EUGENE, Ore. – The question was rhetorical, a taunt directed toward the Washington Huskies from the student section at Matthew Knight Arena.
As senior guard Mike Anderson lined up a pair of free-throws in the first half, the students chanted: “Where is Upshaw?”
They clapped five times, rhythmically, then again: “Where is Upshaw?”
They knew the answer, of course. Robert Upshaw is gone, dismissed 10 days ago for violating team rules, and he’s not coming back.
And the concept of protecting the basket without the towering 7-footer isn’t getting any easier for the Huskies to grasp.
That was apparent, repeatedly, again, throughout Washington’s 78-74 loss here to the Oregon Ducks on Wednesday night before a mostly tepid crowd of 5,866.
And it felt similar to UW’s 90-88 loss on Sunday to California. The Huskies (14-8, 3-7 in Pac-12) attacked the basket aggressively. They scored 46 points in the paint despite playing about 13 minutes with a five-guard lineup. They shot 73 percent on 2-point attempts. They were efficient, too; Nigel Williams-Goss scored 19 points on 9-of-13 shooting, Andrew Andrews had 14 points on 6-of-8 shooting, and forward Shawn Kemp Jr. scored 12 points on 5-of-8 shooting.
But again, they simply didn’t play much defense, allowing the Ducks to shoot 53.4 percent from the field, and allowing guard Joseph Young to fill the hoop with 32 points. Most of his 12 made field goals were jumpers, and four of them were 3-pointers. Zone or man-to-man, off the dribble or off a screen, he lit it up.
“Joseph Young did his thing, but aside from that, we still had too many defensive lapses,” Huskies coach Lorenzo Romar said after his team’s third consecutive loss. “They are a good offensive team, and sometimes good offensive teams force you into those lapses, but … we didn’t control the situations defensively that we could have controlled. And that hurt us.”
Young’s tough bucket in the paint with 24 seconds left gave Oregon a two-point lead. On the following possession, the Huskies wanted to find forward Kemp coming off a double-screen-and-roll for Williams-Goss, and Kemp was open. But Williams-Goss felt the defense forced him too far sideways, and he didn’t think the angle would allow for a successful pass to Kemp beneath the rim.
So he handed to Anderson instead, and Anderson eventually threw the ball away. Oregon iced the game with free throws.
“I saw him at the last minute, but it was a longer pass and I didn’t want to risk the turnover,” said Williams-Goss, who was otherwise stellar, leading UW with 19 points on 9-of-13 shooting with six assists. “Mike was the closest guy, so I kind of handed it off and then after that, it just was kind of bad spacing.”
But just as they said after Sam Singer’s late 3-pointer beat them on Sunday afternoon, there were plenty of plays the Huskies could have made to render the final possession moot.
And again, most of those errors came on defense. They left Young wide open beyond the 3-point arc several times, and you can probably guess how that turned out. Washington’s smaller lineup also struggled again to rebound, allowing Oregon 17 second-chance points on 11 offensive boards.
That is a damning statistic, given that this game had 11 lead changes, 12 ties, and neither team led by more than four points in the second half after Oregon led 42-37 at halftime.
“In the first half, when we got into rotation situations, we didn’t find someone to put a body on the box-out,” Romar said. “So they scored 11 points in the first half off of second-chance points – a couple of those were 3s, I believe – and that hurt us a little bit.”
He was also quick to note that UW misses 6-foot-10 forward Jernard Jarreau, who is likely out another one to three weeks while recovering from knee surgery.
“The biggest issue is just trying to shore up maybe some of the bad habits that we developed when those guys were in there,” Romar said.
He saw improvement, too, specifically UW’s continued offensive progression. They’ll need every bit of it on Sunday afternoon at Oregon State, an opponent which prides itself on playing disciplined defense.
Once upon a time, the Huskies did, too.
“I don’t know what it is, but it’s surprising to me,” Williams-Goss said. “I think we’re good enough perimeter defenders to keep guys out of the lane – not for 40 minutes, but do a better job than what we’re doing right now. Definitely, a lot of it is on us. … It wasn’t like we hadn’t lost before Rob was here or Rob was playing 40 minutes. So right now, it’s on us.”
PLAYER OF THE GAME – No doubt about this one: Oregon guard Joseph Young scored a game-high 32 points on 12-of-21 shooting, including 4-of-9 from 3-point range, and his jumper was a thorn in Washington’s side all night. He also hit the go-ahead shot with 24 seconds left that put Oregon ahead for good.
IT WAS OVER WHEN – Jalil Abdul-Bassitt was fouled with 0.7 seconds left and Oregon leading by two points. He made both free throws to account for the final score.
STAT OF THE GAME – The Huskies lost despite shooting 73 percent – 27-for-37 – on 2-pointers. They made just 3-of-16 from beyond the arc. Oregon’s 17 second-chance points on 11 offensive rebounds were also killer for UW.
QUOTABLE – “I think what our team needs to be able to see is how close we are, and that we’re competitive and we’re right there. If we cut down on these lapses defensively, we’ll be able to come out on top in the majority of our games – any one of our games. But we have to cut down on those defensive lapses. When we see that, hopefully that can serve as motivation for us to concentrate for longer periods of time.” – UW coach Lorenzo Romar
WHAT IT MEANS – To borrow an old coaching cliché, the Huskies simply are what they are right now: a team that’s improving offensively due to its newfound insistence on forcing a faster pace and attacking the basket, but still trying to figure out how to defend without its dynamo shot-blocker (Robert Upshaw). They didn’t play poorly on Wednesday night. They just didn’t play quite enough defense to win.
UP NEXT – Washington at Oregon State, 1:30 p.m. Sunday, Gill Coliseum, Corvallis (FOX Sports 1)
Christian Caple can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @ChristianCaple