SEATTLE — Considering the accomplishments of past Washington Huskies men’s basketball teams, the goal that coach Lorenzo Romar has set for this season’s squad is relatively modest.
But with the Huskies at 4-4 with five nonconference games remaining, that goal is probably also pretty realistic.
“I would like to see us get to a point where we can stare our conference in the eye and know that we’re ready to go,” Romar said Friday, a day before UW’s 1 p.m. game against Idaho State at Hec Edmundson Pavilion.
“So we have a couple weeks. We’re not ready to go right now if conference started. Like I said last time we spoke, if we can make strides like we did last week, if we
can do that each week here, we’ll be ready to go.”
The strides will have to be more pronounced if the Huskies are to compete with Arizona State and Arizona, their first two Pac-12 Conference opponents on the first weekend in January.
Playing well for 34 minutes or so at No. 25 San Diego State on Sunday was a start. But it was those “five or six minutes” of poor play that cost the Huskies in a 70-63 loss after UW held a 30-21 lead at halftime and was playing its best defense of the season.
SDSU shot only 42.6 percent from the field, but a 17-2 run to open the second half provided the separation the Aztecs needed to hold the Huskies at arm’s length the rest of the game. Washington didn’t make its first field goal until more than seven minutes into the half.
“We had them on their heels in the first half,” UW senior guard C.J. Wilcox said. “We’ve just got to put together a whole game. But I thought we made some big strides coming back on the defensive end, being able to limit them to one shot and being able to get out and run.”
In this step-by-step season at UW, a close loss to a good team is now considered progress, especially after a handful of close wins against not-so-good teams.
The defensive improvements were the most encouraging part of that trip, Romar said, because of how little time the Huskies have had to adjust to their new defensive scheme and how little progress they had shown in previous games.
“We definitely know what to do,” Wilcox said. “It’s just doing it for the course of the whole game. We still have lapses. It’s still new.”
There will be opportunities to enhance their understanding, because the schedule is about to get a little busier. Saturday’s game is just UW’s second in the past two weeks. But beginning with a trip to Tulane on Tuesday, the Huskies play four times in a 13-day span — including a visit from unbeaten and ninth-ranked Connecticut on Dec. 22 – before beginning Pac-12 play.
By then, they should regain the services of junior forward Desmond Simmons, who has yet to play after undergoing knee surgery just before the start of the season.
Romar said Simmons is able to run the court and participate in dummy-offense drills, but that he hasn’t been tested when it comes to making unexpected cuts while running.
He’s still targeting the final week of December for his return. Romar anticipates that date with delight.
“It’s not like Desmond is the all-time leading scorer in Washington history, none of that. It’s just the intangibles he brings really helps our team,” Romar said. “He is a guy that can put out fires. He is a guy that can go in and rebound the ball for you. He is a guy that is another defender. He is a guy that knows our culture, knows what we’re all about, and he’s going to give you everything he has, and when you’re missing a guy like that, it takes a little bit of a chunk out of what you’re trying to do.”
Idaho State (3-3) at Washington (4-4)
1 p.m., Hec Edmundson Pavilion, Seattle
TV: Pac-12 Network. Radio: 950-AM.
The series: Washington leads, 4-0.
Scouting report: Huskies coach Lorenzo Romar complimented the Bengals when asked to assess them Friday, calling them a “tough, rugged basketball team.” They’re certainly better than in years past. ISU led Utah by 15 points in the first half Tuesday in Salt Lake City before losing, 74-66. Sanchez and Hansen anchor a starting lineup that features only seniors and juniors, and three ISU players average at least 32 minutes per game. The Bengals don’t play anyone taller than 6-foot-9, meaning the Huskies should have a rare size advantage on the low block. Sanchez and Hansen are also ISU’s only real 3-point shooting threats, as they’ve combined to make 28 of the team’s 39 3-pointers this season. ... Sanchez, a graduate of Shorewood High School, is in his second season at ISU after playing two years at Fresno (Calif.) City College.
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