward trend would rate a Double Black Diamond at a Cascades ski resort, but players are sticking together despite the fact that conditions remain grim. After a blowout loss to Utah Saturday night, the team framed itself as frustrated but determined to salvage the remainder of the season.
If it can.
Lorenzo Romar had been positive about the team’s chances to turn things around before the Utah game after a victory over a Colorado team that was 0-6 in conference play. A 22-point shelling by the Utes, where several different defensive looks did nothing to stop a 60-24 beat-down in the paint, seemed to have changed his mind Monday.
“It’s hard because as a head coach, my job is, regardless of the circumstances, to be able to fix it,” Romar said. “I know there was a lot of toughness that went out the door with Andrew Andrews, Marquese Chriss and Dejounte Murray. A lot of that left and we’re just trying to get over the hump. We’re trying to learn; we’re trying to get better.
I probably underestimated that part of it, how (toughness) would be replaced.”
With the losses come the questions, from Twitter, from reporters, from internet comments.
Sophomore guard David Crisp does his best to tune it all out.
“Everybody’s different,” Crisp said. “Some people will see that and it will get in their head. Some people will take it and see it as motivation. Some of the positive stuff can get in people’s head, they’ll feel comfortable and settle. We talk a lot about not letting any of that get in. Guys have got to stay tough, stick together, and not pay attention to stuff.”
One group Crisp can’t ignore, however, is program alumni and other prominent Seattle basketball figures that have been in touch.
“All those guys, they care about the program,” Crisp said. “They care about basketball in Tacoma and Seattle. It’s tough to see some of the losses we’ve taken, how the season is going. Guys have been reaching out, trying to give us words of encouragemen. They kept it real.
“They told us: ‘You guys need to pick it up.’ Any way they come at us, they care about us, and they want to see us do well. We’re trying to pick it up.”
So far, trying has not yielded positive results. Washington has the second-worst scoring defense in the Pac-12, allowing 79.3 points per game. Only Arizona State (83.8), which plays the Huskies in Tempe Wednesday (8 p.m., ESPNU), is worse.
Romar’s team is young. Of the eight averaging more than 10 minutes per game, three are freshmen, including the Pac-12’s leading scorer in guard Markelle Fultz. Four are sophomores, and the lone senior, Malik Dime, is out for at least three more weeks with a broken finger.
The steadfast commitment to defense that Romar says veterans understand has been absent. Confusion reigns.
Romar has had teams where consistent problems proved unsolvable. His 2007 team also lost its first three conference games, though that poor start was mitigated by two of the early losses being to No. 4 Washington State and No. 5 UCLA.
“Our first year in 2007, the first year Brandon Roy joined us in January, Nate Robinson joined us from the football team,” Romar said. “That first year at that time, we hadn’t figured it out yet. It was going to be hard to solve it, salvage it that year, but the lessons were being learned that year. Finally, it caught on, and once it caught on, we never looked back.
“We couldn’t get it done once conference started. We hadn’t figured it out yet.”
Romar was asked if this team was starting to look like a team with unsolvable problems.
“Our team has been so inconsistent on the defensive end, that right now, I’m still in the wait-and-see mode,” Romar answered. “I thought before the Utah game that it was starting to click. Then we had a setback. The jury is still out.”
Even with the nearly guaranteed loss of Fultz to the NBA draft in June, the rest of the team needs to show improvement.
A threat to Romar’s job is clear. But his departure would be a threat to his recruiting class for next season, ranked second in the country by ESPN, as well as the high cost, $3.2 million, of a potential contract buyout from an athletic department running a deficit. He knows that unless things improve, those counterbalances might not be enough for AD Jen Cohen.
Crisp tunes out those who call for Romar’s job.
“I try not to pay too much mind to that,” Crisp said. “Coach Romar is a great guy, we’re not really worried about what people are talking about on Twitter. I’m just trying to figure out what I can do to help the team be successful.
“If I have anything to say, I’ll show them on the court.”