CORVALLIS, Ore. — In high school, Lorenzo Romar says, he used to analyze the NBA and NCAA basketball postseason the same way Washington Huskies fans might now.
He had time then to break down all of the potential matchups and examine which teams had to win which games to best position themselves for the tournament.
And the UW coach said all of this on Tuesday as a way of making the point that his prognosticating days are well behind him.
Washington (16-11, 8-7 in Pac-12) plays at Oregon State on Wednesday. It’s a big game with big implications for both teams. The Huskies and Beavers are each trying to play their way into consideration for an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament. Each possess tenuous tournament profiles. Time is running out to enhance their qualifications.
But Romar and the Huskies would rather leave those conversations to the viewing public.
“That’s way too much to be worried about,” Romar said a few hours before the team departed Seattle for Corvallis. “I think what we were talking about earlier, how to keep guys fresh right now, and what to work on in practice, what’s the next thing we need to move on, attacking zone — that’s probably more a concern I have.”
Fair enough. But since most observers are unburdened by such responsibilities, it’s worth assessing where the Huskies stand as they approach the final three games of the regular season.
As of Monday, the most popular projections did not include the Huskies in the NCAA tournament field. But they are typically included among the teams that can play their way into consideration with a strong finish.
ESPN’s Joe Lunardi, for example, lists UW among the “next four out,” meaning he currently considers the Huskies one of the eight best teams not projected to make the tournament.
Jerry Palm of CBS Sports includes the Huskies in his “first four out” group. USA Today considers UW to be in a similar position.
So it is that the Huskies travel to Corvallis, where they’ll face an Oregon State team that can also improve its NCAA tournament profile with a victory. (For what it’s worth, Palm currently projects the Beavers into the tournament field as a No. 9 seed. Lunardi sees it a little differently, placing OSU in the same “next four out” category as Washington.)
The Beavers (15-10, 6-8) are 12-3 at Gill Coliseum this season, and have claimed home victories over Oregon, California, USC and Utah — all of which are likely headed to the NCAA tournament.
Like UW’s last two opponents, California and Stanford, OSU mostly plays zone defense. Senior guard Gary Payton II leads that effort, and leads the team in scoring, rebounding, assists and steals. His length creates problems for opposing guards, and UW has dedicated considerable practice time recently to properly attacking zone defenses (though OSU does rank just ninth in the Pac-12 in field-goal percentage defense).
“They have a number of different defenses in their defensive package, but they play that zone quite a bit,” Romar said. “That seems like their bread and butter. They try to slow you up, three-quarter press or sometimes a full-court press, but for the most part, they are pretty effective in that zone.”
The Huskies struggled to penetrate Stanford’s zone in the first half of Saturday’s 64-53 victory in Seattle, but adjusted well enough in the second half to pull away in the final minutes.
Dejounte Murray led UW with 25 points on 10-of-14 shooting in that game. He was the bright spot: as a team, the Huskies have made only 36.1 percent of their field-goal attempts and 7-of-39 (17.9 percent) from 3-point range in their last two games — numbers that prompted Romar to conclude that despite his team’s newfound defensive acumen, “you eventually have to put the ball in the basket.”
But they’re getting better at getting the shots they want.
“A lot of teams zoned us before Stanford, but I felt like Stanford’s zone was the best zone that we’ve faced this year so far because they were long,” Murray said Tuesday. “We can’t let that stuff stop us from doing what we’re supposed to do.
“… Something has to give if you move the ball around. That’s been our main focus — just moving the ball and trying to get through the gaps.”
Romar said senior guard Andrew Andrews, who was slowed some on Saturday by a strained medial-collateral ligament in his knee, is feeling better and was able to practice on Monday.
Andrews, the Pac-12’s leading scorer at 20 points per game, said on Tuesday that his knee feels fine.
The Huskies likely need him at full strength to win in Corvallis.
“It’s a much bigger challenge when you go there,” Romar said. “They have a great atmosphere there and they’re playing with a lot of confidence in that building.”