Romar laments overall team toughness spoke Tuesday with Washington Head Coach Lorenzo Romar, who talked about Wednesday's opponent USC, but mostly about a lack of overall team toughness, job speculation, Markelle Fultz, Isaiah Thomas, and more.

Still feeling optimistic? - “I do. I thought we definitely made progress on the trip in Arizona. We didn’t have a win to show for it. But especially in the Arizona, I thought we played a fairly complete game. The thing that I did not anticipate when we talked a month ago was our offense dropping, not making shots. We were doing a great job of that. We were shooting a high percentage. We weren’t stellar from the foul line but we were functional. We were near the top-five in the nation in three-point shooting. It was going pretty good. But we haven’t been able to put the shots in the basket as much lately. That was something I didn’t anticipate. Maybe at a snail’s pace, but I do think we’re getting better defensively.”

On offensive issues self-inflicted - “The defenses, obviously, are better. I think the quality of the Pac-12 overall is an upgrade from our non-conference schedule. Shots that we’re missing are the same shots maybe we were getting, and maybe even better shots we’re getting now. We just haven’t been knocking them down. There have been a couple of teams, I thought Cal played tremendous defense. They bothered us and made it tough for us. We got good shots against them, but it was a little tougher in that game. I thought Oregon slowed us down a little bit. Aside from that, I think we’ve been getting quality shots.”

On defenses going after Markelle more - “Yeah, we’ve seen that. We’d seen that in the preseason also. Overall, he’s still at 23 points a game, 25 a game in conference, so it’s crowded in there. they definitely are paying attention to him, trying to make it more difficult. He didn’t shoot it well against Arizona – Arizona and Cal, I think. But other than that, he’s been fine in spite of the defenses.”

Can bad free throw shooting be contagious? - “It can be. It can be in the free-throw shooting drill. A couple of guys knocking them down, and you follow suit, and it can go the other way. We’ve seen it. We’ve also had in years past a few poor shooting teams, and usually the common denominator, for us when we’ve had a poor shooting team, is we’ve had a couple of times that get to the foul line quite a bit but weren’t very good foul shooters. The ultimate example I would use is someone, he’s a Hall of Famer and one of the greatest, but if Shaq’s on your team, your overall free-throw percentage is probably not going to be that good, because he’s shooting so many. That’s not the case with this team this year. We’ve had some guys that are decent foul shooters that the ball just hasn’t gone in. Noah Dickerson was around, had gotten up to 77 percent at one point preseason, maybe even going into the league, and just got in a slump a little bit then fell off.”

Why does Markelle struggle with free throw shooting? - “You all have asked me if I’m concerned about Markelle wearing down because he plays so much. I had said, I’m not as concerned about that, but if there is one place it can get you, it’s your legs. And that could be, playing so many minutes, that could be affecting his foul shooting.”

Is he awesome in practice? - “He’s off and on. But he’s a gamer, you know. The game’s on the line, he knocks them down. I’m hopeful that last game or couple games isn’t something that’s going to happen the rest of the year. Because he’s going to go to the foul line, no doubt.”

On tweaking shot selection when shots aren’t going down - “I thought our shot selection against Arizona was really good. They bothered us with their length at the rim a few times, but I don’t think we change our shot selection. Not right now. If we were taking horrible shots, yes, for sure. But I don’t think that’s the case with our team. You have to continue to shoot them, you have to continue to talk about confidence and the players themselves have to be confident that coaches, still believe in you, and that the next time you get that thing, you shoot it like you’ve made 10 in a row. Continue to shoot with confidence. I think that’s very important for those that can shoot. For those that can’t shoot, it’s a lot more complex.”

On not having tough players right now - “We’ve had some guys over the years, the day they walked in the door, they brought that toughness. There’s some others that became tougher as we went on. A guy like Isaiah Thomas – who is ridiculous, by the way, 41 again last night, out of control…he walked in the door, even though he wasn’t a good defender, he walked in the door with that toughness. We’ve seen some others struggle with that their first couple of years, but as they got older, they didn’t back down. They were the one dishing out the bruises and they were the tough ones and they became more mentally tough. Sometimes it takes a little bit more time. But Dejounte (Murray) and Marquese (Chriss) were a couple of those who walked in the door, they were tough.”

Is toughness on this team? - “I think that’s something we are missing, by and large. There is some toughness in areas, but our whole makeup of our team I just think it’s going to take some guys a little longer. But I will say this: the last game we played, against a top-5 team, I saw toughness. I thought there was a lot of toughness out there in that Arizona game - mental toughness and physical toughness.”

Dominic Green showed some of it in a skirmish… - “He didn’t go to the bench because he was showing toughness, just so you know. He had picked up his second foul. Carlos was certainly showing toughness in that game as well. We went with Carlos.”

Was that as good as you’ve seen Sam play? - “Sam played his best game as a Husky against Arizona, which is promising. You talk about toughness and going on the road in that environment, against that team, and he played well. He not only scored 11 points, he was a guy that we could throw the ball to and he could make a basket. He was very good on defense. He was talking on defense. He was directing traffic. He got a couple steals. He was just really good. He played very smart basketball that way.”

Is the zone easier for him right now? - “In this point of his career, I believe it is. I believe he’s more comfortable there. He’s not out on the perimeter as much, and he’s a smart basketball player and he can see the whole game. Not only does he know what to do, what places he needs to be in in the zone, he helps his teammates. And even though he’s a freshman, he has a good picture, because a lot of times, everyone else’s back is to some of the players. He tells you where to shift and what he’s supposed to be doing.”

On what you’ve gotten out of the front court this season - “Hopefully Sam can continue to come on. I think Noah has been in foul trouble at different times, but Noah has rebounded well, he’s a double-digit scorer for us. You’re right, it does hurt that Malik… how things work, I thought Malik had gone through a little bit of a slump, but the two games before he got hurt he had 11 rebounds in one of them and you could just feel his presence. So he was coming along there. We’ll be happy when he comes back. I think our bigs are now starting to get a little bit more physical also. I thought we were very physical in the Arizona game.”

Does it seem like a lot of their foul trouble are ticky-tack things they could avoid? - “Yeah. We talk to them about that. One thing with Noah, Noah gets penalized sometimes for really trying to do the right thing. He tries to take more charges than anyone on our team. When there’s penetration down there, sometimes he’s there, he’s trying to take the charge. A lot of times he gets the call, but sometimes he gets blocks called. There were a couple of fouls like that in the Arizona game where he had to go down to the bench. His foul where he fouled out or his fourth foul … the guy was going to have a layup and he just kind of put his hand down on him, barely touched him. Those are the ones you’ve got to stay away from. He’s also picked up fouls out on the perimeter, trying to guard penetration. And not just with guards. A guy like Kyle Kuzma from Utah. He’s out on the floor, and there’s penetration and he’s trying to get over. He’ll pick up fouls that way.”

On Malik Dime’s status - “He won’t be back this week. He’s just starting to, his pinky…he’s just starting to mess with it a little bit to try to get it moving.”

Is it a pain tolerance thing? - “Pretty much. It’s beginning to heal. How much he can tolerate it. Once the mobility comes back a little bit, it’s still going to be painful, but then he should be able to get out on the floor. Next week, I’ll be real interested to see how he’s starting to respond to the rehab part of it.”

He won’t have a club out there, right? - “No. He won’t be able to hammer guys, chop ‘em. No he won’t.”

How do you handle speculation about your job? - “When you take this position, at some point it’s going to come up - some sooner than later. For us, we’ve been fortunate. It’s been more recent. But if this were a position where we had taken a job and we had been here for four, five years and had never experienced success, it would be … it’s tough, but it probably is more of a negative. The fact that it keeps coming up over and over, we haven’t been to the tournament in how many years makes it tough. But with what we have coming back – and the only reason I’m mentioning this is because status, you’re talking about the future – what we have coming back with what we have coming in, you can see that the project that began two years ago where eight guys left the program and we came back with seven recruits, and in January we were thinking wow … even more than January, we were thinking … we were 7-3, it may have been February, we were 7-3 in conference and we’re thinking, wow, Dejounte and Marquese are really good. The following year Markelle Fultz and the other guys will join them. It would have been the second year from eight players leaving and us being kind of dysfunctional - we’re back on track. Well, Dejounte and Marquese leave, so now it’s stalled a little bit. So now we have another group coming in that, in my opinion one through five is better than the seven that were here before. Because of those reasons, I just feel like the ship is being righted, and that we’re going to be all right.”

Is this a program-turning group? - “It’s the pieces that we need to make us good next year, and then the years after. That’s how I feel about it. We’re finally going to have some experience with those guys. You could easily look at it and say well, just a few years ago, just last year, you had all these dynamic freshmen. Andrew was the lone senior on that team. But next year you have several juniors and a couple sophomores that we haven’t had when we’ve been able to look at that. The guys that are playing this year that were freshmen last year, they were more role players. The three guys, Andrew, Dejounte and Marquese were more the go-to guys last year. So they’ve not had experience in that situation. They’re getting it now. So now with this experience, now they’ll be upperclassmen. I’ve just seen too many guys go from sophomores to juniors and make that jump. So that’s why I’m optimistic, and still optimistic about this year.”

Do you feel you have to prove something over these last 9-10 games? - “We have 10 guaranteed games left. I was encouraged in the Arizona game how I thought we played right. I thought we played right against a solid team. For myself, my staff, our players, we need to be able to go out here and be able to believe that we’re getting better, that we’re out there really believing we’re going to compete with anybody out there on that basketball floor. We need to have that feeling as we go out. That’s more what I’m looking at, us getting better every day.”

Has USC coach Andy Enfield fully established his philosophy and is his team reflective of his style? - “I think so. I think they have. There’s a lot of dunks. What did they call it? Dunk City when they first came in there? Metu and McLaughlin and some of those other guys, Elijah Stewart – those guys are athletic. They’re fun to watch. They’re playing with a lot of confidence. They hardly ever lose at home. So yes, it’s working out really well for them. When they started off I think a couple years ago, when McLaughlin and Elijah Stewart were freshmen, they were 3-15. And they built it and they got better, and they got even better this year. I see them continuing to get better.”

They look like a team that likes to dribble drive. Will that test your interior defense? - “It will. Whether we’re man or zone, it’s going to be important to keep them out of the paint, because McLaughlin is so quick and slippery and good. They have multiple guys that can beat you off the dribble and make plays. You concentrate on them too much, Metu, they throw the ball up to the rim like we used to do with Marquese Chriss, and he’s very effective that way. So they have multiple weapons, and they’re quick and athletic.”

What’s the angriest you’ve ever seen Markelle Fultz? - “There were two times I’ve seen him angry, like really angry. It was in an AAU game. They were being really physical with him. Put it like this - they backed off of that approach within a few minutes because he made them realize quickly that, I’m not the one to try that with. When we were in Australia this year one of the first possessions of the game, one of their guys…we’re playing these grown men…one of their guys gave him a cheap shot elbow. Busted his lip. His fist balled up immediately, kind of like a reaction. That doesn’t mean he’s going to go out and fight, but you could see the fire right there. You’ll see it when he drives to the rim sometimes and contact. Some guys go like this and flex. He just balls up his fists. You see him get intense like that. Look for his fists in the game. You can tell. That’s the telltale.”

On his demeanor on the court to adversity - “He’s pretty calm out there. There was a guy named Walt Frazier that played for the Knicks a while ago. I’ll never forget…one of the best guards in NBA history, perennial All-Star, champion…he showed no emotion on the floor. Zero. There was a guy, friend of mine now, named Phil Chenier that punched Walt Frazier. Anyone remember this? Punched him in the face. On national television. And Walt went off for like 40 on him. He just looked at him in the eye and walked away and just abused him. I say that because sometimes people take Markelle’s stoic look or the non-emotion as maybe he’s not trying. He’s trying. I say anyone who feels that way, I wish they could get on the floor with him and play against him and see if it feels like he’s not trying. The game is easy for him, and it just looks like that sometimes. But a guy that blocks that many shots, tracks guys down from halfcourt and makes these plays defensively, comes up with these traffic rebounds…all those things that he does, the heroic things he does, he’s out there trying. He’s working. There’s intensity in his mind.”

Seems like he’s a pitcher that doesn’t get rattled - “That’s how he is. That’s how he is.”

Did you forsee this level of excellence for Isaiah Thomas when he was here? - “For Isaiah to make the NBA and to be in a starting position, that’s where I would have said that doesn’t surprise me about Isaiah. Now there’s not many that thought Isaiah would make the NBA. He was highly criticized for leaving early. But I thought you can’t count him out because he’s got it here (heart). Such a drive along with the talent. But for this to be his second All-Star game and now he’s coming up in a conversation for the MVP of the entire NBA, I have to admit I didn’t quite see that one. But he’s phenomenal. Proud of him. I know a lot of people in Husky Nation are. It’s important that he’s playing for coach Brad Stevens that hasn’t tried to pigeon-hole him and say, if you’re a point guard that means you pass it and you get it back and you pass it again and you never make a mistake and you just run our offense. That’s not Isaiah. That’s not how he plays. That’s not where he’s most effective. Brad Stevens understands you have to give him some room and give him a long leash, let him go play. Since that’s happened he’s become an All-Star.” Top Stories