Jan. 19, 2013
By Gregg Bell
UW Director of Writing
SEATTLE - Four and .. oh no!
The rugged, in-their-shirts defense that carried the Huskies to four consecutive, revitalizing wins to begin the Pac-12 season?
It disappeared out the doors of Hec Edmundson Pavilion and into Saturday night's frozen winter fog.
UW's winning streak went out with it.
Frigid shooting - their 37 percent at the end was an improvement -- compounded the defensive lapses and sent the Huskies to their first league loss, 74-65 to rugged Utah at before 8,598 stunned and perturbed folks at Alaska Airlines Arena.
They weren't nearly perturbed as Lorenzo Romar.
"We just took a step back," the frustrated coach said after his team largely denied itself its first 5-0 league start in 29 years. "We weren't determined enough early."
He remarked how his players often can't control whether their shots fall.
"But we can control how we guard," Romar said, sternly tapping his index finger on the table behind which he was sitting. "That's why I am frustrated.
"When we go back and look at the film we will be embarrassed at times at our lack of coverage."
Andrew Andrews scored 17 points -- most of them late when the outcome had been decided -- and C.J. Wilcox went scoreless for the first 27 minutes before somehow finishing with 14 through Utah's Justin Seymour face guarding him like an NFL defensive back all night. Those 14 points were eight below Wilcox's league-leading scoring average in conference play for Washington (12-6, 4-1 Pac-12).
Yet shooting was far from the biggest of Huskies' problems.
How much is this team defined by its defense? UW's shooting percentage Saturday was the same it shot this month at California, when it won by 15. The Huskies shot 34 percent Wednesday night -- and beat Colorado by 10.
Utes consistently roamed free in the lane and along the baseline like they were back in the deserts of their Beehive State. Jason Washburn attacked 7-footer Aziz N'Diaye while scoring eight of his team's first dozen points. He made eight of 11 shots in all for 18 points and at times looked like he was running a skeleton offense drill with, you guessed it, no defense opposing him.
Utah (9-9, 1-5) never trailed while beat a conference team on the road for the first time since entering the league for the start of last season.
Washington trailed 12-2 before the echoes of Macklemore's blaring pre-tip recording of "Thrift Shop" were done clanging off the sides of the old, renovated house.
When Washburn wasn't scoring, UW let reserve guard Brandon Taylor step back and across the floor outside for most of his 19 points, five above his previous career high. He made 3 of 5 from beyond the 3-point arc. When Washburn and Taylor weren't lighting them up, the Huskies let Jordan Loveridge get low-post position for his 17 points on eight of 14 shooting. He - and the Dawgs' sleepy interior defense -- was why Utah had a glaring, 32-20 advantage on points in the paint.
Unobstructed Utah shot 60 percent (29 of 48). It came to Seattle ranked 11th in the Pac-12 by shooting just 39.7 percent.
"I thought we had that kind of defense behind us," Wilcox said.
"We weren't playing scrappy enough. That's pretty much it. We weren't executing our principles.
"We were slippin' tonight."
The slashing, scoring junior entered Saturday leading the Pac-12 with 22.4 points per conference game. He left it looking nothing like that. He missed his first six shots and didn't score in the first half for the first time since last March's semifinals of the National Invitation Tournament against Minnesota in New York.
He took just two shots in the first 20 minutes. One of them was an airballed 3 from the far left wing that missed by almost a full foot to the right of the rim before bounding out of bounds.
Wilcox first points came when he finally got free for a 3 from the left sideline with 12:59 remaining in the game. That only got Washington to within 10, 44-34.
"They were just face guarding me. It was pretty much a box-and-one," Wilcox said, adding he hadn't previously been hounded "to that extent" by anyone all season.
Meanwhile, Utah was reminding the Huskies about Romar's No. 1 warning to them in the days leading up to this one: "Be ready to play." The coach had shown his guys tape of how Utah had lost in overtime at Arizona State (14-4) in a game ASU saved with a shot late in regulation; how the Utes lost by three at Arizona (16-1); and by four at home last week to UCLA.
In the end, the best thing about this one for Washington is that it eventually ended.
The Huskies now prepare for Wednesday night's game at Oregon State (10-8, 0-5) and next Saturday at No. 21 Oregon (16-2, 5-0). The Ducks handed UCLA its first loss in 11 games earlier Saturday in Los Angeles.
But as the Dawgs' downer of a Saturday night proved, it's all about themselves. Specifically, it's about whether they get back to playing the aggressive, on-ball and help defense that defined their hot league start.
"We know we are capable. We just weren't ourselves tonight," Wilcox said.
"We know we can go on the road and get these two wins - if we play the right way."
INSIDE THE DAWGS: Wilcox was held scoreless in the first half three times last season as a sophomore. ... Wilcox, a star scorer at Pleasant Grove High School outside Salt Lake City, is 6 for 24 (25 percent) in two career games against his hometown university. ... Romar and his staff wore sliver Nike Hyperdunk low-cut sneakers (retail price: $119) with their suits on the bench Saturday night. It was a home preview of the annual Suits and Sneakers weekend college coaches will have Jan. 25-27 to support Coaches versus Cancer, the collaboration between the American Cancer Society and the National Association of Basketball Coaches. Folks from the American Cancer Society were in the arena concourses handing out cancer awareness messages, including through 10,000 "Dawg Strong" bracelets. The Huskies wanted a chance to show off the commemorative kicks and raise cancer awareness at Alaska Airlines Arena, since the last few national Coaches versus Cancer weekends have fallen on dates the Huskies played on the road - including next weekend when UW plays at Oregon. Since Coaches versus Cancer's inception in 1993, high school and college coaches and their wives across the country have raised more than $85 million with the American Cancer Society towards cancer awareness.