By Todd Dybas The News Tribune
SEATTLE — Surrounded by stagnant gymnastics equipment on the Hec Edmundson Pavilion floor, University of Washington men’s basketball coach Lorenzo Romar wondered Friday if his team would bounce back.
The Huskies have lost four consecutive games. When the defense has been better, the shooting has been poor. When the opponent was mediocre — like in the case of Utah and Oregon State — Washington has been mediocre or worse. When the opponents have been ranked — like Oregon and Arizona — Washington has been engaged, but sloppy with the ball.
At 12-9 overall and 4-4 in the Pacific-12 Conference, Washington is about to close the first half of league play with a visit from resurgent Arizona State (17-4, 6-2) at 6 p.m. today.
The Huskies are in a four-way tie for fifth place in the Pac-12. Romar is hoping Thursday’s 57-53 loss to Arizona does not linger into today, when Washington has the quickest turnaround yet in conference play. The prior weeks of this Pac-12 season, Washington has had at least two full days in between games.
“I’d rather go play,” Romar said. “Be successful and get this taste out of our mouth. Although deep, way back, that’s not going to go away way back in our thought process. … At the same time, we would feel a lot better if we get to play against someone else and do a better job.”
Just more than a year ago, Arizona State was a hoops wasteland. The Sun Devils were 7-14 overall and 3-6 in the conference on the way to a 10-21 overall record and 6-12 conference record.
Grumbling about head coach Herb Sendek had peaked. The Sun Devils’ best player, Trent Lockett, transferred. Coming into this season, Arizona State was picked 11th in the Pac-12 media poll, only ahead of Utah.
Still, Arizona State had shifty point guard Jahii Carson waiting to be declared eligible after the NCAA said he could practice but not play last season. With Lockett gone, former Duke signee Carrick Felix could receive more responsibility. Jordan Bachynski was 7-foot-2 no matter the record and Evan Gordon, a transfer from Liberty, was sitting out after leading the Flames in scoring the season before.
“We felt like we had a chance to turn things around,” Sendek said.
Which, the Sun Devils have.
Arizona State received 14 votes in this week’s Associated Press top-25 poll. The Sun Devils are 6-2 in the conference for the first time since 1994, and are off to their best start since 1981, when ASU began 19-2 behind Byron Scott, Fat Lever and Alton Lister.
Much of the reason for the Sun Devils’ resurgence is Carson, who has been dynamic and near impossible to keep out of the paint. He is averaging 17.6 points per game.
“Jahii Carson gives them an entirely different dimension than they ever had,” Romar said. “(Former ASU star) James Harden went about his business in a different way than Jahii Carson. Derek Glasser was a great player for them for four years. Jahii Carson is a very dynamic little point guard. That’s something they didn’t have last year.”
Carson let Washington State know just what a problem he can be when the Sun Devils beat the Cougars 63-59 on Thursday night. Carson scored 21 points in the second half.
“If you didn’t have to play them the next game, it would have been really special to watch,” Romar said.
Bachynski put together the school’s first triple-double when he scored 13 points, grabbed 12 rebounds and blocked 12 shots against Cal-State Northridge Dec. 8.
“When you’re down (close to the basket), there’s not a whole lot available,” Romar said of Bachynski’s post presence.
The same could be said of the bottom of the conference, and at the moment, that’s where Washington seems to be headed.