It’s Do-Or-Die Time For Fading Huskies

Just two weeks into conference play, it’s a little early to be writing an epitaph for the Washington Huskies 2015 Men’s Basketball season. But pen is starting to hit paper after UW squandered an 11-0 start to the season and has now dropped four straight games.

At its core, the collapse boils down to two key issues.

If you’ve been watching Husky basketball this season, you’re now well aware of the team’s shooting deficiencies. They’re one of the worst three-point shooting teams in the conference. The team has connected on 24.5 percent of their shots from deep (14-57) during its four game skid, and the struggles from outside are no doubt weighing heavily on the their psyche. But rather than accept their shooting flaws, the Huskies seem to be under the illusion that they’ll start connecting from beyond the arc eventually as long as they keep bombing away.

When the guards are connecting from beyond the three point line, the Husky offense is potent. They nearly drove Oklahoma out of the arena in Las Vegas last month during a torrid first half of shooting, but that’s the been the lone exception for this team, not the norm.

The inconsistency of the backcourt creates a significant challenge for the UW coaching staff trying to craft a winning offensive strategy that accounts for the team’s inevitable barren shooting stretches. It’s a shame too, because they’re wasting the most promising front court of the Lorenzo Romar era. Normally the recipe for making buckets when the shots aren’t falling from outside involves feeding the paint and attacking the basket. Washington’s guards would rather try to shoot their way out of slumps, however. It’s not working.

Such was the case Saturday afternoon as the Huskies tried to resurrect their faltering season against Washington State. True to form, the Huskies tried to match the early hot-shooting Cougars from beyond the arc with a dismal 4-19 performance.

And the more they bricked from outside, the more the Cougars sagged off the Husky guards and packed the paint, encouraging them to let fly.

Good things happen when Washington feeds the middle. Shawn Kemp’s scoring touch within five feet of the basket is as formidable as any post player that has played for Romar. He’s fourth in the conference in field goal percentage, and he takes good shots - often off easy alley-oop lobs courtesy of Nigel William-Goss. Robert Upshaw boasts a similar field goal percentage, and as long as he’s not falling away from the hoop, he’s almost impossible to stop.

Williams-Goss is a scoring machine within 10 feet of the basket. His trademark runner is near-automatic. Problem is, none of the other guards are scoring. Andrew Andrews boasts some desirable traits for a Husky guard, but he’s also about as inefficient as a scorer can be right now. Mike Anderson is a selfless, energetic rebounder and defender, but he’s averaging just a smidge over five points a game during the Huskies slide despite playing 32 minutes a game.

And the other wings? Darin Johnson, Quevyn Winters and Donaven Dorsey are averaging fewer than eight points per game between them during that span. For a program known for developing NBA backcourt talent, the Huskies are painfully outgunned in that regard this season.

Secondly, the inspired defense that propelled Washington to its sterling record in November and December has suddenly fallen flat. Opposing shooters that once were once suffocated by a league-leading three point defense are now finding themselves wide open - in the half-court offense, as well as during transition. Of late, once crisp defensive rotations have been a step slower, and the Huskies are having a tough time staying in front of quicker guards. As Washington backcourts go, this isn’t the most athletic of groups. Their lack of elite quickness on the perimeter is being exploited when they don’t play with maximum energy.

The coaching staff has some tough decisions to make and a lineup shake-up could be in order for a team in free-fall. Williams-Goss is the linchpin of the backcourt despite his jump-shooting woes, and Mike Anderson is the team’s best defender and probably not going anywhere, but Washington might be better served with Andrews providing energy off the bench. But who starts in his place? As inconsistently as Andrews has played, the alternatives have been far worse.

Likewise, Washington has been a fast starting team with Kemp and Jernard Jarreau in the paint, but it may finally be time for Upshaw to hear his name called when the starting line-up is announced. Especially considering Jarreau’s struggles with foul trouble. Problem is, you never know what to expect when Upshaw is on the floor, and for all of his shot blocking ability, trying to block shots 25 feet away from the basket leaves Washington vulnerable on the defensive glass. Opposing teams are gathering easy uncontested offensive rebounds and put-backs.

The way this roster is assembled, there aren’t easy solutions waiting on the sidelines. The Huskies need to collectively look in the mirror and acknowledge their flaws, while playing to their strengths. They’re big and tough and basically can’t shoot a lick. Finesse is not their friend, but it never has been. They’re a team built to win ugly, attack the basket, and get to the foul line where they can take advantage of excessively thin rotations across the Pac-12.

At this point, that’s their only path to success. It’s not too late to resurrect the season. They can thank non-conference play for that, and they’ve got two winnable home games against the Oregon schools this week to right the ship. It has to happen this week though, or you can put a fork in the 2014-2015 season. It will be over. Top Stories