By Gregg Bell
UW Director of Writing
SEATTLE – C.J. Wilcox and his Huskies teammates don’t need a display of the conference standings on their team-issued iPads to know where they stand heading into March.
“It’s hard not to see it. A lot of our teammates talk about it: ‘If we were to win, how many (would have)? If other teams were to lose where would that put us?’” Wilcox said before the Pac-12’s seventh-place team practiced on Thursday.
“So that’s definitely in the back of our minds. But all we can control is our games and how we handle business.”
The Huskies (15-13, 7-8 Pac-12) have three regular-season games remaining. And they are all at Alaska Airlines Arena, where UW is 12-3 this season and has lost just once in conference play, two weeks ago to California.
The first step: Friday night at 7:30 p.m. against Washington State (9-18, 2-13) on Pac-12 Networks, the Washington IMG Sports radio network and GoHuskies.com with another official game chat with free live audio.
The Huskies are still stinging from going 1 for 14 from the field over a 10-minute stretch of the second half against WSU and giving away an eight-point lead in the final 13:40 of the loss in Pullman on Feb. 1. That defeat led to ones at Utah and Colorado, and five losses in six games overall. The team that entered WSU one win away from second place in the league is now scrambling to get out of seventh.
“We were in pretty good shape up until that point,” Huskies coach Lorenzo Romar said of the regrettable Saturday at Washington State. “Maybe that took a lot out of us.”
But not everything.
UW hosts second-place UCLA (21-6, 10-4) next Thursday and USC (10-17, 1-13) on Saturday, March 8. Win all three home games and the Huskies will finish 10-8 in a league rated as the third-toughest in the nation this season by combined RPI.
What’s their senior captain think is the “best-case scenario” for the Huskies heading into the Pac-12 tournament that begins March 12 in Las Vegas?
“Definitely winning out, at home,” said Wilcox, who is fourth in the league at 18.6 points per game coming off a reviving, 23-point game in the blowout win at Oregon State.
That was after Wilcox failed to reach even 10 points three times in four games.
His resurgence would sure help the Huskies’ big picture.
So would this: “Beating UCLA would be big for us, (for our) RPI and for our confidence heading into the tournament,” Wilcox said.
"Now it’s just about getting into the best possible position we can for the (conference) tournament.”
There are four teams currently tied for third place, two games above Washington, in the Pac-12 standings at 9-6: Arizona State, Colorado, Stanford and Cal. The Huskies have beaten the first three of those teams, including the win at ASU in the league opener that stands as their most valuable victory of the season so far.
That logjam for third will break up. The Arizona schools host Cal and Stanford this weekend then end at the Oregon schools next week. Colorado plays at Utah Saturday — the Utes are currently tied with Washington for seventh place and are tough at home — then the Buffaloes go to Cal and Stanford for their final two regular-season games.
The Huskies’ RPI — one of the criteria the NCAA tournament selection committee uses to fill out its 65-team field — is 78. Yes, that is low. But it is nine spots higher than it was before
Washington won by 24 at Oregon State last weekend. That was UW’s largest margin of victory on the road since a 33-point win in Corvallis on Feb. 18, 2006.
The Huskies are a lukewarm 4-6 against the top 50 RPI teams (according to these most recent national RPI rankings). Oregon entered its Thursday night game at UCLA at 18-8, 6-8 in the league. The Ducks are considered by many to be headed to the NCAA tournament because of an RPI of 41, yet they are just 1-5 against the RPI top 50 and have as many road wins as the Huskies (three). Oregon’s lone top-50 win so far is over No. 33 Brigham Young.
The Huskies have wins against Colorado (26 in the RPI), ASU (34), Stanford (39) and Oregon (41). The Dawgs still have that huge opportunity to improve their stock against UCLA (RPI: 14).
Holding on to the leads UW had at Arizona (RPI: 2), at San Diego State (20) and home against Connecticut (30) would sure come in handy right now. So would three wins in these final three home games. That would likely move Washington into the top half of seedings for the league tournament that begins March 12 in Las Vegas.
The 6 seed plays the 11 seed (currently Washington State) in the first round at about 8:30 p.m. on March 12. That winner plays the third seed at 8:30 p.m. on March 13 — and stays away from the side of the bracket containing presumptive top seed Arizona until the championship round.
If the Huskies somehow climb to a five seed — they would need to win out and have loads of help (multiple losses by a combination of Cal, ASU, Stanford, Colorado, Utah and Oregon) for that to happen — the five seed plays the 12 in the first round of the Pac-12 tournament at 2:30 p.m. on March 12. That winner plays the four seed in the second round.
Then again, as Romar said Thursday, “We’re still trying to dig ourselves out of this hole. I don’t think we have the luxury to look that far ahead.”
Certainly not as far as trying to get to the Huskies’ first NCAA tournament in three years.
But, yes, they still have a sliver of life.
They need to rebound better than they did the first time against the Cougars to win on Friday. The rebounding totals showed a mere 39-36 edge to WSU, but Washington State turned an eight-point deficit into a 10-point lead behind many of D.J. Shelton’s 18 rebounds on his career day. Shelton finished with 20 points, and 14 of the game’s first 20 offensive rebounds were grabbed by Cougars over the top of flat-footed Huskies. Shelton kept sending his rebounds out to DaVonte Lacy and Que Johnson, and they made shots that the Huskies still regret that WSU even got the chances to take.
“Oh, no doubt, that definitely one of the things we will talk about,” Romar said of rebounding, and the need for UW’s guards to help out more on the boards.
Andrew Andrews has been doing that. The 6-foot-3 sophomore guard is the only Pac-12 player to average as many as 17 points and 7.7 rebounds per game over the last three contests.
The spurt is what Romar says is the best basketball Andrews has played at UW, on offense and defense, and it has come immediately after Romar benched him for all but 5 minutes of Andrews’ scoreless night in the win over Stanford on Feb. 12.
“Just helping my team. I’m just trying to be a better teammate,” Andrews said.
And with three chances left to make a move before the Pac-12 tournament, the Huskies are trying to make themselves a better candidate for the postseason.