SEATTLE – This is not an unfamiliar position for the Washington men’s basketball team to be in.
A year ago, the Brandon Roy-led Huskies started the Pacific-10 Conference season 1-2, with home losses to Arizona and Washington State, but went on to finish second in the conference and reached the Sweet 16 in the NCAA Tournament.
So the UW’s 0-2 Pac-10 start with road losses to USC and UCLA last week is not cause for panic just yet.
“We can’t let this slow start put us down and start thinking that this is a mountain we can’t climb,” power forward Jon Brockman said. “We can overcome this. It’s going to take a lot of effort, but it’s definitely not something that we can’t get over.”
The No. 24 Huskies (10-3) return to Hec Edmundson Pavilion this week, but things don’t really get any easier.
Washington plays host to No. 7 Arizona (2-0, 11-1) at 7:30 p.m. Thursday and the Wildcats certainly won’t have any sympathy for a team that has defeated them six of the past eight times they’ve met.
Washington coach Lorenzo Romar said he isn’t concerned with his team’s slow conference start. He said people forget that last season the Huskies started 5-5 and were considered well out of the league race before winning eight of their last nine.
But that doesn’t mean Romar doesn’t have worries. In particular, he said his team’s inability to handle the ball against the Los Angeles schools is a real problem.
“It’s an issue,” Romar said. “We thought we’d resolved it because it wasn’t an issue prior to this road trip. …We thought we were headed in the right direction.”
Washington turned the ball over a combined 20 times in wins over Weber State and LSU before turning it over 20 times against USC and 22 against UCLA, leading to 34 Bruins points. Romar said the biggest problem is that the turnovers put Washington in difficult positions defensively and allows opponents to get easy baskets.
The fact that Washington turned the ball over so much on its recent road trip wasn’t entirely a surprise. The Huskies have had at least 20 turnovers seven times, including three times in their first four games. But it had happened just twice in the past seven games before the California trip.
“I don’t know if it was a road issue or if it’s just we were really bad,” Romar said. “Maybe it’s we were really bad because prior to the (LSU and Weber State games), we had 20-plus turnovers in multiple situations. We’ve got to take the thinking out. If you’re thinking too much, you get stagnant sometimes.”
Sophomore point guard Justin Dentmon in particular has taken responsibility for the turnovers. Dentmon had four turnovers against both USC and UCLA and is averaging a little over three a game.
Dentmon said he isn’t sure why the turnovers are happening, whether it is poor communication or the offense is being rushed. He said he’s also struggled to find his identity with the team, whether he should focus more on distributing the ball or trying to be a scorer.
“Sometimes I lose what I am because I think too much,” Dentmon said. “That’s my downfall is thinking. When I’m thinking, I’m like a bad player out there, I don’t know what I’m doing. I need to just solve this thinking problem, get it out of my system.”
Dentmon’s teammates and coach say it’s a team-wide issue.
“There were things all of us could have done to help prevent what happened,” Brockman said. “It’s not just one person’s fault. Leaders step up and take the blame but there’s no way that loss was because of Justin. … Everyone needs to step up their game and come in more focused.”
“You can’t play against a quality opponent on a consistent basis and turn the ball over as many times as we did in both of those games,” Romar said. “There’s just not a lot of margin for error when you’re playing at this level against quality teams, especially on the road.”
The good news for Washington is that Arizona is not a particularly aggressive team on defense. The Wildcats are forcing just 13.5 turnovers and making 6.6 steals a game.
But Arizona is an athletic, veteran team that will certainly give the Huskies some problems. Washington guard Ryan Appleby said it’s just important that the UW continues to play with confidence.
“College basketball is a long season and there’s going to be a lot of ups and downs,” Appleby said. “You have to keep pushing through them no matter what’s happening. …If there’s adversity, you have to keep playing hard. If we keep competing hard, in the end we should come out on top.”