Feb. 5, 2011
By Gregg Bell
UW Director of Writing
EUGENE, Ore. - The best thing about this Huskies week: It's over.
A rally Saturday from nine points down into a second-half lead fizzled late despite Matthew Bryan-Amaning's 21 points, and 20th-ranked Washington lost its third road game in six days, 81-76 at Oregon inside roaring, glittering Matthew Knight Arena.
"We've got to get back to the way we used to play -- and on the defensive end. Everything starts there," Bryan-Amaning said. "When you heard Washington before, you'd think 'Defense,' and it scared teams.
"Now, teams are looking forward to playing us."
Justin Holiday had 16 points, five rebounds and five assists and Isaiah Thomas tried to get teammates involved early then began driving late to score 13 with six assists. But the frustrated Huskies (15-7, 7-4 Pac-10) committed 15 turnovers - 10 in the first half while putting themselves in a hole they never fully escaped.
This is the third time in six Pac-10 seasons the Huskies have lost three consecutive league games. The other two times - in 2006 and 2010 - Washington turned around its season and reached the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament.
Romar brought up that precedent after Saturday's loss, just as he did following Thursday night's defeat at Oregon State.
"We have a team that is good enough to bounce back," Romar said, noting five of Washington's final seven conference games are at home - where UW is 11-0 this season.
The first one is Thursday night at Alaska Airlines Arena against California.
Oregon (12-11, 5-6) scored 26 points off UW's 15 turnovers. As Romar said "cut those down just a little bit" and perhaps the Huskies would have flown home Saturday night having escaped with a win.
Instead, they sat silently contemplating this ongoing skid that includes losses at Washington State Sunday and at Oregon State Thursday.
The Huskies had beaten the Ducks by 10 in Seattle last month. But that was before this midseason malaise began gripping the favorites to win the conference. They have since yielded first place to Arizona.
"Our guys are frustrated, no doubt about that," Romar said. "We had high aspirations to win the league. Now, I don't know if that's going to happen. Other teams have to help us."
The shooting was better: 51 percent, after a season-low 32 percent in Thursday night in Corvallis. But the defense remained spotty at best. The Ducks exploited UW's man-to-man and a new reliance on zone defense for easy baskets backdoor and underneath - and then from 3-point range late. Oregon made 14 of 28 shots in the second half.
Thomas, the team's star point guard, addressed the team after a loss for the second time in three days.
"I told them to take Sunday to think about what makes yourself better, and makes the team better," Thomas said. He and Holiday had talked to their Huskies Thursday night about focusing more on defense.
"It's really surprising. Nobody in that locker room thought we would be in this position. But anything's possible. We'll get out of it. My guys, we've been in it last year to where we had to win every game to get to the NCAA tournament.
"We know we can change out of it. We can change out of anything. We just have to stop talking about it and be about it."
Thomas thought he was too preoccupied with setting up wings for shots early against Oregon's 1-2-2 zone, and the Huskies made just 11 of 27 3-point shots in all to continue the week's poor outside shooting.
Thomas, the junior and member of midseason watch lists for national player of the year, did not get aggressive on dribbles into the lane until the final 10 minutes. That ultimately proved to be too late.
"I'm going to put the pedal down and turn my game around, too," Thomas said.
Joevan Catron had 20 points and E.J. Singler added 16 including the clinching free throws for Oregon.
Washington was down by nine early, then rallied to take with a 9-0 run to take a 43-42 lead with 17:20 remaining in the second half on a 3-pointer by freshman Terrence Ross, who went to high school in Portland and finished with 12 points. UW led 45-42 on a strong spin move inside by Bryan-Amaning.
Then Oregon's shooters starting getting wide open for jumpers. Even inside force Catron got outside to score. When the Huskies left Singler open for a 3 with 11:20 left, Oregon was back up 58-50.
Thomas then began driving inside to score and create chances for teammates, such as another 3-pointer from Ross. The Huskies got to within 70-68 and had a 3-on-1 break to tie it, but Scott Suggs threw away a pass at midcourt. Jay-R Strowbridge converted that into a fast-break layup to keep the Ducks ahead by four with 3 minutes left, and the sequence seemed to zap much of the zing from the Huskies' rally.
"We were giving them the ball," Holiday said. "We take those fast breaks and easy buckets away, and we have a chance,"
Still, Venoy Overton drove the length of the floor to get the Huskies within 78-76 with 19.1 seconds left.
But Singler, an 81-percent foul shooter, broke free to catch the ensuing inbounds pass. The Huskies had to foul him, and he made both free throws to clinch the Ducks' fourth victory over UW in 16 meetings.
Bryan-Amaning missed six of his next nine shots after he got a bloody nose from an errant Duck hand in the first half, yet still finished 10 for 16 from the field. But he made just 1 of 3 from the foul line, as the Huskies continued their problems there. They made just five of 11 foul shots.
The Huskies surprised everyone by beginning the game in a 2-3 zone instead of the in-your-face man-to-man that is the program's signature. Seven-footer Aziz N'Diaye gained more minutes - 13 of his 19 in the first half - as UW went back into the zone each time he returned to the floor.
Oregon missed its first six shots, all 3-point tries, and kept relying on 3's against UW's zone to take a nine-point lead early. Then the Ducks got free inside for easier scores when the Huskies jumped out to contest their long-range shots.
Romar said he went to the zone more because he feared the matchup with Oregon's versatile, 6-6, 245-pound Catron, who had 20 points and 10 rebounds in the teams' previous meeting. The coach said he is not abandoning the man-to-man. He just thinks the zone, with N'Diaye in the middle, is useful for particular matchups against certain teams.
The Ducks were playing their fourth game inside their new, $227 million palace. The fancy place has everything - except a working sound system. Staffers had to trot out portable speakers on metal stands at each end of the floor so the public-address announcer could be heard. And the horn at the scorer's table sounded like a sickly departure call from an old ferry.