A Blowout Road Loss Early? UW Has Been Here Before
Nov. 22, 2011
By Gregg Bell
SEATTLE - Relax.
The Huskies have been here before early in the season. And it's usually worked out OK.
Oh, yes, the Huskies' 77-64 loss at Saint Louis on Sunday was ugly. They trailed by 25 at halftime and by as many as 29 after that. And it made this the sixth consecutive season Washington has lost its first game on an opponent's floor. The other five such losses, dating to Dec. 9, 2006: at Texas A&M last December; at Texas Tech; at Portland; at Oklahoma State; and at Gonzaga.
Yet the Huskies have made the NCAA tournament four times after those six losses. Jon Brockman, Justin Dentmon, Quincy Pondexter, and Isaiah Thomas won UW's first outright conference title in a half century in 2008-09 after losing that season's opener at Portland.
Asked whether Sunday's defeat was a wakeup call for this year's Huskies who have seven freshmen including two that are redshirting, senior forward Darnell Gant said Tuesday: "I guess you can call it that. It's early. Just learn from our mistakes.
"We are a team that is still trying to get everything together. And it's early. It was a learning process."
Did he mention it was early?
Still, there is plenty of learning going on with the Huskies (3-1), who play Friday against Houston Baptist (2-3) at 3 p.m. at Alaska Airlines Arena on the Washington IMG radio network and here on the GoHuskies.com game chat with analysis and the only live play-by-play on the Internet.
Coach Lorenzo Romar took blame for the loss at Saint Louis. He said he didn't have his team properly prepared for the Billikens, who proved to be advanced for November with the coaching of renowned tactician Rick Majerus.
"I was probably more frustrated, small bit irritated, but more frustrated," Romar said. "They were further along in terms of their preparation for this year than we were, and I put that on me.
"I point right back at myself. Yeah, we made errors. But me as the head coach, we could have had our team better prepared at that point."
This time last season, Romar and his staff were able to put in more than they have with all the new players this season -- including Tony Wroten, who is running many of the possessions on offense, plus Martin Breunig and Shawn Kemp Jr., the depth on the front line.
"Oh, no question. No question," Romar said. "We had more guys who already knew what was going on. So we were able to be a little more advanced in some areas.
"But that is why you play non-conference games, to get better. And I had said at the outset, if anybody remembers, with this year's team we may have ups and downs in the beginning because we are having to put a lot together.
"We definitely had a downer last weekend."
Romar has looked at the pattern of early season road losses "quite a bit." He has concluded he gives his players perhaps too much freedom early in seasons so he can learn how various player combinations play together.
The results aren't always pretty.
"Early on when you are putting your team together, I a lot of times offensively let the guys play more to try to find out who can do what," Romar said. "You can restrict players when they are playing, and then you don't know what they are capable of giving you. So I kind of let guys blow it out early on - probably too much. It usually bites us early because we don't do as good a job offensively as we should do.
"That was probably one of the reasons we played the way we did against Saint Louis offensively - not to mention they were just really good defensively."
Romar made it clear the time for these remade Huskies to freely experiment with their offensive games ended in St. Louis.
"Offensively now, guys probably won't get as much freedom," he said. "Neither way, offensively or defensively, there are no more experiments."
Huskies that dominated on drives into the lane in wins over Georgia State, Florida Atlantic and Portland found those paths stonewalled by better defense at SLU. Instead of working the ball from side to side to patiently explore for better chances, Washington fired up quick shots - and mostly missed.
"With defensive teams like that, you can't take quick shots," Gant said. "You have to reverse the ball, move it and open some stuff up. When we started to do that at the end of the first half, we started to get some drive and kicks and not as many charges."
Defensively, Saint Louis' sets spread out the Huskies and then picked them off on screens. Washington often failed to switch or get through those screens, resulting in Saint Louis making 8 of its first 12 shots from 3-point range en route to a 50-25 lead by halftime. Romar even tried a zone defense in the second half, even though the Huskies had barely practiced it.
"We didn't think it could be any worse (than our man-to-man)," Romar said. "They had us on our heels."
The way he sees it the Huskies have the game against Houston Baptist, a late addition to the schedule, and a week of practice after that to get right. Romar believes the Dawgs must have their problems solved before their next road test, at Nevada Dec. 2.
That's because the team will come home from that game on Dec. 3, spend one day in Seattle -- then head to New York for marquee games at Madison Square Garden against No. 16 Marquette on Dec. 6 and sixth-ranked Duke on Dec. 10.
"I just don't know if you can simulate a game to expose all your warts and weaknesses better than that game. And they were there," Romar said of Saint Louis. "So, good.
"When the bubbles came up in the tire you put the patch on. We need to put the patch on in a couple of places. That's what's going to take place here in the next couple of weeks."
So Tuesday Romar began to, as he put it, "tighten up the reigns a little bit."
"Usually, there comes a point everyone is playing together and those guys are playing with freedom, yet they make good decisions. That's after we've found it," Romar said.
"Over the years, sometimes we don't have as a quick a start as we would like. But by the end of the year we are jelling pretty well, playing our best basketball.
"We'll be much better at that. This year, hopefully it doesn't take very long."
QUICK SHOTS: Romar expects shooting guard C.J. Wilcox to play Friday. Wilcox was leveled by a screen at midcourt at Saint Louis and sustained a concussion. He was held out of fully practicing Tuesday but the coach said, "We're pretty optimistic he will be ready to go game time." ... Houston Baptist, in its fourth season since moving from NAIA to Division I, went 10 of 19 from the 3-point line while beating a Cal State Fullerton team that has two transfers from California 88-83 Sunday in Lafayette, La. So the Huskies will again be tested in their ability to close out on deep perimeter shooters.