Jan. 26, 2013
By Gregg Bell
UW Director of Writing
EUGENE, Ore. - What's the big picture right now for these Huskies? Where may they end up come March?
They have far more pressing issues to take care of before that.
Such as playing with the same focus and intensity against every opponent, regardless of perceptions. Such as playing consistent defense. Such as taking care of the ball.
"We're all right. We're confident enough that we can go out there and play with anybody," senior co-captain Abdul Gaddy said before boarding the team bus ride home Saturday night from Washington's 81-76 loss at No. 16 Oregon. "We know we've got for sure a month and some left. We know that every game counts. Every week is going to be tough.
"We just can't look ahead."
For about 39 minutes at fancy Matthew Knight Arena, the Huskies (12-8, 4-3 Pac-12) competed just about evenly with the league's top team on its loud - and obnoxious, considering the odd paint - home floor. They played with the requisite focus and intensity, if not the defense (again).
It was one particularly lost minute that cost the Dawgs a stunning victory.
No. 16 Oregon (18-2, 7-0) scored seven unanswered points in 61 seconds, five of them without UW getting across half court following a backcourt steal. That turned a three-point lead into a double-digit edge that eventually became 66-52 with 7 minutes left.
"They got that lead, going up 14, but they weren't getting away from us," Gaddy said.
The Huskies' senior co-captain made two 3-pointers, scrapped for loose balls and steals, soared at the rim for rebounds - did everything to bring his team back but take the lead.
The lead stayed at 14 through the 4-minute mark. Then the Huskies used Gaddy's grit and energy off the bench from Shawn Kemp Jr. (a season-high 12 points on 5-for-5 shooting) during a 12-4 run. When C.J. Wilcox made just his second 3-pointer of the game with 1:17 left, Oregon's lead was down to six.
But Andrew Andrews missed a 3 from the left side that would have made it 75-71 with a minute remaining. UW didn't get within four of the Ducks until just 32 seconds remained, on free throws by Kemp.
"They are not the 316th team in the country; they are the 16th-ranked team in the country," Romar said. "We knew we had a challenge. I thought our guys - with the exception of when they pulled away from us - played pretty good basketball."
E.J. Singler and Johnathan Loyd made three of four free throws in the final half minute to seal Oregon's 20th consecutive home win.
Redshirt freshman Andrews was great early with 15 points. Gaddy's heartening 13 points sparked a late comeback to within four. But the Huskies could not overcome more problems on defense and 21 turnovers on offense.
"I was just trying to compete and win," Gaddy said. "I knew he had a chance. ... I was just trying to play as hard as I can. My thought was, if I play hard maybe the rest of the guys would follow my lead."
Wilcox scored 14 points but missed seven of nine shots after halftime for Washington, which had been angry and embarrassed for its defensive lapses that cost them the previous two games against Utah and Oregon State.
UW is not a program that clings to moral victories. Not after four consecutive Pac-12 regular-season or tournament titles, six NCAA tournaments and three Sweet 16 appearances in coach Lorenzo Romar's first 10 seasons on Montlake.
But this loss to the conference's only unbeaten team looked and felt a lot better than the previous two. And that was even after waves of Ducks soared free from the wings for dunks and inside on cuts against a Huskies defense that often wasn't organized quickly enough to get near them.
Even without starting point guard Dominic Artis (injured foot), Oregon scored 44 of its first 70 points in the paint. Most of those were nearly uncontested layups and dunks.
"We played against a dynamic team," Romar said. "The No. 1 thing we talked in terms of having a chance to be successful against them was defensive transition. ... That hurt us, defensive transition, that and us turning the ball over."
Still, Romar saw positives he hadn't seen since starting 4-0 in the league with three consecutive road wins two weeks ago.
"I am really proud of our effort, of how we stayed with it. We didn't quit," Romar said. "We did a good job coming out being ready to play. ... If we bring that focus and effort we'll be on the positive side more than not."
Wilcox, the leading scorer in Pac-12 play at 21 points per game coming in, was hounded by Loyd and Singler. He didn't take his first shot until 11 minutes into the game. He didn't make his first one until 12:10 in.
Yet UW stayed within range of the Ducks because of Scott Suggs' seven early points and because of the fearless play of Andrews off the bench.
Andrews scored 41 points on this same floor two years ago in the Oregon Class 5A state title game for Portland's Benson Tech. He was playing for UW in front of 41 friends Saturday. He drove relentlessly at the Ducks like he indeed owned the three-year-old place while scoring 11 of his 15 points in the first half.
With 4 minutes left before the break the point guard scored inside while getting banged to the floor. He pumped his fist while on the seat of his pants to punctuate getting the Huskies within 30-29.
"I was just trying to be aggressive," Andrews said. "Usually it's to get C.J. and Scott the ball, but they were helping off on them. So I took the openings."
Andrews' surge led the Huskies to shoot 65 percent (13 for 20) in the opening half. It was their best shooting period of the season.
"It's starting to happen for him," Romar said of Andrews. "He's not intimidated, on the road or anywhere else."
The Huskies trailed 37-33 at the break mostly because of 18 Oregon points off their 15 turnovers. It didn't help that UW repeatedly failed to get back and set on defense, allowing soaring slams by the Ducks' Carlos Emory and Tony Woods.
"You not only have to get back on defense but you have to be organized (quickly) against them," Romar said.
The Huskies couldn't keep up their blistering shooting in the second half. Their turnovers continued, as did the Ducks' easy buckets. But Oregon kept UW in it by committing 23 turnovers of its own.
Ultimately, 81 points allowed by the team which was leading the Pac-12 with 62 points against per game entering Saturday was most telling.
"We just have to play better defense," Kemp said, echoing what's been the Huskies' mantra for three games now.
"Despite the loss, I'd say (I'm) encouraged," Andrews said. "They had 44 points in the paint. They had 27 points off our turnovers. And we only lost by five. That's pretty encouraging. We cut those things down and it could have gone the other way for us."
UW next hosts No. 6 Arizona (17-2, 5-2) on Thursday in a 6 p.m. tipoff at Alaska Airlines Arena. If the pattern for these Huskies hold, they'll be hyped and ready to face a top-ranked team.
"I'm excited to go to practice Monday," Romar said, sounding far better than he did late Wednesday night up the road in Corvallis, "because I believe we have a real chance to get better."