Beach's Bits - WSU

SEATTLE - The first half of play Sunday night against Washington State was the worst half of play we've seen out of Washington all season. They earned the dubious distinction of scoring the lowest point total for a half in the Lorenzo Romar era. It was that bad, and despite a late surge, the second half wasn't much better, even if they finally managed to remove the lid from the basket.

As the Huskies' once-promising season slowly slips away, at some point you've got to start asking yourself where things went wrong. From time to time UW hoops has gone through highs and lows, but for the first time during Romar's reign at Montlake, a Husky team is doing the unthinkable: They are dramatically underachieving.

We watched in past years as young Husky teams struggled through rough patches. Last season they were terrible until February. But that group, led by Quincy Pondexter, eventually caught fire after a 3-5 start to conference play, eventually losing in the Sweet Sixteen of the NCAA Tournament.

There have been other UW teams that have disappointed to be sure, but those teams weren't really expected to do all that much. Washington received 33 of 35 Pac-10 first place votes prior to this season. They were expected to be the best team in the league.

All of that bravado and swagger, the mugging for the camera. For all of the talk of Pac-10 championships and Final Fours, it's all turned out as hollow as a Britney Spears single.

Fact is, there's something wrong with this team. They simply haven't clicked like most Husky teams have done at some point. This team was the most talented cast of players to ever don the Purple and Gold, or so we thought. Romar told us this was his best shooting team.

The drubbing at that hands of the Washington State Cougars Sunday not only put an end to UW's 14-game home winning streak, it also put an end to UW's breezy jaunt toward the post-season. Now it's going to take a Mount Rainier-type climb for them to make the NCAA Tournament.

The WSU game was a microcosm for the Huskies' failures this season; the turnovers and defensive breakdowns, the bricked three-pointers, and poor game management. Obviously, Romar deserves his share of the blame. Their inept execution of their zone offense lies at his feet, as does his acceptance of their "style-over-substance" swagger.

But Romar isn't the one dribbling the ball off his feet or bricking layins. He isn't the guy taking contested three-pointers. He isn't the guy responsible for tossing ill-advised passes into the stands.

Were this group less experienced, you'd expect a certain amount of haphazard play, even this late in the season. But Washington is loaded with upperclassmen – talented veterans who know what it takes to win in the Pac-10. This group has a Pac-10 title, a conference tourney title and a Sweet Sixteen under its belt. Washington has the most experienced lineup in the conference.

No one player deserves the blame; they've all stunk it up at times this season. To an extent, the younger guys get a pass. You win league titles with veterans, and the UW veterans aren't consistently doing their part.

The Huskies are 19-9 on the season. They are a disappointing 10-6 in a mediocre Pac-10, with two games remaining at home against UCLA and USC. These games are do-or-die for UW. The Huskies have gone from an NCAA lock to a bubble team in the blink of an eye. Washington's collapse this season has been a slow burn, a festering wound that has reopened several times since November.

And the sad thing is, these are capable, likable players, every one of them. The seniors don't deserve to go out this way. Not when they've already had so much success. Isaiah Thomas may or may not be around next season, depending on what he decides to do if the NBA comes calling. If he does indeed leave, this can't be the way he imagined his career would end.

Washington can still make it to the NCAA Tournament. They can win their final two regular season games and win a couple Pac-10 Tournament games, which would ensure their admission into the Big Dance.

But that doesn't change the fact that something just doesn't feel right with these guys, and whatever it is, they have to fix it now.


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