There is little at stake these days for the Washington Huskies, save for whatever incentive might exist to avoid breaking another pair of school records for unimpeded futility.
They are not going to make the NCAA tournament. They are not going to make the National Invitation Tournament. They are locked into the No. 11 seed in next week’s Pac-12 tournament. So as they prepare for Saturday’s 3:30 p.m. regular-season finale at USC — they will also face the Trojans in the first round of the conference tournament, an 8:30 p.m. Wednesday tip-off in Las Vegas — they do so without much tangible on the line.
But there are a pair of active streaks they would sure like to end, and two pieces of adverse history they would rather not add to the list of embarrassing firsts already achieved:
▪ Since the Pac-12 initiated an 18-game conference schedule in 1978-79, no UW team has ever won fewer than three conference games. The Huskies are currently 2-15.
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▪ Dating to last season, the Huskies have lost 13 consecutive Pac-12 road games. No UW team has ever lost 14.
Washington’s current 11-game losing streak is already a school record, two more than the previous worst. And they are already assured of their worst conference record in the 15-season tenure of coach Lorenzo Romar, whose job status seemingly grows more tenuous with each defeat.
And yes, star freshman guard Markelle Fultz will again sit on the bench, again ruled out due to knee soreness. Fultz, the Pac-12’s leading scorer and the projected No. 1 pick in the NBA draft, has missed four of UW’s last six games, and Romar said the prospect of Fultz returning for next week’s Pac-12 tournament opener is “probably unlikely, but we still have a few days to go.”
The task of victory, then, remains as daunting as it has in every game since Jan. 18, when these Huskies last won. They at least flirted with the notion the first time they faced the Trojans, an 82-74 defeat in Seattle on Feb. 1, a game in which UW led at halftime, 37-27, before falling apart in the final minutes.
That night, the Huskies (9-20, 2-15) committed 17 turnovers, which led to 18 USC points, and Romar noted that 15 of those points were “direct … like, touchdown passes.”
Of course, Fultz played in that game, scoring 20 points with six assists and five rebounds. If the Huskies are to have any hope of winning without him, they must take better care of the ball. Consider that in three games against the Los Angeles schools this season, they have turned the ball over 57 times — 17 against USC, and 20 each in two games against No. 3 UCLA. UW lost to the Bruins, 98-66, on Wednesday night. Sophomore guard David Crisp, UW’s primary ballhandler with Fultz out, committed 14 turnovers in those three games.
“They anticipate well. They kind of lay in the weeds and wait, and they spring out,” Romar said of USC’s defense. “They come from behind. Markelle is the ballhandler, the guy with the ball in his hands a lot. You take that away, it puts the onus on a lot of other guys to handle the ball, so it makes it a little more difficult.”
But they will show up, and they will play, and they will try to do something they haven’t done in 44 days. And they will try to do it without their best player. Again.
“After every game we look at little victories, the places where we got better,” said UW guard Matisse Thybulle, who recently nudged his season scoring average into double figures at 10.0 points. “And I think that over the course of the season, we’ve gotten a little bit better at a lot of things. If you can pull all those things together for these last few games we’ve got, I think we’ll be all right.”
WASHINGTON (9-20, 2-15 PAC-12) AT USC (22-8, 9-8)
3:30 p.m. (PST), Galen Center, Los Angeles
TV: Pac-12 Network. Radio: 1000-AM, 97.7-FM.
All-time series: USC leads, 72-71.
Statistics for 2016-17:
11 Jordan McLaughlin, G (6-1, jr.): 12.7 ppg, 5.3 apg.
22 De’Anthony Melton, G (6-4, fr.): 9.0 ppg, 5.1 rpg.
30 Elijah Stewart, G (6-5, jr.): 12.9 ppg, 4.3 rpg.
25 Bennie Boatwright, F (6-10, so.): 15.4 ppg, 4.5 rpg.
4 Chimezie Metu, F (6-11, so.): 14.3 ppg, 7.7 rpg.
1 David Crisp, G (6-0, so.): 14.0 ppg, 3.1 rpg.
23 Carlos Johnson, G (6-3, fr.): 5.9 ppg, 3.1 rpg.
4 Matisse Thybulle, G (6-5, so.): 10.0 ppg, 3.1 rpg.
15 Noah Dickerson, F (6-8, so.): 11.9 ppg, 8.3 rpg.
33 Sam Timmins, F (6-10, R-fr.): 3.2 ppg, 3.8 rpg.
Scouting report: This is the first of two games the Huskies will play against USC in a five-day span. Utah’s victory over California on Thursday night assured the Trojans of the No. 6 seed in next week’s Pac-12 tournament, and the Huskies are already locked into the No. 11 seed. So, they will play each other in the 8:30 p.m. Wednesday game in Las Vegas in the tournament’s first round. … While the Huskies have nothing left to play for, the Trojans should be plenty motivated. USC is currently projected by ESPN’s Joe Lunardi to be one of the final four teams to receive an at-large bid into the NCAA tournament. After going undefeated in nonconference play and beginning league play 6-4, the Trojans have lost four of their last five, snapping a four-game losing streak on Wednesday with an 87-64 win over Washington State. A loss to the Huskies could well knock the Trojans off the bubble. … KenPom.com ranks the Trojans 64th in the country — 45th in adjusted offensive efficiency, and 101st in adjusted defensive efficiency. USC ranks sixth in the Pac-12 in both field-goal percentage and field-goal percentage defense.
Christian Caple: firstname.lastname@example.org