By Scott M. Johnson Herald Writer
SEATTLE — In the moments that followed his team’s 69-41 win over USC on Saturday night, a game that also marked the University of Washington basketball team’s 11th home date in its past 15 games, Huskies coach Lorenzo Romar was fairly frank about what could have been.
With seven of nine home games in Pacific-12 Conference play behind them, the Huskies (16-7 overall, 9-2 in the Pac-12) are in a pretty good position right now — but it could have easily gone the other way. Romar basically said that a road-heavy start to the early conference season could have been disastrous for a young UW team.
“When I looked at the big picture in our schedule, and I saw that we were home-game heavy early in our schedule, I thought with our team that’s exactly what we needed,” Romar said Saturday night, “because we might be able to trick a couple of teams until we started to get better.
“If this would’ve been reversed, and we would’ve had five of seven road games, like we’re about to have, early, our record would be far different because we weren’t ready.”
It could be said that this year’s Huskies are like a poker player who’s built up some earnings, and confidence, at the blackjack table. The goal now is not to give it all away.
Five of UW’s final seven regular-season games are on the road. In road and neutral-site games, the Huskies are 3-5 this year and 35-49 since 2006-07.
But the Huskies’ last road trip resulted in a two-game sweep against the Arizona schools, and UW currently has a three-game winning streak away from Hec Edmundson Pavilion.
“We’re getting better at it,” senior Darnell Gant said Tuesday. “But I feel like, by the end of the season, our record on the road is what will determine what kind of road team we are.”
Romar and several players have pinpointed a road game at Utah one month ago as the turning point, and the fact that the win over the Utes sparked a three-game winning streak in road games serves as evidence. The Huskies were coming off a one-sided loss at Colorado and brought a different kind of focus into the Utah game two days later.
“That’s when we really started playing as a team,” freshman Tony Wroten Jr. said of the UW’s Jan. 7 win in Salt Lake City, which catapulted the Huskies to eight wins in their past nine games.
With five road games remaining, UW still has a few chances to prove itself as a battle-tested road team. It all starts with this week’s trip to Oregon, where UW lost a pair of games last season to fall out of first place in the Pac-12.
Thursday’s game at Oregon (16-7, 7-4) could rank as UW’s most difficult conference road test this season.
“That’s an environment that’s going to be tough to play in,” Gant said. “We’ve got to be ready. Last year, we struggled against them.”
Romar said UW’s recent success at Arizona, where the Huskies beat the Wildcats to move into a tie for first place 10 days ago, helped prepare his team for this Thursday’s game at Oregon.
“Our guys got experience playing in that type of game, in that type of environment,” Romar said. “I imagine it will be every bit as loud there. Arizona came at us, and I know Oregon is going to come at us. So I don’t think it will be any different. Hopefully, the outcome will be the same, but that remains to be seen.”
In addition to a spot atop the conference standings, the win at Arizona gave UW confidence that it could thrive in tough road environments.
“What has fueled that confidence is the ability to know what to do so that we can be successful on the road,” Romar said.
During his Tuesday press conference, Romar reiterated his statement about how UW might be in trouble had it opened Pac-12 play with a series of road games.
“We would not be 9-2 right now,” he said.
And yet as the Huskies ponder playing five of their next seven games on the road, Romar is confident his team can scratch out a few wins down the stretch.
“We’ve just grown up more,” he said, “so that gives me, as a head coach, more confidence in what we can do.”
Wroten said his health is better but the thigh contusion he suffered six days ago still bothers him. “I wish I could say 100 percent,” he said Tuesday when asked how he felt physically, “but it continues to be a tough thing to heal.” … Romar said that C.J. Wilcox is not showing any signs of physical pain from the stress fracture in his left leg but added the sophomore is still adjusting to being back playing again. Wilcox has been held out of practices since suffering the injury but will continue to play in games, Romar said.