Washington men’s basketball coach Lorenzo Romar, shown here during the Huskies’ loss to Nevada on Dec. 11, has come under increasing criticism for the team’s failure to win games despite recruiting top-level talent. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

Washington men’s basketball coach Lorenzo Romar, shown here during the Huskies’ loss to Nevada on Dec. 11, has come under increasing criticism for the team’s failure to win games despite recruiting top-level talent. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

UW athletic director not ready to put Romar on hot seat

SEATTLE — There is no shortage of speculation regarding the future of Washington Huskies men’s basketball coach Lorenzo Romar. It’s on Twitter. It’s on message boards. It is, seemingly, the foremost topic of discussion any time UW basketball is mentioned.

Do not count UW athletic director Jen Cohen among that crowd. She doesn’t want to go there in mid-December with 20-plus games left on the schedule.

“I’m not going to talk about hypotheticals. I’m not going to speak to something that may or may not happen,” Cohen told The News Tribune on Wednesday. “Our focus is on the here and the now, and helping this program get better and improve and be where we want it to be.”

Where it is now — a 4-5 overall record entering Sunday’s 5 p.m. home game against Western Michigan — isn’t good enough, Cohen acknowledges. She knows Romar feels the same. UW hasn’t made the NCAA tournament since 2011, and has done little this season to suggest that drought might end.

If it doesn’t, it seems reasonable to wonder whether Romar might still be UW’s coach next season. It might not be an easy decision. Romar’s contract runs through the 2019-20 season, he would be due $3.2 million if the school fires him before March 31, and he just signed the highest-rated recruiting class in school history, a group that includes Michael Porter Jr., the No. 2 recruit in the 2017 class and the son of UW assistant Michael Porter Sr.

Cohen doesn’t want to speculate on such matters, saying “that’s not where our heads are right now.”

“Everybody associated with that program is busting their tails,” Cohen said. “Everybody is supporting them for this program to get better. Both Lorenzo and I are in agreement that the team isn’t achieving the results we want. That’s obvious.

“I think they have talent. I think they have the opportunity to gel together, which they haven’t done yet, and there’s a lot of basketball to be played. My perspective is, I’m giving them all the support I can, but we’re anxious to see how everything comes together.”

The Huskies are currently riding a four-game non-conference losing streak and are below .500 through the season’s first nine games for the first time in Romar’s 15-season tenure at UW. They followed consecutive losses to TCU with an embarrassing blowout defeat at Gonzaga, then lost at home to Nevada last week. Their defense has been undisciplined and sloppy. They have lost two games, to Yale and Nevada, as a direct result of failing to keep teams off the offensive glass.

Sunday’s game against Western Michigan offers a greater likelihood of victory; the Broncos are 3-6 and reeling from the recent arrest of freshman guard Joeviair Kennedy, who has been charged with murder and armed robbery in connection with the shooting death of a WMU student.

The Broncos are one of the worst defensive teams in the country, allowing opponents to shoot 49.5 percent from the field and 40.2 percent from 3-point range.

But Romar has watched his team lose twice on their home floor to mid-major opponents this season, and correctly surmised that “we don’t have any room to pick and choose right now when we want to play at a top level.”

“We have told our team that the record does not reflect the type of team Western Michigan is,” Romar said. “They’re a better team than their record would show. … We’ve dropped consecutive games. We can’t afford to come out and just go through the motions. I don’t think that will happen.”

Romar remains optimistic that the Huskies can begin playing better defense and look more like the team he believes they can be.

His boss hopes so, too.

“They have talent on this team, so it’s a question of these kids kind of jelling together, as far as what I see when I watch them play,” Cohen said. “They have different people in different positions, a lot of new faces in those roles. It’s not an excuse at all. They need to click, and they need to come together. And I see enough talent for them to be able to do that.”

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