By Christian Caple The News Tribune
SEATTLE — Washington was playing so well, and Hec Edmundson Pavilion was so lively, it would have been easy to forget during Sunday’s first half that Connecticut was the No. 10-ranked team in the country.
An hour later, it was hard to believe UConn ever trailed.
The visiting Huskies were better than the home Huskies. Bigger, more talented, more athletic. But UW could have trumped those shortcomings — and it did, if only for the first 13 minutes — had it taken better care of the basketball, which it turned over 16 times in an 82-70 loss before an announced crowd of 7,059.
To be sure, UConn’s length and quickness bothered UW. Still, many of those giveaways — which yielded 23 UConn points — could have been avoided if only the Huskies had been more patient and hurried less.
“A lot of them had to do with our negligence,” UW coach Lorenzo Romar said.
Senior guard C.J. Wilcox, who led UW with 19 points, agreed.
“I think it was mostly us. We had a lot of unforced turnovers,” Wilcox said. “We haven’t taken care of the ball well the last couple of games. Same story tonight. Their defense had something to do with it, but overall we could have took care of the ball better.”
Romar also lamented his team’s immaturity, part of what led to UConn’s 26-8 run to end the first half after the home team raced to a 31-17 lead early.
Wilcox made a pair of 3-pointers. UW moved well defensively, contested shots, ran the floor. The return of forward Desmond Simmons helped. Simmons, who missed the Huskies’ first 10 games after surgery to repair a knee injury, made his season debut and provided something resembling his usual energy while playing 12 minutes.
Thus, a 14-point UW lead and patrons of Hec Ed making more noise than they have at any point this season.
And that was pretty much the highlight. UConn forward Lasan Kromah used his long arms and 6-foot-6 frame to bother UW’s guards in the backcourt, and UConn guards Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright started taking advantage of turnovers and UW misses.
UConn used the final seven minutes of the first half to erase UW’s encouraging start, and took a 43-39 into halftime. That lead expanded to 10 after a quick four points by Napier and Kromah, the Huskies fumbling and bumbling and handing the ball over, and it was a losing battle for UW for the duration.
“Right now, we are not mature enough to handle the runs from the other team, it appears,” Romar said. “We’re not mature enough right now to handle the adversity that comes along throughout your season. Conference season starts pretty quickly, and we’re on the road four out of the first six games. So we better grow up really quickly.”
On both ends of the floor. The turnovers were bad enough, but the Huskies’ solid, early defense vanished, too, and UConn finished the game with a 54.1 field-goal percentage.
Much of that had to do with Napier and Boatright. The duo combined for 36 points on 11-of-20 shooting — 20 points for Napier, 16 for Boatright — and Napier gave Wilcox fits all game, bouncing around and drawing enough fouls to allow him to shoot 10 free throws. He made nine.
And that made the second half pretty difficult for UW, which cut the lead to five with 14:55 to play, but quickly fell behind by 13, then 14, and couldn’t get the deficit under eight points.
Two games next week — Mississippi Valley and Hartford — round out the Huskies’ nonconference schedule. Then they begin Pac-12 play at Arizona State and Arizona, two teams sure to exploit the kind of hiccups UW displayed on Sunday.
The early lead carries little significance now.
“I don’t think it really says nothin’ to us from a standpoint that we got up that quick, because our mindset on the team is we can play with anybody,” said sophomore guard Andrew Andrews. “It’s just a matter of, can we sustain it? And I think that’s the part that we’re struggling with. As you saw today, we get up big, and as the game keeps going down, it seems like we wear down instead of just keeping steady or keep pushing forward.”
Whether they’re ready or not.