Time to reset expectations

Under most circumstances, dropping a clunker two games into conference play isn't cause for concern. Outside of the top-10, most teams are still in the process of coming together and figuring out how to play as a team. That isn't where UW is at, however. Besides the Huskies' obvious flaws, of which there are several, they seem to be burdened with a more serious affliction – entitlement.

Lorenzo Romar calls it wearing "cool jackets," and it culminated in an embarrassing performance against the Oregon Ducks Saturday afternoon.

Washington didn't lose because they had less skill or talent. They've got plenty. They lost because they appeared as though they expected Oregon to roll over and die underneath last season's Pac-10 Championship banner swaying above their heads. Apparently the Ducks never got the message, because they took Washington's banner, rolled it into a bat and cracked the Huskies repeatedly over the head with it.

The Dawgs have been in need of a wake-up call after a non-conference schedule full of near-misses. They got it. The fact is, Washington isn't any better than anyone else in the Pac-10. A mediocre effort against Oregon State and Saturday's stinker has made that absolutely clear. They may have more raw potential than anyone else in the conference, but potential doesn't mean squat until you realize it.

This isn't an indictment of Quincy Pondexter or Isaiah Thomas. The stars are doing everything they can to keep Washington rolling, but they can only do so much. They've earned a certain amount of exemption here. To an extent, the same can be said for Venoy Overton. Overton is doing just about everything he is capable of – he's even hitting consistently from behind the 3-point arc.

In some ways, the Huskies are irreparably flawed this season. Their front court situation is a mess, and no amount of prodding or coaching is going to fix Matthew Bryan-Amaning's stone hands or turn Darnell Gant into a consistent low post scorer this year. It just isn't going to happen. Tyrese Breshers continues to improve his conditioning, but he's still not going to transform into an All-Conference post by tournament time.

But that's more of a obstacle than a barrier. They went to a Sweet Sixteen with Jamaal Williams, Mike Jensen, and a freshman Jon Brockman, not exactly a Murderers Row of post players.

Despite his obvious offensive deficiencies, Romar continues to rely heavily on Justin Holiday, underscoring one of the biggest challenges with this team as I see it. Despite recruiting pure basketball players, players he believes can do a little bit of everything well - to the point where, instead of calling players point guards or power forwards, he likes to call them 'ballers' - the Huskies have turned into a team full of specialists.

Defense, passing, shooting, energy - individual players seem to do one or two things well, while struggling mightily at other facets of the game. Beyond Pondexter and Thomas, there isn't a well-rounded player in the bunch. That's an overstatement, because there are some highly versatile players on Washington's roster, but from what they've demonstrated in games so far, for every strength there's an equally glaring weakness.

The good news is that there are solutions on the roster who still may emerge as viable options for Romar this season. It's about time they step up to the plate, though. Scott Suggs and Elston Turner are both marvelously talented and offer the versatility that Holiday does not, but neither has stepped up when given the opportunity. Suggs, despite hitting two early 3-pointers against Oregon, has struggled on defense and Turner can't get his splendid shot to drop.

It's also become apparent that Abdul Gaddy just needs time; time to learn the defense and get comfortable in the system. He's pressing, missing badly, and he knows it. His battered confidence needs a breakthough game in the worst way, and he started to show a little bit of what he's capable of against Oregon. He'll get there eventually, but at some point he's going to have to step up and make something happen for a full game.

All three players - Suggs, Turner and Gaddy - have enough pure talent to help elevate this team beyond its current malaise. Last season's Pac-10 Championship team had four players capable of dropping 20 points on any given night, and Suggs, Turner and Gaddy have that kind of raw ability. Whether or not they start doing enough other things to justify earning 25 minutes a night remains to be seen. The opportunity is certainly theirs for the taking, though.

Sadly, the Huskies' typical equalizer – their fire and intensity on defense, which catalyzes their offense and enables them to compete with just about any team - has sputtered since their opening weekend. They've stopped trying to consistently dominate their opponents on defense, and seem merely content to contain them. Problem is, they don't have the offensive firepower to simply contain teams like California or Oregon. Or Washington State or USC, for that matter.

The doctor may have ordered humble pie, but instead the Huskies wound up with a drop-kick to the face. It's going to sting for a bit, but it doesn't have to leave a permanent scar if they can refocus and learn from it. Next weeks trip to Arizona should be an entertaining one, but there's only one direction they can go from here if they can't take off their "cool jackets".


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