By Christian Caple The News Tribune
SEATTLE — No game is meaningless to the coaches and players involved in it, so Washington Huskies coach Lorenzo Romar insists his team has plenty to gain in its 1:30 p.m. regular-season finale today against USC.
“It matters quite a bit,” Romar said Friday afternoon. “(A victory) puts us at .500 in our league. It’s one more victory. It’s another chance to get better. It matters. It definitely matters.”
But at this point, there is very little the Huskies (16-14, 8-9 in Pac-12) can do against the Trojans (11-19, 2-15) to improve their postseason prospects. Even with four teams currently tied for fifth place and UW just one game back of that mess, there is no tiebreaker scenario or potential outcome that would allow the Huskies to enter next week’s Pac-12 tournament as anything other than a No. 8 or No. 9 seed.
And because the No. 8 and No. 9 seeds play each other in the tournament opener (Wednesday at noon), the outcome of Saturday’s game against USC won’t have any bearing on what time UW plays, either.
The Huskies’ first-round opponent won’t be known until today’s games are over — it could be California, Oregon, Stanford or Utah — but regardless of who they play Wednesday, No. 1 Arizona will be awaiting the winner of that game in the second round.
Anyway, first things are still first for Romar, who at this point is more concerned about correcting the defensive failings and turnover problems the Huskies inflicted upon themselves during Thursday’s 91-82 loss to UCLA.
“We just have to somehow, between now and tomorrow and next week, we have to have that focus that we’ve had at times this year where we’re just so together on the offensive and defensive end that we’re a much, much better team,” Romar said. “We have to find that focus.”
That shouldn’t be all that difficult against the Trojans, who won at Washington State on Thursday night, but had lost 10 consecutive games prior to that. USC lacks depth and experience under first-year coach Andy Enfield, and has beaten just three NCAA Division 1 teams that currently hold winning records – Xavier, Dayton and California.
Still, the Huskies must put on their uniforms and go play the game, even if the outcome will have no bearing whatsoever on what happens next week in Las Vegas. A victory, though, would assure that UW will finish the season with a winning record, and could also allow the Huskies to feel better about themselves heading into the Pac-12 tournament.
“This is such an intense four days, that you have to go into that tournament really believing that you can win,” Romar said.
The game will be the last at Hec Edmundson Pavilion for seniors C.J. Wilcox, Perris Blackwell and walk-on Connor Smith. Wilcox will leave UW as the second-leading scorer in school history after redshirting in 2010, then choosing to return to school for a fifth season after considering NBA draft options a year ago.
Barring a miracle in Las Vegas next week, Wilcox will finish his career having played in only one NCAA tournament. He leads the team with 18.3 points per game, but from a win-loss perspective, his senior season has not gone as planned. The even-keeled native of Pleasant Grove, Utah, admits the season hasn’t lived up to his expectations.
“In the wins and loses column it hasn’t, but from the get-go we had some adversity to get through,” Wilcox said Wednesday, referring mostly to 6-foot-10 forward Jernard Jarreau’s season-ending knee injury suffered in the season opener. “That didn’t go as planned. I thought we did a good job staying together and coming together as a team, and doing what we could do. In our minds, the season’s not over, so we’ll keep plugging away and see what happens.”