Men's basketball: Shoring up defense top UW priority

Staff writerFebruary 9, 2014 

BOULDER, Colo. — There was a time earlier this season, not too long after the Washington Huskies defeated then-No. 15-ranked Colorado, when coach Lorenzo Romar strayed from typical philosophy and encouraged his players to look at the Pac-12 Conference standings.

Home sweeps of Utah and Colorado, then Oregon and Oregon State, had the Huskies tied for third place. Romar wanted to remind his team how far it had come after a rocky nonconference schedule.

But after two disappointing road losses in the past seven days, that tactic is in the past. No sense in reinforcing the obvious.

“Now we’re back in more of a hole,” Romar said Saturday after UW completed its practice at the Coors Event Center. “So we’ve got to worry about Colorado.”

Indeed, the Huskies (13-10, 5-5 Pac-12) need some kind of miracle now to climb into NCAA tournament bubble consideration. With eight games remaining, even a bid to the National Invitation Tournament would require a relatively strong finish.

The Huskies enter the game at Colorado on Sunday (5 p.m., ESPNU) in desperate need of their first Pac-12 road victory since Jan. 2 in an attempt to avoid becoming only the third conference team with at least 11 losses.

All that big-picture stuff is fun for the fans. The bottom line for the Huskies is that if they don’t play better defense, they’re going to lose their third in a row.

It’s been relatively simple for the UW in that regard: While starting the Pac-12 schedule with a 3-1 record, the Huskies closed driving lanes and made opponents work for shots. In losses at California (55.0 field goal percentage), Stanford (54.2 percent) and Utah (60.0 percent), they looked helpless at times — especially in the second half.

“The situations have not been where we’ve been outmatched or overpowered and then we’ve got to come up with some gimmick way to compete,” Romar said. “It’s just a matter of us maintaining our focus every possession.”

They’ll need to against Colorado, a team that has lost just one game on its high-altitude home court this season, and will probably look a little different than it did during a 71-54 loss at UW on Jan. 12.

That’s when the Buffaloes lost leading scorer Spencer Dinwiddie to an ACL tear late in the first half. They’ve compiled a so-so 3-3 record since but can approach this game knowing they won’t have Dinwiddie, instead of having to adjust to his absence on the fly.

“Any time you take someone of Spencer’s caliber off a team, they’re going to have a different look,” said freshman guard Nigel Williams-Goss. “They’re still a good team. They still play a fast, up-tempo pace.”

Without Dinwiddie, Colorado (17-6, 6-4) instead turns to guard Askia Booker (UW held him scoreless in their first meeting) and forward Josh Scott to pick up the scoring load.

The Buffaloes shot 34.5 percent from the field in Seattle. A similar defensive effort Sunday would have the Huskies feeling pretty good about their chances.

HUSKIES GAMEDAY

Washington (13-10, 5-5 Pac-12 COnference) at Colorado (17-6, 6-4)

5 P.M., COORS EVENTS CENTER, BOULDER, COLO.

TV: ESPNU. Radio: 950-AM. The series: Washington leads, 9-7.

PROBABLE STARTERS

WASHINGTON

NamePos.Ht.PPGRPGAPGFG%FT%

Nigel Williams-GossG6-313.24.34.046.769.4

Andrew AndrewsG6-212.13.32.836.377.8

C.J. WilcoxG6-519.84.12.547.587.1

Desmond SimmonsF6-74.43.70.548.678.6

Perris BlackwellF6-910.46.71.051.764.1

COLORADO

NamePos.Ht.PPGRPGAPGFG%FT%

Askia BookerG6-214.03.32.840.578.6

Xavier TaltonG6-23.81.61.638.873.7

Xavier JohnsonF6-710.95.90.947.560.2

Wesley GordonF6-96.66.61.046.260.3

Josh ScottF6-1013.88.80.553.382.1

Scouting report: After looking for much of the nonconference season as if they would be one of the premier challengers to Arizona’s throne, the Buffaloes are trying to polish their NCAA tournament résumé as best they can. Colorado isn’t the same team without 6-foot-6 guard Spencer Dinwiddie, who was lost for the season with a knee injury suffered Jan. 12 against the Huskies. Colorado is 3-3 since then but can move back into a third-place tie with a win over UW on Sunday. … The Huskies must defend better than they have recently, but they also could use more scoring from sophomore guard Andrew Andrews. He made one of his 12 field-goal attempts in Thursday night’s loss to Utah. … Andrews (ankle) and freshman guard Nigel Williams-Goss (hip) missed practice time last week, but they played against Utah and are expected to be fine Sunday.

christian.caple@thenewstribune.com

christian.caple@ thenewstribune.com blog.thenewstribune.com/uwsports @ChristianCaple

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