By Tim Booth Associated Press
SEATTLE — Washington picked the wrong time to go into a slide.
Losing three straight at any point of the Pacific-12 Conference season is concerning. This skid by the Huskies (12-8, 4-3 Pac-12) could be even more damaging because of the schedule that lies ahead, beginning tonight when they play host to No. 8 Arizona.
It would be one thing if Washington’s nosedive came against the elite of the Pac-12. But the first two setbacks of the Huskies’ three-game losing streak came against Utah and Oregon State, neither of which had a conference victory before beating Washington.
And while the Huskies played well before falling at No. 10 Oregon last Saturday, the slide leaves them little room for error going forward if they want to stay in the conference race.
“We need a good quality win, especially at home,” Washington guard C.J. Wilcox said. “We need to get this done now.”
For most of Lorenzo Romar’s tenure as the Huskies coach, rebounding from losses to avoid long losing streaks has been a strength. Since starting the Pac-10 season 0-5 in 2004 — followed by a dramatic turnaround that was capped with an NCAA bid — Washington has not lost more than four straight in any season.
But they need an upset of Arizona to avoid their first four-game losing streak in nearly five years. The last time the Huskies dropped four straight was midway through the 2007-08 season when they were on their way to finishing the year with a losing record.
It’s been a dramatic turn for Washington just in the span of the past two weeks. The Huskies went from leaders of the Pac-12 to suddenly facing a daunting task, which if not handled well could leave the Huskies looking at postseason options that don’t include the NCAA or NIT tournaments.
After Arizona, the Huskies play surging Arizona State at Hec Edmundson Pavilion and then hit the road for the Los Angeles schools before coming home to face Pac-12 leader Oregon on Feb. 13.
“It’s a big week. We see it as must-wins for ourselves,” Washington guard Abdul Gaddy said. “We need to come out and play with great intensity.”
The Huskies’ slump came on the heels of a stunning start to conference play where Washington went 4-0 with three of the victories coming on the road. That quick start was due mostly to the Huskies’ defense, which became a liability in the three losses that followed.
After beating Colorado at home on Jan. 16, Washington was allowing just 56 points per game in conference play. In the past three games, the Huskies are giving up 76 and allowed the past three teams to shoot nearly 55 percent.
“I think our mentality is a lot of it,” Wilcox said. “We came out with energy against Oregon, but the games before I don’t know what it was. I don’t think we took them lightly but that’s kind of how we came out and we had to play from behind and we’re not really good at doing that. So, we have to jump on teams early.”
If nothing else, the matchup with Arizona should be entertaining. Only twice in the teams’ past 10 meetings has the game been decided by more than 10 points and three of the past four matchups have provided at least one unforgettable moment.
During the 2011 regular season in Tucson, Derrick Williams came across the lane to block Darnell Gant’s game-winning shot attempt in the final seconds of Arizona’s victory. Later that season in the Pac-10 tournament championship game, Isaiah Thomas hit a step-back 20-footer as time expired in overtime to give the Huskies a 77-75 win. And last season in Tucson, Washington’s Tony Wroten blocked Josiah Turner’s attempt at a tying layup as time expired to give the Huskies a 69-67 win.
Tonight will be the first time a ranked opponent has stepped foot inside the Huskies’ home gym since Texas A&M in December 2009.
“We need to play at our highest level,” Romar said, “and we need the crowd to be at its highest level. And I know what that highest level is like.”