CORVALLIS, Ore. – There were so many things that went wrong for the Washington Huskies in their loss to the Oregon Ducks on Thursday night in Eugene.
If there was a checklist for a 25-point loss, the Huskies could count off all the key ingredients.
Lack of energy and focus? Check.
Missed open shots? Check.
Defensive breakdowns? Check and double check.
“Every negative thing you want to write about, we did it,” coach Lorenzo Romar said after the game.
His list of positives consisted of one item – the play of Desmond Simmons.
“I didn’t see anything else,” he reiterated two days later.
Simmons played 21 minutes, scoring seven points and grabbing eight rebounds.
The numbers weren’t eye-popping, which might say something about how poorly Washington played against Oregon.
But Simmons’ impact on a game isn’t always measured in numbers, because it wasn’t numbers that got him into the starting lineup as a redshirt freshman. It was his mindset, his attitude.
“He’s very active,” Romar said of Simmons at his best. “He rebounds the ball. He gets his hands on the ball. He’s disruptive. He’s a defensive playmaker, or just a playmaker. And he can hit shots.”
And that’s what he did against Oregon. While some of his teammates struggled, Simmons found a way to produce. His three-point play early in the first half on a put-back stopped a 13-0 run by the Ducks.
The solid game for Simmons stopped a string of four games in a row in which he played 16 minutes or fewer. Before Thursday, the forward was starting games but wasn’t a factor.
Some thought he had hit the imaginary freshman wall. Romar wouldn’t go so far as saying that. He barely agreed to it being a slump.
“Players go through slumps,” Romar said. “And while he was going through his mini – if you want to call it a slump – Darnell (Gant) was playing pretty well.”
So if it’s not a slump, what was it? It’s freshman year.
“It’s been an up and down roller coaster,” Simmons said. “I’m just trying to go with the ups and downs and learn a lot. The main thing is just staying confident and don’t get discouraged when things don’t go my way. At the end of the day, I’m still just a freshman and I have a lot to learn.”
Maintaining confidence and valuing each possession are the two things that stand out that Simmons has learned about playing NCAA Division I basketball.
“Every possession counts, little things count, offensive rebounds, loose balls, they all count,” he said.
And in that four-game stretch, Simmons kind of lost focus on that because he got caught up in his offensive game, specifically his failures.
“My shot wasn’t falling,” Simmons said. “I think subconsciously it did kind of alter my play a little.”
Romar could see it.
“Sometimes you lose confidence in your offense, you try to take chances when something isn’t there, or try to make something happen when its not there,” he said.
And while Simmons is a capable shooter out to 3-point range, that’s not what Romar loves about him. It’s his energy, toughness. His tenacity. Simmons just needed to be reminded of it.
“I got my head straight and started focusing on doing what got me more minutes in the first place, which is being active on defense, rebounding my tail off and doing all the little things,” he said.
More important, Simmons does all those things with a level of toughness and physicality that the Huskies desperately need.
An NBA scout used the word “soft” to describe the Huskies on Thursday. A term that makes Simmons cringe.
“I’m never going to let someone punk me on the court,” Simmons said. “That puts a chip on my shoulder. If a team comes with the mentality that all we have to is punch them in the mouth first and they’ll back off and we’ll have our way with them, I want to make it a point that that’s not going to happen.”
With six games to go in the regular season, Simmons says he isn’t hitting the freshman wall, he’s getting ready to chase an offensive rebound through it.
“I know what I need to do,” he said. “I just have to do what got me here, and got me into the starting lineup.”