Feb. 9, 2013
|WASHINGTON AT USC
Sunday, Feb. 10 | 7:00 pm (PT) | Galen Center
Live Stats | TV: FSN/Root Sports | Radio: KJR 950 AM & 102.9 FM (Affiliates)
LOS ANGELES - "Take care of the ball!"
That was the first, middle and last command Lorenzo Romar gave his Huskies as they practiced at USC's Galen Center Saturday morning.
"It's our number-one key for the USC game," Romar said of Sunday night's nationally televised matchup between his Huskies (13-10, 5-5 Pac-12) and the new-look Trojans (10-13, 5-5).
"If we take care of the ball, we're in pretty good shape (in the league standings) right now."
In UW's five conference losses it has committed 81 turnovers, more than 16 per defeat. Opponents have scored 90 pts off those turnovers.
In the Huskies' five league victories, including their 4-0 league start, they have turned the ball over 56 total times. That's five fewer per game. Opponents have just 53 points off Washington turnovers in those games.
The Huskies have lost to three of the Pac-12's top four teams: Arizona, Oregon and UCLA. UW has 57 turnovers in those three defeats, resulting in 66 total gift points allowed in games decided by a combined total of 11 points.
That's how close - or far away - the Dawgs are to being tied with Arizona at 8-2 in the league. Instead, entering Saturday UW was in a jumbled mass sharing fifth place with Colorado, California and Stanford.
Eight games remain in the regular season, five of them at home, before the Pac-12 tournament in Las Vegas March 13-16. Romar doesn't think the Huskies need to win that league tournament to make the NCAA tournament. He noted the two other times UW has been 5-5 in his 11 seasons as its coach (2010 and 2004) the Dawgs made it to the NCAAs.
"So there's still time. Certainly, there is still time," Romar said.
"I don't think we can win the regular-season (league) title right now, we are too far behind. ... (But) we still have the opportunity to finish in the top of the league and make the NCAA tournament.
"Our goal is to get enough wins here to get an at-large bid. And I definitely think it's possible."
The Huskies have one other, pressing need: to take care of their top scorer.
C.J. Wilcox practiced again Saturday through the beginnings of a stress fracture in his left foot; he will be limited during practices for at least another week. The discomfort isn't limiting him in games, though. He played 38 minutes at UCLA and led UW with 15 points in its 59-57 loss at the buzzer.
The limited-practice situation is a precaution.
"C.J.'s not hurt. If I feel like I have the flu about to come on I'm not going to go on a 10-mile run," Romar said.
"It just needs to calm down."
Wilcox has been playing with the manageable pain for the last month.
"I have a little bit of the early signs of a stress fracture," he said as he walked out of Pauley Pavilion wearing a boot Thursday night. "So I am just resting it and taking a safety precaution before it gets out of hand."
Wilcox said the foot pain began in January. Results from an MRI exam this week showed, in Wilcox's words "a lot of stress on the outside of the foot."
He is getting stimulation treatment for an hour each day. When asked how available he would be against USC, Wilcox flashed an incredulous look. After all, he's played more than a half dozen games with it.
"Oh, yeah, I'll be good to go," he said. "When I get going I normally don't feel it."
What the Huskies have been feeling is the sting of those repeated, often unforced turnovers. Against UCLA, they stepped on the baseline, repeatedly got caught in the air with no place to go on jump passes, and sometimes didn't pass quickly enough out of double teams on the ball.
"The common theme is we're just too careless with the ball," Romar said. "We have to value the ball more."
Romar has stressed to his players the need to be stronger with the ball in their hands. Many of the breakdowns have come on fundamentals such as catching, securing and throwing passes with both hands rather than recklessly scooping the ball with one.
Aziz N'Diaye has been great lately; the senior center had 11 points and a career-high 18 rebounds at UCLA. And he could be greater.
Some of Washington's turnovers have occurred after ball handlers have decided not to throw easy, short passes to their 7-footer on the many more times he's had defenders pinned on his back just feet from the rim.
The Huskies missed their first 12 shots from 3-point range Thursday. Wilcox was 0 for 6 from there. This is only the third time in Wilcox's three seasons for the Huskies that he's gone consecutive games without making a 3-pointer. Dating to three games ago against Arizona, Wilcox is 1 for 14 from out deep.
As much as they got the ball inside to N'Diaye at UCLA, and to starting power forward Shawn Kemp Jr., the Huskies could have done it even more. Kemp has averaged more than 12 points in his last four games. Three of those have been the first career starts for the 6-9 sophomore.
"We have taken good shots," Romar said, "when we could have taken great shots."