SEATTLE — Furrowed brows and sighs follow a basic question with a thus-far unattainable answer.
How can Washington be more consistent?
“Uh …” Abdul Gaddy said.
“I don’t know,” fellow guard C.J. Wilcox said.
Washington’s middling 5-4 conference record is the obvious result of half-good and half-bad basketball. The Huskies had two separate four-game streaks in the first half of conference play, one winning, one losing. The games last week against Arizona and Arizona State were examples of how Washington can move in different directions with the ambition of a zealot.
Against Arizona, the Huskies were capable on defense. The Wildcats scored 57 points, a conference low for them, and shot 35.1 percent. But, Washington shot just 36.8 percent itself on the way to 53 points in the loss.
Against Arizona State, Washington scored 96 points, a season-high, and allowed the Sun Devils to shoot a glossy 63.8 percent and score 92. It was arguably the Huskies’ worst defensive performance of the year. And they won.
That was just last week. Since conference play began, a lifetime of fluctuation has occurred in nine games.
“We got tested in a lot of situations,” Wilcox said. “We know what we’re capable of, but we know what we’re capable of in the opposite direction. We just have to be consistent, which has been the whole thing this entire year. We just have to get that in our head and play the right way.”
Washington coach Lorenzo Romar has begun to tinker with the lineup and minutes played as Washington heads into the
second half of conference play in a three-way tie for fifth place, in which it owns the tiebreaker over Cal and Stanford. The Huskies are two games out of first. They are also two games from ninth place.
Shawn Kemp Jr. was put into the starting lineup last week, but barely. Romar didn’t like Kemp’s defensive matchup with perimeter-oriented forward Jonathan Gilling of Arizona State. Because of that, he almost decided to keep Kemp coming off the bench for both games. He liked Kemp against Arizona and didn’t want to make a starting lineup switch against Arizona State. So, it was start in both or neither.
Kemp scored a combined 25 points in the two games, including a career-high 18 against Gilling, providing additional offensive punch in the post. Starting has also proven to be a mental boost for Kemp. When Washington lost to Oregon, Kemp played well (12 points, six rebounds in 21 minutes) and talked afterward of opportunity as the only thing holding him back.
“We felt with Shawn, that he has a lot of potential, we need to throw him in there and see what he does because if he begins to play with confidence and figures it out, he could be a big, big piece in what we’re trying to do,” Romar said. “We thought he had the most room for improvement.”
That meant Desmond Simmons went to the bench. The fortunate thing for Washington is Simmons has the demeanor to handle such a shift. He’s not happy to be on the bench, but he can tolerate it to a point that it will not undermine his effort.
Washington is also seeing a surge from redshirt freshman Andrew Andrews. In the first seven games of the season, Andrews shot 24.4 percent from the field before hurting his ankle. In the 15 games since returning, he’s shooting 47.4 percent.
The uptick has pushed Romar to a delicate dance that he has done before: managing an up-and-comer versus a capable veteran at the same spot. In this case, it’s Andrews and senior co-captain Abdul Gaddy.
“Over the years, we’ve been very honest with our guys,” Romar said. “I have no problem telling someone, ‘You’ve been here four years and this is where you’ve got. If this kid plays, and he’s already here, where would he be?’ So, this is if somebody is not helping us, sometimes we’ve changed lineups because of that with the younger guy. They didn’t like it. They never like it. But, they understood it.”
It has not come to that with Gaddy and Andrews. And, keep in mind that explanation from Romar comes in general terms.
A distinct difference in style between the two is emerging. Andrews pushes the ball more often — as he is told to do over and over — and Gaddy takes a more pragmatic approach. Both have value. Like the team, both have been inconsistent.
At 13-9 overall, Washington is surprisingly still hanging around the NCAA tournament bubble, according to ESPN’s Joe Lunardi. The Huskies are 68th in the RPI.
With Kemp in the starting lineup, the Huskies finally have the setup they thought they’d have at the beginning of the season. Now, they have nine games remaining to find a winning blend.
“We’ve got to find something in the middle offensively and defensively. We can’t do defense and not do offense at all, and not do defense and do offense,” Wilcox said. “I don’t really know how we go about that, but we have to know that’s what we need to do to win games.”
THREE KEYS FOR UW FOR THE REST OF THE PAC-12 SEASON
1. Be balanced
Washington has played good offense and good defense. It also has played bad offense and bad defense. It has mixed variations of each, sometimes in the same week, and other times from half to half in a game. The Huskies have to find an all-inclusive solution.
2. Push the ball more
This is an aspect of balance but also crucial. Andrew Andrews racing the ball up the floor brings an extra dynamic to Washington, which is playing at its slowest pace of any season under Lorenzo Romar. Andrews will be out of control at times. He also will go all the way to the rim or find a shooter for something easy. The benefit outweighs the detriment.
3. Keep N’Diaye in lineup
As valuable as C.J. Wilcox’s play has been this season, Aziz N’Diaye, right, is an equivalent key to success for Washington. He leads the conference in field-goal percentage, is third in blocks and offensive rebounds and is fourth in rebounds during conference play. His hands and scoring have improved firstname.lastname@example.org email@example.com blog.thenewstribune.com/uwsports @Todd_Dybas