Rocky Mountain Low: Huskies Fall At CU 87-69
Jan. 5, 2012
By Gregg Bell
BOULDER, Colo. - Tony Wroten trudged off with his jersey out. A towel was at his side, matching his team's mood.
It was drooping.
This was Washington's first game at Colorado in 17 years. The way it went, Huskies wouldn't mind it being another 17 years before they came back.
The offense stagnated. The defense stopped, too, allowing far too many open shots. Chests in purple jerseys heaved at 5,345 feet above sea level. And the previously surging Dawgs went down - hard - 87-69 to the Buffaloes Thursday night at the Coors Events Center in UW's first Pac-12 road game.
"We have to be a mentally and physically tougher team," Huskies coach Lorenzo Romar said, not hiding his disappointment.
"We weren't effective in anything we did."
Wroten had 21 points but made just three of eight free throws. And Wilcox had 19 but was cold when it counted for Washington (8-6, 2-1 Pac-12), which lost all the momentum wins over Oregon State and Oregon generated last weekend to begin the conference season.
Of course, those previous two games were at home.
These Huskies are now 0-5 away from Seattle - a fact that must change abruptly, as in starting Saturday at Utah, for Washington to win a wide open Pac-12.
"It's a grind on the road. We have to figure out we need to grind out wins," said junior point guard Abdul Gaddy, blowing air through his lips in frustration. "We need it to be when we don't score they don't score. Right now, we don't know how to grind out games."
The most telling statistic for how stagnant Washington's offense was beyond Wroten's continual and sometimes wild rushes to the rim: The Huskies had just six assists on 72 shots and 27 made baskets.
Gaddy entered leading the Pac-12 in assist-to-turnover margin (66-23) but had just one assist and no turnovers in 33 fruitless minutes.
"We just didn't move the ball enough. And that fed their transition buckets," he said.
Indeed the one thing Romar has preached for this team not to do on the road, take quick shots that feed the home team and its crowd, is exactly what the Huskies did after taking a 14-5 lead early. That's how Colorado (10-4, 2-0) went on 35-16 run to close out the first half to seize control of the game.
"We took some very quick shots --very quick shots," Romar said. "We just didn't make them guard us at all."
That made the game even easier for a Colorado team that entered the game leading the Pac-12 in field-goal defense at 39 percent. The Buffs throttled the Huskies into one-on-one drives and isolated, two-man games on one side of the court while the rest of UW's offense watched during that decisive first half.
Wilcox hit three of his first four shots to put Washington up by nine. Then the native of Utah a couple years removed from high elevation admitted getting winded by the altitude. Wilcox, who was coming off a career-high 24 Saturday against Oregon, missed seven of his next eight attempts.
That's when Colorado took what proved to be an insurmountable 10-point lead at halftime. Washington shot just 32 percent in the opening half.
"I felt we were prepared, but in the back of our minds we know we haven't won on the road," Wilcox said. "I think that's just kind of there, and when things start going in the opposite direction, things kind of fall apart (for us). ... We just stop playing defense.
"We were down 15 before you know it. Then, it's just panic time."
The lead got as high as 22 during UW's frustrating second half. The Huskies were reduced to watching Colorado drain more open 3-pointers and then free throws when Washington tried fouling to get back in it.
The Huskies bussed to Denver immediately after the game for an early Friday flight to Salt Lake City and Saturday's 11 a.m. game at Utah (4-10, 1-1), which beat Washington State at home in overtime Thursday. Colorado, picked by the media to finish 10th in its inaugural conference season, beat the Utes 73-33 last weekend.
Asked if he knows what to expect from his team with five freshmen and two more who are key contributors as sophomores, Gaddy said: "We are going to guard, I know that for sure. We are going to play defense. ... That has to (get) consistent."
Defense had keyed the Huskies' Pac-12 start following an uneven, 6-5 start in non-conference play. Romar praised his team for staying in front of dribblers and rotating decisively on help defense while UW twice allowed season lows in points over the previous three games.
But Romar substituted early and often to combat the effects of altitude in the first half, the defense failed and the offensive flow disappeared.
The Huskies continually left open Buffaloes' leading scorer Carlon Brown, a transfer for Utah who played against the Huskies in Seattle as a freshman. Brown made seven of his first 11 shots - including all three from 3-point range - and Colorado led 60-43 with 12 minutes left.
Brown finished with 18 points - five above his average -- and was one of five Buffs in double figures.
If only the reason for this loss was the fact Romar did not want to talk to his players about before this mountain trip - the one that was in big black letter above the Huskies' locker-room door here, anyway.
"Welcome to 5,345 feet of Rocky Mountain altitude."
"I would like to say the altitude affected us. But we played like this at Saint Louis and against South Dakota State - and there was no altitude," Romar said.
"When you don't share the basketball, your options are limited.
"I was really, really disappointed. I thought we'd made progress."