Feb. 3, 2011
By Gregg Bell UW Director of Writing
CORVALLIS, Ore. - No defense. No rebounding. No shooting.
No wonder the Huskies are suddenly out of first place in the Pac-10.
The only decisive points from 20th-ranked Washington at Oregon State on Thursday night came well after its second consecutive loss. Coach Lorenzo Romar pointedly took the blame for his team again not playing defense. Isaiah Thomas and Matthew Bryan-Amaning appreciated the coach's leadership, but pointed the fingers at themselves.
The lead Dawgs were equally pointed when asked: Are these talented favorites to win the league now at an unexpected season crossroads here in the Willamette Valley?
"Definitely," Thomas said underneath Gill Coliseum after he made just 2 of 11 shots for nine points in Washington's 68-56 loss to the same Beavers team it beat by 31 in Seattle four weeks ago. With 7:50 left, Oregon State led 51-50. The Huskies (15-6, 7-3 Pac-10) scored just 6 points, made just one field goal, and allowed layup after layup after that. UW fell out of first place when Arizona won at Stanford Thursday. Washington is now tied for second in the league with UCLA.
"It starts with me. I'm the point guard of this team. I take the blame," said Thomas, the conference assist leader who had more turnovers than assists (seven to six) -- just like he did Sunday in an 87-80 loss at Washington State. "It feels like if I play good, the team plays good, that the way I go, so goes the team.
"I think dudes are just worried about offense right now. I have to change the mindset. ... We're taking steps back on the defensive end. We have to fix that - ASAP."
As in, before Saturday afternoon's game at Oregon (11-11, 4-6). The Ducks beat Washington State by 26 Thursday in Eugene, at about the same time Washington's season was bottoming out 45 minutes up the road against the Beavers (9-12, 4-6).
Hopefully bottoming out, that is.
"Teams are getting better. It's later in the season, second half of the Pac-10. We've got to get better," said Scott Suggs, whose career-high 18 points went to waste beneath a pile of malfunctions. No matter how deep and talented these Huskies are, they aren't going to win shooting, playing defense or rebounding like they did here.
This was the shortest turnaround between road trips all season. And the Huskies played much of the night like they were still at Washington State.
A season-worst 32-percent night, allowing uncontested scores underneath, getting out-rebounded 47-32 and a 5-minute scoring drought late in the second half sent Washington to its second road loss in four nights. Suggs couldn't rescue the Huskies in the second half, as he had in the first to forge a halftime tie. He had only four points on 1-for-6 shooting after the break.
Bryan-Amaning had 12 points and 10 rebounds for the Huskies, but didn't take a shot in the final 9 minutes while the game was decided.
UW was 7 for 29 from 3-point range. The Huskies are 18 for 60 (30 percent) from deep in the last two games. But what galls Romar far more is the lack of on-ball and weak-side defense in these two losses. It's rare territory for a program renowned for the dogged pressure and stress it has usually put on overwhelmed opponents since Romar arrived in 2002.
Oregon State didn't looked harried while leading for all of the final 11:14. Just as they did in losing at Stanford last month and at WSU Sunday, the Huskies allowed far too many easy baskets on dribble penetration or backdoor cuts to the basket.
The Beavers got five layups while pushing their one-point lead with 9 minutes left to a seven-point cushion. The final, crushing one of those lay-ins was a 3-point play by Calvin Haynes, who got past Darnell Gant on the baseline with 1:48 remaining.
"We weren't disciplined on defense," Romar said, simmering beneath his characteristically calm voice. "We can sit around and can talk about what player needs to get more shots and what player needs to step up. But if we are not disciplined on defense, that's on me.
"I've got to get our guys to play defense." The Huskies went 3 minutes without scoring, until Thomas made two free throws with 4:49 left to cut Oregon State's lead to 54-52. UW went more than 6½ minutes without a field goal, denying itself multiple chances to tie, such as when Suggs missed a corner 3 with 6:27 remaining.
Suggs missed again from bonus range with 2:03 to go and Washington down 5. The Huskies never got closer. Romar said the Dawgs took far too many 3-point shots in the first half, which ended tied at 32 only because Suggs was 4 for 5 from bonus range, including a tying 3 at the halftime buzzer. UW was 6 for 19 from deep in the opening period.
It's not that they were bad shots - they were open in the corner and from the wing against Oregon State's 2-3 and 1-3-1 zone defenses. But the Huskies could have fed Bryan-Amaning in the post on almost every possession for higher-percentage chances. The 6-foot-9 senior continually got prime position with a defender on his back in the low post, though missing four of his first six shots didn't exactly encourage teammates to feed him more.
Romar says this reminds him of 2006, when the Huskies were 5-5 in the league following three straight road losses. UW then won 10 of 11 to finish second in the league and reach the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament, before an overtime loss to top-seeded Connecticut.
He reminded the team of that season turnaround in the quiet locker room following Thursday's defeat.
The coach says he won't change personnel, "because it's not one or two guys (lacking defense), it's the whole team. And that's on me."
And he says he won't change defensive schemes because "it's been effective for nine years."
His players know what needs to change: Their defense.
"We're just not playing smart," Bryan-Amaning said. "We know where we're supposed to be. He puts us in the right positions. We've been here long enough to know what to do. And it's not November. It's February. We know what to do.
"We have to do it."
Senior co-captain Justin Holiday is perhaps the team's best defender. But even he got beat on dribble drives by Oregon State.
"It's just up to us," he said. "Maybe we think it's just going to happen because that's who we are (a defense-first team). That's the main thing we keep going back on: Play defense.
"Shooting shouldn't matter -- if we are getting stops."