TEMPE, ARIZ. - The Washington Huskies are in Arizona for two games that coach Lorenzo Romar admits can boost or crush his team's hopes for the Pacific-10 Conference regular-season championship.
“I think it’s a make-or-break trip, if we’re talking about winning the league,” Romar said. “I wouldn’t say that about the NCAA tournament. We’re gaining some momentum now. We’re a couple of weeks away from March. I think it’s very important that we go out and play well, no doubt. I think (being swept in Arizona) would make it a lot tougher, but I don’t think that means we’re out (of the tournament).”
This trip to the desert serves up games with teams at the top and bottom of the Pac-10 standings.
The glamour game – the one that will be shown on ESPN – comes Saturday, when the Huskies visit the 12th-ranked Arizona Wildcats, who are two games ahead of UW in the loss column of the league standings.
However, the trip starts tonight at last-place Arizona State – a match that doesn’t even merit local television broadcast.
Still, Romar hopes his team knows better than to look past anyone.
“We can’t afford to do that,” he said. “... We’ve already talked about we don’t have the time to look at the big picture of anything right now. Weekend series, four-game series. We can’t look past our next practice.”
Romar reminded reporters – and undoubtedly his team – that the Sun Devils stayed within striking distance of the Huskies into the final minutes of the January meeting in Seattle.
However, ASU is struggling through its worst season since coach Herb Sendek arrived in 2006-07. The current eight-game losing streak also is the Sun Devils’ longest since then.
“We have demanded that we stay positive and we identify our strengths and the areas that we’re getting better and stay in the present moment to the best of our ability,” Sendek said this week. “At times, that’s certainly easier said than done. But nonetheless it is required for us to have a productive response to what we’re going through.”
Sendek said the job of keeping his team focused has been aided by senior captains Ty Abbott and Jamelle McMillan.
“Both of those young men – Jamelle and Ty – are outstanding leaders: most certainly among the very best leaders that I’ve ever had the privilege of coaching,” Sendek said. “They do it both by their example and by their words. It’s unique when a young person is able to do it in both ways, and do it consistently.”
McMillan is the son of Nate McMillan, a former Seattle SuperSonics player and coach and current Portland Trail Blazers coach. He played at Seattle’s O’Dea High School, and has a longtime fan in Romar.
“He’s just nails,” Romar said. “Not a lot of highs and lows with Jamelle. What you see is what you get with him. He’s just solid across the board and a good basketball player.”
While McMillan and Abbott try to keep the Sun Devils focused enough to pull out of this nose-diving season, UW captain Isaiah Thomas is similarly trying to make sure his team understands that a loss tonight would be just as crushing to the team’s goals as a loss Saturday.
“We have to buy in to what we want to do and put egos aside and be all about winning,” Thomas said. “This is the time of the season that can either make you or break you. If there are a couple of weeks that you don’t play right, you won’t get into the NCAA tournament. So we have to finish the season off right and hopefully everybody is ready to do that.”
WASHINGTON (17-7, 9-4 PAC-10) AT ARIZONA STATE (9-15, 1-11)
5:30 p.m., Wells Fargo Arena, Tempe, Ariz.
TV: None. (Webcast at www.foxsportsarizona.com.). Radio: 950-AM
series: ASU leads, 36-35. However, the Huskies have won 15 of the last 18, including the Jan. 22 meeting in Seattle, 88-75.
statistical leaders: For ASU – Trent Lockett, 13.9 ppg; Kyle Cain, 5.6 rpg; Jamelle McMillan, 3.9 apg. For UW – Isaiah Thomas, 17 ppg and 5.7 apg; Matthew Bryan-Amaning, 7.8 rpg.
scouting report: Arizona State has lost eight straight Pac-10 games, its longest such streak since 2006-07. Washington is riding a two-game winning streak after a sweep of California and Stanford last weekend at home. However, the Huskies’ have a three-game losing streak on the road. ... UW leads the conference in scoring (85.9 ppg), while ASU is last (63.7). Washington also leads in scoring margin, rebounding margin, assists, assist/turnover ratio, offensive rebounds and 3-point field goals made. ASU also is last in scoring margin, free-throw percentage and rebounding margin. The Sun Devils don’t lead the conference in any team category. However, senior guard Jamelle McMillan out of Seattle’s O’Dea High School, leads the Pac-10 in assist/turnover ratio. Venoy Overton and Thomas are second and third, respectively. ... McMillan, the son of former Seattle SuperSonics player and coach and current Portland Trail Blazers coach Nate McMillan, is averaging 14 points over his last four games and has hit 11 of 16 3-point tries (.688). Lockett has scored in double digits in six straight games, averaging 15.3 points over that span. ... Thomas is three steals away from cracking the school’s top-10 career list.
next: 3 p.m. Saturday at No. 12 Arizona, McKale Center, Tucson, Ariz., ESPN
Don Ruiz, staff writer