Chemistry issues plague Huskies

PORTLAND - Yes, the Washington Huskies looked like crap Saturday night in their six-point loss to Portland, a team considered an average foe from the WCC. They looked like garbage, frankly. Anyone who doesn't understand why team chemistry is such an important thing need only watch last night's game as an object lesson on how important it is to have five play as one on the court.

Even worse, they were a disaster defensively. Anyone who uses 16 fouls in the first half as an excuse for the loss didn't watch the game. The fouls occurred for the most part because the Huskies were getting beat on defense, and their response was to reach. They were detrimentally aggressive. They over-committed constantly, and reached rather than relying on footwork and positioning to stay in front of their opponent and were frankly more concerned with coming off as tough guys instead of quality basketball players.

Without the benefit of review, there were some bright spots from where I sat: Notably Darnell Gant's defensive rotation and energy were encouraging, given the guards' defensive struggles. Elston Turner plays like an upperclassmen and will immeasurably improve as he gains confidence with his gorgeous jumper. And Jon Brockman is every bit the All America candidate we were expecting to see, racking up 30 points and 14 rebounds.

But…

The Huskies managed just six steals on the night, three coming from Venoy Overton. The sophomore from Franklin was chaotically effective at times, but a complete letdown with the ball in his hands.

With a loss, the question has to be asked: Who was the biggest culprit? Maybe the Huskies felt they had something to prove, but they were more concerned with beating their chests and physically intimidating Portland than playing quality basketball, and it cost them the game. Hammering an opponent with a hard foul after getting beat on defense may have made some of the Huskies feel better about their snafus, but even Brockman – the last person who needs to act tough – seemed to get caught up in playing the tough guy role.

Unfortunately, the players overlooked the ramifications of their aggressive style – mainly UW Head Coach Lorenzo Romar having to play combinations of players that weren't accustomed to playing together. The inconsistency at both ends of the court was the result.

I don't know what to make of Quincy Pondexter's play. The junior from Fresno, Calif. was a total non-factor, and it's high time he either gets his head out of the sand or gets out of the sandbox completely. It's simply inexcusable to have the most physically-gifted player on the court held scoreless with no attempts from the free throw line. A guy like Pondexter should finish a season with at least 175 attempts from the stripe.

As in any team game, it wasn't all his fault. The guards missed him for open looks, as they did in the exhibition win against Western Washington, but a player with such a significant physical advantage over his opponent should always be a factor on the offensive end of the glass. Pondexter wanted no part of it. I like Quincy Pondexter – he's a quality individual and immensely-talented kid who came in a totally different player than advertised. Those lofty, misguided expectations have taken their toll, but at some point the excuses become nothing more than white noise. We're reaching a point, especially with Elston Turner and Scott Suggs waiting in the wings, where Pondexter either makes his mark and finds a way to contribute or surrenders his job for good.

Joe Wolfinger has to do a better job of holding his ground, or he's not going to play. It's that simple. It's hard to envision a 7-footer being more transparent on defense. It's obvious that integrating a player with his unique skill set has been a challenge, but more than anything the Huskies need him to be a factor on the defensive end or he has no place on the roster.

Isaiah Thomas had his struggles as well against Portland. His scoring prowess may be without peer in the Pac-10 and he's got a legitimate shot at being one of the top scorers in the conference, but if he doesn't try harder to get his teammates involved (and that includes Pondexter), this team goes nowhere. He was flagged in the Western Washington game for going to his left too much, so he spent his foul-flawed 15 minutes Saturday night trying to go right with his head down, straight into the open arms of his defenders. If he can stick to what he does best - while elevating his teammates in the process - this team will begin to scratch the surface of their potential.

If it seems like I'm piling it on a bit, it's because there's clearly so much potential on the roster. Thomas, Turner and Gant are going to be difference-makers very early in their UW careers. An All-American mixed with some talented youth should be a recipe for success, but not if they continue to play the way they did last night. Some of the problems were a result of first game jitters on the road, and were to be expected. But it wasn't 'first game' mistakes that cost them the game.

Washington didn't try to play like a team. They played like a bunch of individually talented street ballers, concerned only with intimidating and showing up the players from the opposing team. It's the first time since the Doug Wrenn era came to an end that I've felt that way, and they need to get it under control.


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