Huskies look for answers after 3 straight losses
Lorenzo Romar can pull stats with amazing accuracy. The Washington coach knows that earlier this season his Huskies held UCLA and USC to under 40 percent shooting on the road, and that Isaiah Thomas had six assists and two turnovers last Saturday against Oregon.
The most glaring stat Romar sees right now: 0-3, as in the Huskies' three-game losing streak that has knocked them from the top of the Pac-10.
''It just goes back again to the defensive end of the floor. A rededication to the defensive end is what is going to help us turn this around,'' Romar said on Tuesday. ''I think that is fairly simple as to where the issue is. That's easier said than done because we haven't done it the last three games.''
Actually, for Romar, the problems go back beyond the Huskies' 87-80 loss at rival Washington State on Jan. 30, the start of an untimely three-game road skid. A week earlier, in an 88-75 win over Arizona State, Romar became concerned that the Huskies defense was beginning to lag. The fact the problems festered in a victory hid some of the issues, but Arizona State became the first team all season to shoot 50 percent against Washington, including 60 percent on 3-pointers.
That was just the beginning. Washington State aggressively attacked the Huskies, the 87 points the Cougars posted the most allowed all season by Washington. Instead of rebounding against lowly Oregon State, the flat Huskies lost 68-56 last Thursday.
Everyone involved agreed the Huskies played better against Oregon last Saturday, but they still lost, 81-76. The Huskies were again hampered by a defense that couldn't get stops in the closing minutes after Washington dug itself a 10-point deficit with less than 8 minutes to go.
''(It's) probably just pressure, just getting out and playing like we're used to playing, denying wings and just things like that,'' Thomas said. ''It's not like we're a liability on defense, we're just not giving the full effort that we can. We've seen it on tape, it's embarrassing how you think you're giving your all and you're not. So we're fixing things this week.''
Along with the problems in getting stops have come questions for Romar about the amount of zone defense he's used this season, most notably in the loss to Oregon. Romar insisted Tuesday that the Huskies aren't taking a step back from their traditional aggressive man defense, but are using the zone mostly to help center Aziz N'Diaye, who sometimes struggles playing posts that force him to defend away from the basket. That was the case against the Ducks and their center, Joevan Catron, who still finished with 20 points and nine rebounds in the upset.
The problem with Washington's defensive struggles is the impact it creates on the Huskies offense that relies on easy baskets in transition. Stuck playing mostly in half-court sets in the last three games, the impact has been noticeable, especially on Thomas.
The Huskies' star point guard has shot just 29 percent in the three losses, including 4 of 17 on 3-pointers. After going three games last month where his assist-to-turnover ratio was more than 3-to-1, Thomas had consecutive games in the losses to Washington State and Oregon State with more turnovers than assists.
Thomas has faced defenses focused on not letting him penetrate and find the Huskies shooters on the outside, making it more difficult also to get post Matthew Bryan-Amaning free on the interior.
If there is an upside for the Huskies, the gauntlet of their schedule seems to be over. They'll play five of their final seven conference games at home with a trip to the Arizona schools the only time the Huskies will play outside the city of Seattle until the Pac-10 tournament.
That stretch begins on Thursday night against California.
''We kind of know what we have to do,'' Bryan-Amaning said. ''I don't think anything else needs to be said.''