Coach's Corner

Following back to back losses to the Cougars and Panthers and now a loss in Corvallis, the sudden reality of the NIT is settling in for this Husky basketball team. Unless something miraculous happens, like the Huskies sweeping their last three games and/or winning the Pac-10 Tournament, then it appears they have stamped their card for the NIT.

It's sad because Husky basketball has become the darling to the northwest sports fans. When Husky football, the Sonics, the Mariners, and even the Seahawks have all been struggling, it was the boys of Hec-Ed who carried the torch for sporting excellence in this northwest corner of the country.

This year, youth has been served to date. This young team simply let too many games get away. Think back over conference play and it is clear that they dropped some games they could easily have won. I am sure that if Lorenzo Romar had the answer he would have changed the outcome but those games began to pile up and the Huskies found themselves buried in a hole of conference losses they now must climb out of with no flaws.

Sometimes a win like the one they had at home over LSU can lull a young team to sleep and hide some obvious team flaws - like inconsistent guard play. There in lies the missing ingredient for this year's Husky team. There is no Will Conroy.

That's right, Will Conroy. It's pretty obvious that Brandon Roy was the one of the best players ever to suit up at Washington and losing him was a major blow to this team. However losing their point guard is what has really hurt this team.

Basketball is a team sport so no one individual can really dictate the outcome of games on his own, but in the college game the man with the ball in his hands pretty much runs the show. That person for the three years had been Will Conroy. When he had the ball, it was taken care of.

Last year when Justin Dentmon had trouble dictating the flow of the game, Roy would take over and run the point himself. Now it is ‘Justin Appleby'.

Both Ryan Appleby and Justin Dentmon have interesting games but neither is complete enough to comfortably run things smoothly under control. Both have some great offensive skills. Appleby is a great shooter and Dentmon can be a decent scorer when he drives with confidence.

However neither is a great defender on the ball. Both get beat, although both are adequate passers and both are decent team defenders.

It is the depth at the guard position that really seems to be hurting this Husky team. They actually only suit up four guards. I don't think that losing a player who quits the team (Harvey Perry) is ever worth mentioning but certainly the Huskies could really use another guard who can score and defend.

Losing Joel Smith to injury eliminated at least the defender aspect of the job.

So here they are with three games to go. The LA schools are both playing really well but the Huskies have them at home where a young team is always better. But first the Huskies get to go visit the Ducks at the Pit. Always a pleasant road trip, particularly for a team that hasn't been able to win on the road all year.

The Huskies have not responded well when playing on road. They have been criticized for not having played enough pre-season games away from Seattle. They need the Pac-10 Tournament and the NIT to get some experience of having success when not playing in front of their own fans.

This Husky team should embrace any opportunity it gets to keep on playing. That is why the NIT will be a blessing. This is a young team that needs to gain some positive experiences when playing away from the confines of their own gym. They need to prove it to themselves and then come back next year and heal their road ills.

Washington needs to learn to perform better at crunch time. They need to protect the basketball and need to defend when a stop is absolutely necessary. Good teams step up their intensity on defense when they need to and set their offense up with their defense. The Huskies have gotten progressively better on defense but most of their problems appear to be on the perimeter where turning up the pressure makes you vulnerable to the back door cuts.

They simply lack the long defender like Bobby Jones or Brandon Roy who can swallow up smaller guards and deny them open lanes to the hoop.

This team is who they are. They have these final few games to become a better team. When you can start two sophomores and three true freshmen and make it into any post season play, you are only going to get better. This team needs to keep playing and it doesn't matter who, where, or when. They need the experience of post-season play, they need to the experience of road games, and they need the experience of winning close games at crunch time.

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