It’s been six weeks since the Washington Huskies traveled to Boulder, Colorado, with hope for a promising season still intact.
It was Jan. 22, and the Huskies beat the Colorado Buffaloes that day, 52-50, thanks to Andrew Andrews’ last-second midrange jumper. The victory, UW’s third in a row, improved the Huskies’ overall record to 14-4, and 3-3 in Pac-12 play.
They were seemingly adjusting well to the loss of starting forward Jernard Jarreau, who was recovering from a meniscus surgery that kept him out five weeks. And it appeared as if the problems that induced an 0-3 start to league play were behind them.
Then they lost by 21 points at Utah. Then they kicked 7-foot center Robert Upshaw off the team. Then they lost their next six games before finally winning again (at Washington State in Jarreau’s return from injury), then played two games without senior forward Shawn Kemp Jr. (due to a concussion), one of those games without leading scorer Nigel Williams-Goss (sprained ankle), and now they limp into the final weekend of Pac-12 play still needing to win another game to avoid a sub-.500 overall record.
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So Thursday’s 6 p.m. game against Colorado at Hec Edmundson Pavilion (FOX Sports 1) might evoke memories of a time when it was still reasonable to believe the Huskies might play in the NCAA tournament. But neither team will look anything like it did when they met six weeks ago.
The Huskies (15-13, 4-12 in Pac-12) will be down two starters from that game. One is Upshaw, obviously, and the other is Kemp, who was close to being able to return from the concussion that kept him out of losses last week at UCLA and USC … until he strained his calf this week during an extra conditioning workout. Now he’s out for the Colorado game, and probably UW’s Saturday game against Utah, too.
“He’s the strongest player on our team,” said UW coach Lorenzo Romar, lamenting his team’s continuing misfortune. “Definitely the strongest post player. He’s the most experienced. He’s our best low-post scorer. There are a lot of things that he provides for us that it’s hard to duplicate without him being in there.”
The good news for UW is that Williams-Goss, who missed the Huskies’ 70-55 loss at last-place USC after spraining his ankle against UCLA, is expected to return against Colorado.
“It’s still a little sore, but at least I’ve been able to practice this week,” Williams-Goss said. “I expected it to be a little sore. I didn’t think it was going to be 100 percent. But it’s definitely good enough to play.”
But it won’t be the same Buffaloes team the Huskies defeated in January. Colorado has since regained Josh Scott, a 6-foot-10 forward who missed eight games (including the loss to UW) due to back spasms. He averages 12.6 points per game, and has scored in double-figures in four of eight games since returning from injury.
Six-foot-seven guard Xavier Johnson, also a double-digit scorer, is another Buffaloes player who missed the first game against UW but will be available on Thursday.
“Scott’s an all-conference player. Xavier’s had an up-and-down year, but he’s definitely an all-conference talent,” Romar said. “It makes it a little easier for (leading scorer) Askia Booker to roam around and do his thing when you get those guys back, so it definitely will be a different team.”
It’s not as if Colorado (13-15, 6-10) has experienced any kind of renaissance since those players returned from injury — the Buffaloes have lost six of their last eight games, five of them by 13 points or more.
But with Scott back in the post against a UW frontcourt featuring exactly two players taller than 6 feet 7 — Jarreau and seldom-used center Gilles Dierickx — the Huskies will be vulnerable inside. UCLA forward Tony Parker (20 points) and USC forward Nikola Jovanovic (16 points, 7 rebounds) each took advantage of Kemp’s absence last week, and it might be a chore for the Huskies to prevent Scott from doing the same.
“Hopefully, we learned from our mistakes in the UCLA game, the things that we need to do, which I won’t go into now,” Romar said. “But hopefully we learned from that, and we can make the necessary adjustments so we can compete a lot better than we did in that game.”