Dec. 19, 2012
|CAL POLY AT WASHINGTON
Thursday, Dec. 20| 6:00 pm (PT) | Alaska Airlines Arena
Live Stats | TV: Pac-12 Net | Radio: KJR (Affiliates)
By Gregg Bell - UW Director of Writing
SEATTLE - The Huskies' newest problem is one that would be a plus in just about every other arena of life.
They may be too nice.
They seem to lack a certain edge that coach Lorenzo Romar's previous Huskies have had, specifically ones led by bulldog personalities such as Nate Robinson, Will Conroy, Jon Brockman, and -- even for just one year -- Tony Wroten last season.
"I would say so. I would say so," Romar repeated prior to his Huskies (6-4) hosting Cal Poly (4-5) Thursday at 6 p.m. on Pac-12 Networks television, the Washington IMG College radio network and here again GoHuskies.com with another exclusive, real-time game chat.
"We continue to address it," the 11th-year UW coach said. "We are trying to make practices challenging. Practices are challenging in terms of conditioning, and guys are tired and bruised after practice. We are making practices more challenging in terms of making guys a little more irritable.
"I think it's good to be irritable out there - as long you are under control."
How does a veteran coach make his players "more irritable?" Romar says he is constantly harping on the players over details and fundamentals these days, like a young child nagging an adult in his ear about the same issue over and over.
"I do know this: I see a little changing in our attitude amongst our team. I think we were able to see it these last two days of practice," he said.
"We hopefully, finally realize we just have to get out of our comfort zone."
Romar agreed some of that comfortable, cool vibe is from 18-, 19-, and 20-year-old, hip guys being ... well, 18-, 19- and 20-year-old hip guys.
But he also sees a concerning pattern more specific to this team that has so far been puzzlingly up and down - often within the same game. Rolling through Seton Hall in one half, then allowing the Pirates to come back and force overtime in the second. Leading No. 4 Ohio State in the first half, then falling behind by 17 during the second half before losing by 11.
Trailing an unheralded Cal State Fullerton team with 13 transfers 11-2 in the first 2½ minutes and being by 14 late in the first half. Then storming back to win 74-72 over the now-5-5 Titans on Dec. 2.
Leading winless Jackson State by 16 early - then losing all but two points of that lead before halftime.
"The pattern has been there; I look for patterns. When our backs have been really against the wall we've made big comebacks. We've lost leads when we've gotten comfortable," Romar said. "When we've realized maybe this wasn't going to get done we've fought back."
The Huskies have proven to themselves they can, as Romar put it, "play right." The problem: those times have been sporadic and short-lived.
Last month they blew out Loyola, Md., which was 9-3 entering Tuesday night. The Huskies were hyped and focused that night because it was the season opener. Two days later they lost at home to unknown Albany (9-2) of the America East Conference.
In Connecticut at the Hall of Fame Tipoff Tournament the following week they stormed to a 16-point lead early in beating the Big East's Seton Hall (8-2), then stayed with Big Ten conference power Ohio State (8-1) two days later.
Last week UW thoroughly whipped cross-town rival Seattle U., taking a 26-point lead before halftime. Seattle U. never got closer than 13 over the final 25 minutes in the Huskies' 87-74 victory.
"There it is: focus," Romar said, calling that his team's most complete game this season.
He was anxious to see if his team could take the next step to consistency two days later, last Saturday against winless Jackson State. It did - for 12 minutes. UW raced to another 16-point lead with intense defense, rebounding and aggressive scoring.
Then the Huskies seemingly stopped being interested, stopped playing that "right" way.
"It was almost like we got bored with success," Romar said.
The Dawgs won 75-67 but as C.J. Wilcox, the team's leading scorer at 19.2 points per game, said immediately afterward, "it wasn't a step forward."
"Just really inconsistent," Wilcox said. "We haven't learned it yet. I think we are getting the coming-out-strong, jumping-out-early part. We just have to put teams away."
Romar said of the Jackson State game: "We start out right, but then it was, `OK, we got this.' That's a pattern.
"So when that's the case we have to be able to see that, identify that, keep working on a different pattern. A pattern being that when Washington plays, they play with a high level of focus and intensity -- whatever the score is. ... That needs to be our pattern.
"We're not there."
Romar said this need to constantly monitor his developing team for focus and intensity will continue into the conference season, that defending their four consecutive regular-season or league tournament titles alone will likely not be enough to keep these Huskies from drifting.
"Because not every team is in the (nation's) top 10 in our conference," Romar said, alluding to currently fourth-ranked and undefeated Arizona. "So we have to correct that."
INSIDE THE DAWGS: Unlike Albany, Fullerton or Jackson State, Cal Poly should have the Huskies' full attention Thursday. That's because the Mustangs, who lost at Santa Clara 72-64 on Monday, beat UCLA in Pauley Pavilion last month. "Whatever we can muster up to get our guys' attention," Romar said. Yes, he has mentioned the upset of UCLA to his players. ... Romar noted Cal Poly is patient offensively, has three deft 3-point shooters and rarely turns the ball over. So Thursday is likely to be a test of UW's patience as well as its focus. ... Romar said he would be surprised if redshirt freshman G Andrew Andrews isn't back playing by Saturday's home game against Northern Illinois, if not by Thursday. Andrews has missed the last three games with a sprained ankle that had him in a walking boot two weekends ago.