Boys Versus Men Means UW Comes Up Short

Washington’s losses during conference play have been fairly predictable. Teams with big front courts give them fits, and Thursday night's game against Cal was no exception. 

The Golden Bears’ front court boasts two serviceable seven footers and the immense talents of power forward Ivan Rabb and Jaylen Brown.  

Unfortunately we’ve read this story before, and now the Huskies’ once-promising season is circling the drain.  

The current four-game losing streak has been particularly hard to watch, not because of the way they’re losing, but because of how they’re not winning. They’re fighting. They haven’t quit. They don’t like to lose, and they’ve been almost good enough to win. 

Almost.  

“That’s our team. Our team doesn't quit,” said a disappointed Lorenzo Romar after the game. “You don’t get a badge for coming close. We have to get over the hump.”

“Tonight’s game we did a lot that we were supposed to do and we left 12 free throws on the board,” freshman Dejounte Murray added. “We get five of those we win. We missed a bunch of free throws and we usually make them. Shots weren’t falling.” 

The same breaks that won them so many close games at the start of conference play aren’t going their way now.  College basketball, like college football, is a game of inches, and the Huskies are coming up just short. In a conference as evenly balanced as the Pac-12, the little things add up to a lot.

After a blistering start to the season, Andrew Andrews has fallen back to earth. Maybe he used up all his big shots during the first half, but for a player that traditionally comes to life during the second half of conference play he’s a marked man now, and he’s struggling under the weight. 

This isn’t the first time Husky fans have watched a conference Player of the Year candidate wilt under the spotlight’s glare during the second half of Pac-12 play. Justin Dentmon did almost the exact same thing in 2010, hitting a cold stretch in the back half. 

After three months of carrying the team, shoulders tend to get a little tired. 

As for the freshmen, they’re freshmen. They are really good freshmen, but still freshmen. That means you take everything that happens within that context - the bad and the good.  

About this time of the year their bodies have been pushed to the breaking point, far beyond anything they’ve ever dealt with in their young lives, pushed far harder than they’ve ever been asked to before. Dejounte Murray is a brilliant talent, but he’s not perfect. He’s not built like Jaylen Brown, who frankly goes like a tank. Neither is Marquese Chriss. 

As for the others, they’ve come a long way but for some the ‘freshman wall’ is a very real thing, and once it gets enters the psyche it can be hard to purge.  

Regardless, it’s all part of the learning process. And it most definitely is a process. 

As talented as the Huskies are, the reality is they’re fatally flawed thanks to their lack of size up front and lack of consistent shooters. This winless stretch has laid those flaws bare. Whether it be Jakob Poeltl, Ryan Anderson or Ivan Rabb, the Huskies simply have no answer for dominant players who patrol the paint, and this season the Pac-12 is full of them. 

“I thought we did a better job,” Romar said. “(California) is huge. They out rebounded us by 10, but there were a lot of missed shots on their end. We had more offensive rebounds and second chance points than them.”

Washington has done a marvelous job concealing their issues, but band-aids and masking tape can only do so much. Some years, you can get away with an undersized roster in the Pac-12. UW has done it several times over the years. 

This isn’t one of those years.  

This season, the Huskies’ offense is predicated on their ability to score in the paint, but that’s hard to do when teams are packing it in and daring you to shoot it, as Cal did Thursday. Shooting simply isn’t something the Huskies do very well.

But in spite of so many things working against them, the Huskies were two free throws away from tying the game with three seconds left.   

It’s a credit to their incredible willpower and unshakable spirit that the Huskies are still battling with every breath, but these aren’t flaws easily mended. In a game that’s all about match-ups, the Huskies are simply too one-dimensional to compete consistently against the giants of the Pac-12.  

It’s not just the lack of height; it’s the lack of beef. We’ve heard all kinds of excuses about their problems on the defensive glass. Defensive switching and shot-blocking taking them out of position, but it boils down to something much simpler: they are boys playing against men. 

We knew that going in. It’s the reason this team was picked to finish 11th in the conference, and obviously that’s not good enough to contend for an NCAA Tournament berth. 

Despite getting creamed on the glass in the first half, the Huskies recovered despite Cal’s overwhelming height advantage. They held the hot-shooting Bears to just 39 percent from the field and forced 16 turnovers. 

In short, they did an awful lot of things right. The buckets simply didn’t fall when they needed them to. 

“I’m tired of seeing this,” said a frustrated Murray. “We have to move on after a loss. We’ll be fine. We’ve had these conversations. We go up and go down and we have to keep pressing forward.”

But Romar was more realistic. 

“We’ve lost our margin for error,” he said. “It’s still there, but we can’t make many mistakes.”


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