By KIRBY ARNOLD
SEATTLE – Bob Bender knows it may take a while to shake off the scars left by a 10-20 season.
But when his University of Washington men’s basketball team laid its first egg Tuesday night in the season opener – a 73-61 loss to Texas-El Paso – the coach knew more than a game was lost.
“With a loss in your opener, there’s a sense of urgency,” Bender said.
And when that loss comes against a team (13-15) that struggled nearly as badly last season as the Huskies, it further delays a work in progress that needs a dose of confidence.
Bender didn’t have to tell it to the media.
The raised voice heard through the locker room door made it clear what he expected of his team, especially early in the game when UTEP looked like it knew every crease in the KeyArena floor and every passing lane in the UW offense.
The Miners bolted to a 15-point first-half lead as they swarmed UW with a man-to-man defense. The Huskies closed within two points in the second half before UTEP made a run in the last 2 1/2minutes to push the margin to double figures.
UTEP guard Eugene Costello’s end-to-end quickness produced a game-high 26 points, and forward Brandon Wolfram provided inside strength with 21 points.
The loss ended the Huskies’ one-season-plus-one-game occupancy of KeyArena with a 4-10 record. The Dawgs will host New Mexico State at 2 p.m. Saturday at their refurbished campus home, Bank of America Arena, and they can’t wait to get back.
“KeyArena was not a very friendly place for us,” said UW forward Will Perkins. “It wasn’t a home for us. We probably practiced as much here as every team we played against.”
Perkins was the biggest bright spot on a team that showed flashes of promise. The 6-foot-8 senior scored 15 points and grabbed 10 rebounds, giving UW its first double-double since Todd MacCulloch had 32 points and 15 rebounds on March 6, 1999 against Washington State.
The Huskies’ two promising freshman guards, C.J. Massingale and Curtis Allen, had their moments, both good and bad. Massingale scored seven points and had three rebounds in 14 minutes, and Allen made a 3-point goal and pushed the offense with his quickness in 17 minutes of play.
Those two, in fact, provided the spark that allowed the Huskies to trim UTEP’s lead to four points when Allen’s 3-pointer from above the key made the score 46-42 with 11:22 left in the game.
As for the negative, there was plenty to “address” with the team, as Bender put it.
UTEP continually beat the Huskies down the floor on fast breaks, a product of missed offensive opportunities that left the Dawgs momentarily wondering what went wrong as the Miners flew past.
“We didn’t get back, and that’s a mental mistake,” Bender said. “We were running hard to get back, but we should have already been back.”
Guard Michael Johnson was a frigid 1-for-9 from the field and just 2-for-7 from the free throw line, the biggest culprit in the Huskies’ 36.1 percent shooting from the field and 47.8 percent from the line.
“We missed a lot of shots I believe we will make,” Bender said. “To be realistic, we’ll have to get it done on the defensive end. We can’t lose sight of it.”
That’s the identity Bender had hoped the Huskies would establish from the opening tipoff. After what they experienced last year, he badly wanted this game.
It makes Saturday’s game doubly important, he said.
“We have to take advantage of being at home again,” Bender said. “You get to that fine line of playing not to lose. We have to go out and dictate. Right now, we are tentative.”
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