University of Washington

With trip to Boulder up next, has UW improved since first meeting with Colorado?

Colorado’s Xavier Johnson (11) puts up a shot in front of Washington’s Matthew Atewe (41) on Jan. 18 in Seattle. Johnson scored 24 points against the Huskies that night.
Colorado’s Xavier Johnson (11) puts up a shot in front of Washington’s Matthew Atewe (41) on Jan. 18 in Seattle. Johnson scored 24 points against the Huskies that night. The Associated Press

Nothing the Washington Huskies men’s basketball team has accomplished this season merits celebration.

Not its 9-14 record, certainly, and not its 2-9 mark in Pac-12 play. Not the way the Huskies have defended all season (poorly), not the way they’ve shot the ball against league opponents (also poorly), and not the way they rolled over in a 107-66 loss to UCLA last week before a sellout crowd at home.

But if this season ever had a high point — or maybe just the highest low point — it probably came Jan. 18 against the Colorado Buffaloes, who lugged an 0-5 league record into a game that night against Washington at Hec Edmundson Pavilion.

Colorado led that game by 17 points early in the second half, but the Huskies came back to win in overtime, 85-83 — their second Pac-12 victory and perhaps their most, uh, inspiring performance of the season to that point.

Sure, the Buffaloes aren’t any good, but they’re certainly good enough to beat the Huskies (plus, Ken Pomeroy ranks Colorado 84th nationally; none of the eight other teams UW defeated this season ranks higher than 200th). And for a team that doesn’t always play with maximum effort, erasing a 17-point deficit seemed to suggest the Huskies were making tangible progress.

They haven’t won since.

Colorado, meanwhile, won three of its next five games after beginning league play 0-8, including a 74-65 upset of first-place Oregon in Boulder. So UW enters Thursday’s game against the Buffaloes at the Coors Events Center hoping to prove it has, indeed, improved since the first time it eked out a victory against a Colorado team that can’t be pleased with how its season has gone, either.

Colorado coach Tad Boyle told reporters after Thursday’s practice that both teams qualify for “better than our records indicate” status, and that “I wouldn’t be afraid to say that we are both underachieving up until this point.”

Maybe. Colorado certainly is, with three fifth-year seniors in its starting lineup. The Huskies, on the other hand, might simply be this bad, despite spectacular play all year from freshman guard Markelle Fultz. Against league opponents, UW ranks last in field-goal percentage, free-throw percentage and defensive rebounding percentage, ninth in defensive field-goal percentage and 11th in scoring margin and 3-point percentage.

The season was lost long ago, and there is little left for the Huskies to play for. After the embarrassment that was Saturday’s blowout loss to UCLA — the fourth-largest margin of defeat in UW’s history — the Huskies are simply trying to regroup and convince themselves they’re still capable of winning a basketball game. Any basketball game.

“I did think we were making progress up until that UCLA game,” said UW coach Lorenzo Romar, likely referring to close losses to Arizona and USC. “So we have to get back to where we were before the UCLA game. We can’t take that UCLA game and have that define everything that we’re doing, like that’s the team that we are. Because that wasn’t the team that we are.”

This might not be the same Colorado team, either. Starting forwards Xavier Johnson and Wesley Gordon — both seniors — sat out the Buffaloes’ 77-66 loss at California last week, both suspended for violating team rules. Boyle told reporters after Wednesday’s practice that both players remain “day to day,” and that he hasn’t decided whether they will play in Thursday’s game.

That would be a boon for the Huskies: Johnson had 24 points and 11 rebounds the first time these teams met, and Gordon had five points, 11 rebounds and five blocked shots.

Romar said he’s been focusing mostly on what UW did wrong against Colorado the first time around.

“They were up 17 in the second half. How did that happen? Our team needs to understand that,” Romar said. “Our team needs to also understand when we finally caught them, we were up four, (and) we had a number of breakdowns defensively where we could not just put them away. It’s important for our team to understand those things.”

And soon. The remaining schedule presents few realistic opportunities for victory. If the Huskies have made any progress at all in the last three weeks, they need to show up on Thursday night in Boulder, if only to prove this team still cares about getting better.

Christian Caple: 253-597-8437, @ChristianCaple

Huskies gameday

WASHINGTON (9-14, 2-9 PAC-12) AT COLORADO (13-11, 3-8)

7 p.m. (PST), Coors Events Center, Boulder, Colorado

TV: Fox Sports 1. Radio: 1000-AM, 97.7-FM.

All-time series: Washington leads, 12-10.

PROJECTED STARTERS

Statistics for 2016-17:

COLORADO

21 Derrick White, G (6-5, sr.): 16.8 ppg, 4.3 apg.

24 George King, G (6-6, jr.): 11.2 ppg, 7.0 rpg.

15 Dominique Collier, G (6-2, jr.): 5.9 ppg, 1.5 apg.

11 Xavier Johnson, F (6-7, sr.): 15.2 ppg, 6.1 rpg.

1 Wesley Gordon, F (6-9, sr.): 7.2 ppg, 7.3 rpg.

WASHINGTON

20 Markelle Fultz, G (6-4, fr.): 23.2 ppg, 6.0 apg, 6.0 rpg.

1 David Crisp, G (6-0, so.): 13.7 ppg, 3.0 apg.

4 Matisse Thybulle, G (6-5, so.): 9.9 ppg, 3.0 rpg.

33 Sam Timmins, F (6-10, R-fr.): 3.6 ppg, 3.4 rpg.

15 Noah Dickerson, F (6-8, so.): 10.8 ppg, 8.0 rpg.

Scouting report: Colorado might be one of the most confounding teams in the country. The Buffaloes have plenty of experience, with a regular starting lineup that consists of three fifth-year seniors, a fourth-year junior and a true junior, and they’re coming off an NCAA tournament appearance in 2015-16. They went 9-3 in nonconference play with a home victory over a top-25 Xavier team. But they lost their first eight conference games, and find themselves in 10th place in the Pac-12 standings. … The Buffaloes rank sixth in the Pac-12 in field-goal percentage and eighth in field-goal percentage defense against league opponents. They shoot 3-pointers at a 34.9 percent clip overall, with Xavier Johnson leading the way at 44.1 percent. … Colorado did recover to win three out of four games after starting 0-8, including a 75-65 upset of now-No. 5 Oregon in Boulder on Jan. 28. And the Buffaloes followed that with an 81-74 win at Stanford. But that positive momentum was thwarted three days later when seniors Johnson and Wesley Gordon each served suspensions against California, a game Colorado lost 77-66. CU coach Tad Boyle wouldn’t say whether Johnson and Gordon will return to play against UW. The Buffaloes started forwards Tory Miller and Lucas Siewart in their place against Cal. … UW last won in Boulder on Jan. 22, 2015. Andrew Andrews made a jumper in the final seconds to lift the Huskies to a 52-50 victory. The Huskies are 5-4 against Colorado since CU joined the Pac-12 in 2011-12.

Christian Caple: ccaple@thenewstribune.com

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