Feb. 4, 2011
By Gregg Bell
UW Director of Writing
EUGENE, Ore. - Time to fall back onto the foundation of Husky basketball.
No. 20 Washington (15-6, 7-3 Pac-10) spent its one practice between these road games in the Willamette Valley on Friday emphasizing what got the program to national promise over the last decade: Defense.
The Huskies, losers of two road games since Sunday, fell out of first place in the Pac-10 for the first time this season when they lost 68-56 Thursday night at Oregon State. They shot a season-low 32 percent, took too many 3-pointers and got out-rebounded for the first time since 7-footer Aziz N'Diaye entered the starting lineup to fix that issue 12 games ago.
But what had team leaders Isaiah Thomas and Justin Holiday leading a players-only meeting after the game in Corvallis - and what galled coach Lorenzo Romar most -- was a lack of on-ball and weakside defense that has defined this team for years. The breakdowns resulted in numerous layups and 3-point plays by Beavers who roamed free along the baseline or down the lane while outscoring Washington 34-22 in the paint.
So Friday, most of their two-hour practice inside glittering, new Matthew Knight Arena was about defending rapidly improving Oregon (11-11, 4-6), which beat Washington State by 26 Thursday in Eugene at about the same time lost to the Beavers (9-12, 4-6).
"We're just not playing like we usually play," said Thomas, who is averaging 20 points and 8.7 assists in the seven games since the Huskies lost point guard Abdul Gaddy for the season to a knee injury. "Usually, we make them lose the basketball with that all-out, full-court pressure. We're taking steps back on the defensive end."
Holiday simply said, "We've got to get stops. That's the only way to win.
"It's up to us. We'll see the next game."
That would be Saturday's 1 p.m. meeting with the Ducks. The Huskies are trying to rebound from two road losses in four days and push their winning streak at Oregon to three games for the first time since 1980-82. Fox Sports Network has the television broadcast. The Washington IMG College network has the radio call. And as usual we will have a live chat, stats and streaming audio here on GoHuskies.com.
Romar doesn't believe the season is necessarily at a crossroads. He does not see Saturday's game as the tipping point for the favorites to win the Pac-10.
Romar keeps referring to his 2006 Huskies team. It lost three straight to fall to 5-5 in the middle of the conference season - then won 10 of 11 to finish second in the league and reach the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament. It lost there in overtime to top-seeded Connecticut.
He reminded his Huskies of that season turnaround Thursday night in the quiet locker room in Corvallis.
"The game (Saturday) is a big game. A win certainly will help. But it won't define our season," Romar said from the sidelines of Oregon's new, unique "Deep in the Woods" floor Friday afternoon.
Scott Suggs, who began starting soon after Gaddy got hurt to give opponents a taller guard to defend next to the 5-foot-9 Thomas, is emerging as a more consistent scorer. The 6-6 junior made four of his first five 3-point shots and had a career-high 18 points Thursday night, and has scored 30 points in the games at Oregon State and Washington State this week. He had 21 points total over eight previous road games.
Yet all he talked about after the loss to the Beavers was defense. Oregon State had five layups with the game on the line in the final 11 minutes.
"We've got to rotate. We're not having help-side defense. What the coaches tell us, we've got to execute," Suggs said, after Romar asserted that the Huskies not playing defense was his fault.
"We know we are much better defensively than this. We have to do it."