SEATTLE -- Lorenzo Romar is not one to make excuses, but the Washington basketball coach believes his team's early-season bout with the injury bug has something to do with its poor start.
"And again, again," Romar said, pausing to emphasize the word a second time," we got the rest of our team back now. I just think that makes a big difference.”
The Huskies (8-5) enter Pac-12 play on Saturday at rival Washington State on the heels of one of the most disappointing non-conference performances in Romar's 11 years at the school. Home losses to Albany, Colorado State and Nevada have already given Washington more defeats at home than it has had in each of the last four years.
Washington does have senior Scott Suggs back in the starting lineup. Guard Andrew Andrews and forward Shawn Kemp Jr., the Huskies' biggest contributors off the bench, are back as well. While Romar admits he's excited at the thought of a fully healthy team, he won't put blame on the early-season injuries that left the bench thin.
"Disappointed in us defensively, early," Romar said. "Some areas I thought we could have been better. I thought in spite of the injuries, there were still opportunities where, if we defended better, we still could have been more successful.”
Romar won't be getting any additional help for his frontcourt after the school announced that starting football tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins will not play basketball this season. Seferian-Jenkins appeared in 17 basketball games for the Huskies, but said in a release from the school that he wanted to focus on academics and getting rest.
"I don't feel like I'd be able to help the basketball team much right now," Seferian-Jenkins said.
While Romar has seen improvements on the defensive end of the floor, where the Huskies are allowing an average of 67.6 points per game, the issue of depth has come into play. Just three players came off the bench in Washington's last contest, a 61-53 loss at Connecticut, but they gave impact minutes. Of the four players off the bench in a Dec. 8 loss to Nevada, only Kemp, who was playing in his first game back from a knee injury, was on the court for more than 14 minutes.
The active and aggressive style of defense that Romar preaches can be tough to consistently keep at a high level with a depleted set of reserves, said Romar, with players subconsciously reserving energy for later in the game. With Suggs, Andrews and Kemp all back in the rotation, though, Romar said it's been no coincidence that he's seen the defense start to make positive strides.
It's a good time for the defense to start coming together, as the Huskies' Pac-12 opener on Saturday in Pullman won't be easy. Aside from the impact of a rowdy crowd, Washington State is led by Brock Motum, the conference's second-leading scorer at 19.7 points per game. Romar calls the 6-foot-10 senior "maybe the most versatile player in our league" since he has the ability to score in numerous ways.
"They like to run a lot through Brock Motum, and so I feel like he's the focal point of their offense," Washington forward Desmond Simmons said. "I feel like that's pretty much what their game plan is. They play pretty good defense, but I feel like it's mainly ran through him.
"He's definitely a tough cover, he's a good basketball player, but ... I feel like the way we've been playing defense, I'm very confident in our defense right now. We're getting better every day, every game we're improving.”
The test for the defense won't stop in Pullman, as Washington continues a tough early-conference schedule with a trip to the Bay Area schools the following weekend before finally returning home for its first Pac-12 home game on Jan. 16.
As the Huskies get set to begin the conference season with the challenging road trip, Romar said that it's not as easy as just starting anew. That may not be all bad, though.
"It's not a video game, where we can start over and push a button," Romar said. "I just think we're much better than we were early in a lot of those games. Our record doesn't reflect that, but we see the improvements we're making.”