By Christian Caple The News Tribune
SEATTLE — Lorenzo Romar is disappointed, and it’s showing.
You can see it in the eyes of the Washington Huskies basketball coach. You can hear it in his voice as he speaks with reporters after one of his team’s most frustrating performances of a season marked by inconsistency.
All losses hurt. This one seems to have hurt a little more.
California is better than Washington, and so it was on Saturday afternoon at Hec Edmundson Pavilion, where 7,214 watched as the Golden Bears erased a 12-point, first-half deficit and subsequently pulled away for a 72-59 victory.
But it’s the way the Huskies gave this one away that will most bother Romar, who accurately observed afterward that “it was there for the taking, and we didn’t take it.”
It’s the first home loss of the Pac-12 season for UW (14-12, 6-7 in Pac-12), which next week returns to the road — that hasn’t gone so well this season — for a pair of games at Oregon and Oregon State.
Most of Washington’s problems, Romar said, are mental. So the coach was visibly frustrated while speaking of turnovers, and of mental lapses that lead to more mental lapses that lead to more turnovers, and, too, more easy baskets for the opponent.
“I don’t know if you can do it in three days,” Romar said, “but we have to have a mental adjustment fast before we get out on that road.”
They looked plenty well-adjusted in the first 14 minutes against Cal, a team that defeated UW by 26 points a month ago in Berkeley.
Washington raced to a 27-15 lead, benefiting from aggressive play by point guard Nigel Williams-Goss, and a strong early shooting performance by sophomore guard Andrew Andrews, who played all of five minutes during Wednesday night’s victory over Stanford.
Andrews made his first three attempts from 3-point range, the last two of which were made possible by offensive rebounds. The Huskies were guarding, Cal was missing shots, and UW looked like the same team that won each of its first five Pac-12 games in this building.
Until it didn’t. Washington began giving the ball away. Cal began scoring. The Bears dunked twice and added other easy baskets, too, scoring 14 points off UW’s 10 first-half turnovers.
It was a 17-0 Cal run before UW stopped it with senior guard C.J. Wilcox’s first basket of the game. Cal guard Justin Cobbs followed by dribbling rather easily to the rim and converting a layup before the halftime buzzer.
The Bears (17-8, 8-4) led, 34-29, at halftime. Given the way the Huskies collapsed during those final six minutes, it felt like a larger margin. It might as well have been.
In the middle of Cal’s run, Romar said, “I looked up and said ‘we’re not playing very well,’ and I looked at the scoreboard — we’re still up eight at that point. But at that point we got down on ourselves and we weren’t able to recover.”
They played, Romar said, like they were on the road. For a team that is 1-6 in Pac-12 play away from home this season, that is a damning truth.
“We knew when we were huddled up that we had to limit our turnovers and stop the little things we did on the road, or else we were going to get the same result,” said Andrews, who tied a career-high with 21 points and grabbed eight rebounds. “We weren’t able to do that today.”
The second half was not much better. Cal slowly built a 13-point lead, and even when UW scored eight consecutive points to trim that lead to five, the Huskies couldn’t quite break through. Cal’s lead never dipped below six points in the game’s final 10:21.
Part of that was the Bears’ ability to contain Wilcox, who tied a season-low with eight points and did not make a 3-pointer. As a team, the Huskies shot just 4-for-21 from beyond the arc, and made only 35.9 percent of their field-goal attempts.
Romar asked Wilcox at halftime to be more aggressive. But he finished just 4-of-12, and he didn’t have much help outside of Andrews.
“It’s tough for me because I don’t want to force the issue,” said Wilcox, who was often defended by more than one player. “I feel like that’s what I have to do to be aggressive.”
But the blame for this one extends to everyone who played.
“It wasn’t just C.J.,” Romar said. “We just mentally … we didn’t take care of the ball. We didn’t guard. We didn’t make shots. … C.J. has and is having a heck of a year for us. We need to, as a team, be able to step up.”
Precious little time remains to achieve that.