By Christian Caple The News Tribune
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 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 of how far it had come after a rocky nonconference slate.
But after two disappointing road losses in the last seven days, that tactic is in the past. No sense 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 in Pac-12) would need some kind of miracle now to climb into NCAA tournament bubble consideration. With eight games remaining, even an NIT bid would require a relatively strong finish.
So the Huskies enter Sunday’s game at Colorado (5 p.m., ESPNU) in desperate need of their first Pac-12 road victory since Jan. 2, attempting 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 consecutive game.
It’s been relatively simple for 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 percent shooting from the field), Stanford (54.2 percent) and Utah (60 percent), they looked helpless at times — and especially so 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. If we took an exam on where we’re supposed to be in (a given) situation, we’d get 100 percent. But now we have to apply it on the fly … when we’re fatigued or things aren’t going well. That’s what I think happens sometimes. We get fatigued or things aren’t going well, and we get distracted a little bit.”
There will be ample opportunity for distraction against a Colorado 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 at least approach this game against the Huskies 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.
“On paper we look good, and then we watch film and we see a lot of mental lapses,” UW guard Andrew Andrews said. “I guess we just got tired of success a little bit, and took a step back. So far in practice the last couple days we’ve been stepping up our defense back to where it was.”