UW searching for answers against Trojans

Brandon Roy looked incredulous when the news was passed along to him; Gabe Pruitt, USC's second leading scorer, would be out - perhaps indefinitely - after injuring his tibia on Monday. As much as the Washington senior guard would love to guarantee a win over the Trojans to end a three-game skid, he doesn't want to do it in a walk-over.

"I feel terrible for him," Roy said of Pruitt when he heard the news Tuesday. "He was having a good year. Last night I was thinking about the matchup. That's unfortunate. I always enjoy playing USC at their best."

'USC at their best' just might have been one week ago, when the Trojans (15-7, 6-5) defeated Arizona at home 77-70. Pruitt led USC with 25 points, 16 in the second half. Now it'll be the Nick Young and Lodrick Stewart show for first-year head coach Tim Floyd, who has turned the Trojan program around in short order.

But playing the rest of the season without Pruitt is akin to Floyd coaching from the cheap seats. He might be able to get his point across every once in a while, but the Trojans - at least on paper - are a shadow of themselves when the sophomore from Westchester is out. But don't tell that to No. 21 Washington (16-5, 5-5), a team that is reeling after having been sucker-punched in the Bay Area and barraged by uppercuts in the Palouse. In fact, the team UW plays Thursday (7:30, FSN TV) might be the least of Romar's concern.

"We've got to turn it around quickly, but there's no reason to panic," Romar said of the Huskies' recent slide. "I'd take a 16-5 record any day with eight games to go. That being said, we've got to make sure from here on out we turn it around."

"We're starting to wear down a little bit, but we need to find whatever we need deep down to get this done," added senior forward Jamaal Williams.

To do that, Romar has decided that no starting spot is a given, beyond the ones currently occupied by Roy and freshman forward Jon Brockman. That means Williams and Bobby Jones could get demoted, as well as true frosh guard Justin Dentmon.

Coming off the bench wouldn't be anything new for Williams, who made a meal out of being Washington's seventh man during the Huskies' 2005 tournament run. "I can't worry about that," Williams said when asked about starting. "I just have to play hard and do my job. Last year, he (Romar) called me the 'designated hitter', so I'm going to come off the bench and score. If that's the role he wants to give to me, I'll just score."

"With his ability to score, I know other teams are focusing on him," Romar said of Williams.

After coming out with eleven straight wins to start the season, the Huskies are 5-5 in their last ten games and searching for answers - especially on the offensive end. Against Washington State this past Saturday, it was a new offensive set that Romar hadn't authorized. It was 'Roy and the Four Statues'. Whether attributed to fatigue, inexperience or lack of focus in handling their business on the road, the Huskies have no semblence of movement when it comes to putting the ball in the cup.

"Any time four guys are standing around and one guy is trying to make a play, it's going to be tough," Roy said. "We just have to get better movement, and better penetration on kick-out situations. And we just need to trust each other more. I have to trust these guys to make shots."

"The more we move, the tougher it makes it to guard him," sophomore guard Ryan Appleby said of Roy. "We need to do a better job of helping Brandon out."

And did I forget to mention shooting? It also hasn't helped that the Huskies have averaged .387 from the field during this most recent slump, and .344 the past two game. From three-point land, it's been downright disastrous; in their last two games, UW has shot .163 (7-42) from deep. Not the numbers of a team expected to compete for a Pac-10 championship.

"We just haven't made shots lately," said Appleby. "We know we have to move the ball inside, create some better looks."

"Our shot selection needs to improve, and as a result our percentages will go up," said Romar. That observation screams out one thing - fundamentals.

It might be obvious to onlookers that the Huskies have lost their swagger, but it goes even deeper than that - they've lost the ability to play as a unit. And even though they fumbled the ball away a season-high 28 times, they had that scoring touch. In fact, the 86 points they scored in a win over the Trojans in Los Angeles counts as the last time Washington - still No. 1 in the country in points per game (83.9) - scored over 80.

So where did it go?

Lack of 'seasoned-depth' could be one of the reasons for the recent inconsistency. Compared to last year's team, there is no Tre Simmons or Jamaal Williams coming off the bench to provide a consistent scoring punch. Appleby is the only sure-fire scorer that doesn't start, and players like Joel Smith and Hans Gasser aren't playing enough to get in a scoring groove.

"There's no situation we got ourselves into that we couldn't overcome, that was the feeling we had," Romar said, talking about the 2005 squad. "Those guys had been through it. These guys, collectively, have not been through that."

It's also now a situation where the 2005-2006 non-conference schedule may have been a friendly one in terms of allowing players like Brockman and Dentmon time to adjust at their own pace, but it clearly has done no favors for guys like Jones and Williams - players that are still trying to their place in this year's team chemistry.

"I think we got a false sense of what our abilities were," Williams said of the strong start against lesser competition. "We haven't really had to handle a lot of adversity that comes with being on the road. That Oregon trip is going to be tough and the Arizona trip is going to be tough."

But for the time being, the Southern California homestand is going to be tough. "When you lose three-straight games, you're looking for answers," Romar said, matter-of-factly. "I've been watching a lot of film, re-evaluating. Now it's just a matter of figuring everything out."

So this week has been one big roster jumble. "One day you're purple, another you're gold," Roy said of this week's practices. "No matter who starts, we have to develop the attitude that everybody on this roster ready to play. Whether I play five minutes or 25 minutes, I have to give it my all."

And make no mistake - Washington has their backs up against the wall. And that's what makes Thursday's game against the Trojans an opportune one. The last time UW and USC squared off, the Huskies had lost two of three and looking to rebuild their confidence. Washington used 46 rebounds and balanced scoring from Roy, Williams and Jones to offset a sloppy day handling the ball to beat USC 86-77. They then went to Pauley Pavilion and beat UCLA in their house for only the second time in the all-time series.

"The thing we did in those games is that we played 40 minutes of basketball, whether or not we were up ten or down ten," said Roy. "That's something we need to get back to. We can never put our heads down."

"We need to get back to where we are rebounding the ball well and defending for 40 minutes," Romar said, echoing the 'fundamentals' theme. "And we also need to be a little more patient offensively."

To that end, the UW coaches are looking this week to see who has that spark and have been switching lineups around to see who works well together, almost like pre-season.

When a top-25 team starts doing that, you know it's back to Square One, but not to Romar's way of thinking. "There is not going to be a major overhaul," he said. "There might be a few tweaks here and there."

One 'tweak' just might be inserting senior forward Mike Jensen back in the starting rotation. Jensen, who started 34 of 35 games last season, missed the first nine games of this season.

"He's a four-year starter, and maybe coach thinks he needs to be back in the lineup again and see how that works," offered Roy. Another player that just might crack the top-five is Appleby. The sophomore from Stanwood has run hot and cold from three-point range, but has provided energy off the bench with his defense and ball-handling (9-4 assist/turnover ratio in the past three games). "He's been playing well," Roy said of Appleby.

Whatever changes - if they happen - won't be known until Thursday morning at the earliest. Whoever starts might just be a matter of formality; Romar needs everyone available to bring their 'A' game for the duration.

"That's what we have to figure out," Romar said, like a man searching for proverbial 'x' factor. "We have to do a better job of doing that for 40 minutes."

"Last year, we were such a veteran team, we were always on the same page, even with losses," Roy added. "We've got a young team with new leaders, so we have to always remind ourselves to bring it every night."
Injury report: Romar had injury updates on Harvey Perry and Zach Johnson. Perry was going to get looked at by doctors Wednesday, and that would determine whether or not the true frosh from Las Vegas would be cleared to practice. If he is, what would dictate his chances of playing, as opposed to redshirting the season? If Harvey Perry comes out and he's out-playing people - he'll play." Romar said. "But if he's having a tough time and he's rusty, then he doesn't play." And Zach Johnson? "He's coming along nicely," Romar said of the RS-freshman forward. "He's jogging and shooting. If he can come back healthy, we'll see. It's been a long road back."

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