Right before the start of the season, Washington lost Shawn Kemp for 6-8 weeks to a torn meniscus, which hit them like a sucker punch to the jewels. He was their most improved player this summer and a legitimate low post scoring threat. After Scott Suggs went down with a concussion in their loss to Albany, everyone's worst fears were confirmed. The Huskies looked like a mediocre to below average Pac-12 team. With Suggs now sidelined with plantar fasciitis, the outlook for the season has become more desperate than before.
"Next game," senior point guard Abdul Gaddy said after their 73-55 loss to the Colorado State Rams - the first time a Lorenzo Romar-coached team had lost back-to-back non-conference games at home, a streak that would have been stretched to 80 games with a win. "I put this one on myself. A captain's not supposed to play like that. On both sides of the floor. We just gotta rally up. We gotta come together."
Against the Rams, Washington Head Coach Lorenzo Romar rolled out a starting lineup that included freshman Jernard Jarreau at power forward and Desmond Simmons at small forward. Coupled with center Aziz N'diaye, those three starters combined for a whopping eight points during the first half. That wouldn't be such a big deal if the Huskies were getting offensive contributions from some of their role players, but the bench was even worse. Much worse, truth be told. They didn't get a single point from Andrew Andrews, Martin Breunig or Hikeem Stewart in the first half. Andrews play was particularly disconcerting, mainly because he is obviously talented and they really need his scoring.
And yet, the Huskies were actually up by two at halftime, 30-28. But it was like masking tape over the clear cracks in UW's foundation, something the Rams exploited in the second half, outscoring the Huskies 45-25.
In a purple and gold nutshell: Their rebounding was terrible, their defense lousy, their offensive execution nearly non-existent outside of C.J. Wilcox's 28 points.
"We talked to our team about how Colorado State was leading the country in rebounding, plus-17 I think, going into this game and that might be the number one key--matching their physicality and we failed miserably in that area," Romar said after the game. Twenty-four offensive rebounds in any game, you put yourself in a tough position to win a game like that. They just out-physicaled us. And in spite of that we were up six in the second half against a good veteran team, but sooner or later if we're not keeping them off the boards it's hard to get loose and they got hot."
It would be pretty easy to keep piling on the criticism, but the reality is that none of this was the least bit surprising. Well - maybe the fact that the injuries piled up so early in the season, but all of this was predicted several months ago. One has to wonder if the grueling summer schedule isn't partly to blame. They put an extra month and a half worth of wear and tear on a very thin roster. Whatever benefit Kemp and Suggs received from the extra practice has been lost now, at least in the short term. Long-term it remains to be seen if they can ever get back to form.
Bottom line: Without Suggs and Kemp, the Huskies don't have the scorers and rebounders to compete day-in and day-out - not just in the Pac-12 but against decent opponents, period. At this point it seems to be Wilcox or the highway, as Gaddy is the only other player equipped with anything resembling an offensive game required to play at this level. Andrews will get there in time, but he's got a long way to go. And if they get run off the boards as thoroughly and consistently as they did Saturday it won't matter because they'll have to shoot 60 percent to compete - and that's never going to happen.
Washington's third loss of the young season diminishes their NCAA tournament hopes, assuming they ever manage to get back to full strength. This isn't the same team that beat Seton Hall and battled toe to toe with Ohio State. It's crazy to think that one player who never played one minute of basketball last year could mean that much, but it's true. Suggs really is that important.
So now what? The new half court offense is pretty useless without the shooters to exploit it and the Dawgs don't have the bodies to run and gun the way they have in the past. They've essentially got a six-man rotation and even that's being generous. Romar can only hope Suggs returns sooner rather than later. Until then every game is going to be a grueling battle that could go either way no matter who the opponent is.
If there is a silver lining it's that Washington appears to be an entirely different team with Suggs and Kemp in the mix. Andrews is better than he has shown to this point, and with a healthy rotation this is a team still capable of competing for a conference title.
If you are a UW fans you have to keep telling yourself that, at any rate.
"We are fine," Gaddy said. "We just have to rally up. We have just got to come together. We have great team chemistry. It's a minor fix. We'll be ready for Saint Louis. We just got to get that swagger back about us. Just go out there and play that's the main thing. Don't put too much pressure on ourselves. Just cause we are 2-3. It's a long season. We take it one game at a time. We are focusing on Saint Louis. Ain't looking at nobody else. We play that game hard, win or lose, then go to the next game."
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