SEATTLE – So dismal are the current circumstances surrounding the Washington Huskies men’s basketball team that its coach, Lorenzo Romar, is now focused on helping his players rediscover hope.
Not hope of playing in the NCAA tournament, a goal now unattainable. Not hope of finishing with a winning Pac-12 record, now a mathematical impossibility. But simply hope of winning a game, any game, before their current losing streak consumes what’s left of this miserable, ill-fated season.
“With three weeks left,” Romar said, “(and) five games left on our schedule, we have to make sure that we can find where that hope is.”
That won’t be a fun search. The count of consecutive UW losses is now at seven after Arizona State slashed and rebounded its way to a 78-68 victory on Sunday afternoon at Hec Edmundson Pavilion, where an announced crowd of 6,745 (yeah, right) watched the Sun Devils collect 18 offensive rebounds and score 42 points in the paint.
Those numbers are alarming and unsurprising all at once. Washington is down two post players – 7-foot center Robert Upshaw, whom Romar dismissed from the team on Jan. 26, and injured 6-foot-10 forward Jernard Jarreau, who is expected back next week – and its interior defense and ability to box out have suffered as a result.
So there was Gerry Blakes, ASU’s leading scorer, mixing successful dribble-drives with deft jumpers. He scored a game-high 23 points. And there was 6-foot-6 forward Savon Goodman, whom the Huskies simply could not handle, collecting 13 rebounds – seven off ASU’s own misses – and scoring 19 points.
“Some of the things that are happening,” Romar said, “are unacceptable.”
Overall, ASU (13-12, 5-7 in Pac-12) outrebounded the Huskies 44-26, and shot 49.1 percent from the field compared to just 37.9 percent for UW.
“We’ve got to find our man when the ball goes up,” said senior forward Shawn Kemp Jr., who grabbed a season-best eight rebounds. “We’ve got to see who our man is, we’ve got to box out and go to the ball.”
Still, Washington led, 60-55, with 7:42 to play after Nigel Williams-Goss scored, was fouled and made the ensuing free-throw.
On this day, that was as good as the Huskies had it. Blakes immediately drove to the rim and scored. Twenty-six seconds later, he tied the score with a 3-pointer from the left corner. And after UW junior guard Andrew Andrews made a pull-up jumper, Blakes drew a foul and made a pair of free-throws, then assisted on a 3-pointer by former Kentridge High School star Shaquielle McKissic, and Washington didn’t lead again.
After that 60-55 deficit, ASU ended the game on a 23-8 run. UW’s only field goal in the final 4:49 was a meaningless bucket by Williams-Goss with 29 seconds left.
Earlier this season, when the Huskies were winning and Upshaw was swatting shots and hope of the postseason very much existed, Romar proclaimed that after three seasons without an NCAA tournament appearance, “guys don’t want to be mediocre anymore.”
They not only believed they could win, Romar said. They didn’t believe they could lose.
“I’ve been in situations where teams kept winning and you just really feel like you can’t lose,” Romar said, “but then other situations, where it’s almost like an alarm goes off, ‘here it is. Here’s the crossroads in the game. Here’s the time where you’re going to win it or lose it.’ The alarm goes off. And sometimes teams don’t answer that alarm.”
It’s been ringing since Jan. 22, when UW beat Colorado on a last-second jumper by Andrews. By the time the Huskies play again – Feb. 22 at Washington State – an entire month will separate them from their last victory.
“This is adversity, no question about it,” said Williams-Goss, who led UW with 20 points and six assists. “But at the end of the day, it’s only going to make all of us stronger. This season, as bad as it hurts, it’s not breaking us as people or as players.”
It’s also not over.
“It’s a chicken before the egg deal,” Romar said. “We’ve got to win to start believing we can win again.”
He said the Huskies will take Monday and Tuesday off because they play only one game this week, on Sunday at Washington State.
When they return to practice on Wednesday, “we have to have a certain amount of humility to know that unless we’re all focused and all there, it’s hard to win games.”
Harder than they could have imagined.
PLAYER OF THE GAME – Gerry Blakes led ASU with 23 points, but Savon Goodman was the most valuable player on the floor. The 6-foot-6 forward scored 19 points and grabbed 13 rebounds, seven of them on the offensive end, and there wasn’t a player wearing a Huskies uniform who could defend him on the low block or keep him off the glass.
IT WAS OVER WHEN – ASU ripped off an 8-0 run to take a 76-66 lead with 55 seconds to play.
STAT OF THE GAME – The Sun Devils grabbed 18 offensive rebounds off their 29 missed field- goal attempts. In terms of UW’s ability to block out, that’s about as bad as it gets.
QUOTABLE – ““We talked to our team to really figure out what it is that you individually need to do. Everybody. Look in the mirror. Myself included. All of us. And come back. I felt like our guys are going to take heed. I feel like we’ll come back and be ready to give it our all.” – UW coach Lorenzo Romar
WHAT IT MEANS – This might have been the Huskies’ best remaining chance for a victory, considering ASU is a mediocre team and the Huskies were playing at home. But they couldn’t defend, they couldn’t rebound, and despite holding a 5-point lead with fewer than eight minutes remaining, they faltered yet again. Will Washington win another game this season? That’s a fair question now.
UP NEXT – Washington at Washington State, 5:30 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 22 (ESPNU)
Christian Caple can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @ChristianCaple