For Lorenzo Romar and the Washington basketball team, the floor is open.
Although the Huskies’ season tipped off with an early November exhibition — three months and 23 games ago — there’s a cycle of life in sports that insists college basketball isn’t entirely relevant until after the Super Bowl.
Like many other fans, I regard basketball to be a kind of side dish through the conclusion of the NFL playoffs. I enjoy creamed spinach with my steak, but I don’t crave it.
Then football goes away, or at least the games go away — between free agency and the draft and rumors about the pending retirements of running backs, NFL football never goes away — and I begin to hear the sound of buzzers and horns and squeaking sneakers and pep bands in my sleep.
After Washington’s entertaining but ultimately flawed effort Saturday against then-No. 23 Arizona, I reminded Romar of the opportunity his team will have to expose its brand to a Seattle-area audience whose attention is undivided.
The coach shook his head.
“In about six days,” he said, “it’s gonna be about the Mariners.”
Amid laughter in the interview room, Romar put his hands together and pantomimed a dunk off an alley-oop pass.
“Sorry,” he continued. “You set me up for that one.”
Romar knows very well how the beginning of baseball’s regular season coincides with the Final Four. The Mariners, for instance, open on the afternoon of April 4, a few hours before the national championship game.
Between now and then, the Huskies will occupy a stage giving them ample room to show they’re legit.
“This game was nationally televised,” Romar said. “I think three of our next four, or four of our next five, are going to be nationally televised. I think it’s a great time, as people are looking to see who’s going to be in the tournament and the selection committee is looking to see who’s going to be in the tournament. It’s a great time for us to go out and play good basketball.
“This is the stretch run, right now. This is it, these last seven games we have. You can talk all about a game in December and say it’s a big game, yeah, it’s true. How big a game was Santa Barbara, since we lost it? It was a huge game. How big a game was Texas, the first one? That was a big win for us.
“But now, every game is monumental. Every game has a lot at stake.”
The absence of an assertive rebounder capable of preventing Arizona from extending late-game possessions proved to Washington’s undoing Saturday. So was the poise and savvy of a Wildcats team that put four seniors and a junior on the floor against lone Huskies senior Andrew Andrews, surrounded by four freshmen.
For 38 minutes, the kids entertained the near-sellout crowd at Hec Edmundson Pavilion by exerting their quick-hands defense on a plodding offense. The mismatch of speed versus strength produced an array of spectacular dunks for the Huskies. Even more spectacular were the dunks they missed.
But as any YMCA gym rat will tell you, a pick-up team of experienced guys familiar with each other — and with the stodgy fundamentals of, say, boxing out for a rebound — usually beats younger guys who perceive themselves as acrobats.
The Huskies are learning this on the run, and to see how they run is a blast.
“Kids watch us,” Romar said, “and they like the way we play. They like our style. And when you have an atmosphere like we did for this game, it appears to be a fun place to play. I don’t just mean in this gym, I mean in terms of the program.
“But we still have to get over that hump. We’ve got to get over the hump to the next level.”
Washington is 15-8 overall, 7-4 in the Pac-12. Advancing to the next level — an invitation to the NCAA tournament — won’t demand perfection, but it will require defensive efficiency. Definition of defensive efficiency: owning the rebound upon forcing a missed, off-balance jumper as the shot clock expires.
Seven Pac-12 games remain for the Huskies before they travel to Las Vegas for the league tournament in March. The window is narrow and yet clear.
So is the floor.
John McGrath: firstname.lastname@example.org