Finally, Lorenzo Romar saw his Washington Huskies play with the kind of defensive fervor that he wanted.
For 10 minutes. Then they got thumped, again, by a TCU team picked to finish last in the Big 12 this season.
The Huskies lost to the Horned Frogs twice in the span of five days — first a 93-80 defeat on a neutral floor in Las Vegas, then an 86-71 loss in Fort Worth, Texas, in their first true road game this year — to fall to 4-3 through a shaky first month of the season.
Oh, and on Wednesday, they visit eighth-ranked Gonzaga, the first game played between the teams on one of their campuses since Dec. 9, 2006.
“I’d say that we better step it up really quickly,” Romar said. “I’ll say that, because Gonzaga is a very, very good basketball team.”
The Huskies have not looked like one so far. They rank 186th nationally in field-goal percentage defense, allowing opponents to make 43.0 percent of their shots. And while they have generally played well offensively, shooting 49.2 percent from the field, the Huskies committed 43 turnovers combined in their two losses to TCU. Star freshman guard Markelle Fultz had six turnovers in the second defeat, though he did lead UW with 21 points, 14 rebounds and six assists.
Romar said the second loss was more encouraging because of the way UW defended while building a 22-5 lead in the game’s first 10 minutes. But the Horned Frogs closed the half on a 27-7 run and led by double-digits for much of the second half.
“We’ve got to learn how to extend that for the whole game instead of just 10 minutes of the game,” sophomore forward Noah Dickerson said, “and learn when teams go on a run, to settle down and not get rattled.”
So UW will try to replicate those first 10 minutes against the Bulldogs, by far the best opponent the Huskies have seen this season.
“I wish we could bottle that. If we play that way for the rest of the season, we’ll do just fine,” Romar said of UW’s start against TCU. “But then we began to turn the ball over, and it wasn’t just one person. As a team, we began to turn the ball over. That allowed them to get some easier baskets. That gave them a little more confidence, and there we went.”
UW and Gonzaga played each other in last year’s Battle 4 Atlantis tournament in the Bahamas — an 80-64 GU victory — but Wednesday’s game marks the first meeting between the teams in a four-year, home-and-home announced in August 2014.
Beginning with the 1997-98 season, UW and GU played each other for 10 consecutive seasons before Washington canceled the series following the Dec. 9, 2006 game won by Gonzaga in Spokane.
There has been speculation that recruiting violations committed in 2002 by ex-UW assistant Cameron Dollar that were reported to the NCAA by Gonzaga coach Mark Few — both were recruiting standout high-school forward Josh Heytvelt, who wound up playing for GU — caused a rift between the programs.
Few, along with then-Eastern Washington coach Ray Giacoletti and then-Washington State coach Paul Graham, reportedly complained to the NCAA about Dollar having improper contact with recruits during a quiet period, according to an Associated Press story published in October 2003.
Romar said such drama was not a factor in UW’s decision to end the series, and has maintained throughout the last decade that the schools would eventually meet again.
Instead, Romar says UW canceled the series to pursue nonconference games that might be televised nationally.
“At that point,” Romar said, referring to the 2007 season, “as great as the Gonzaga game was in state, on a national scale, it wasn’t really televised. All of a sudden we were presented with some great opportunities to play nationally, and that’s when we decided to do it.”