MBA & Huskies set to host UCLA, USC in vital games


by Associated Press & KING 5 SPORTS

Posted on March 2, 2011 at 6:23 PM

SEATTLE -- For most of his tenure at Washington, Lorenzo Romar's teams have made a habit of surging toward the end of the season, whether it's improving their seed for the NCAA tournament, or in the case of a year ago, just making the field.

Right now, Washington is limping toward the finish.

"We're so up and down. Some games we're at where our potential should be and some games, like the (Washington State) game, it's just not there," Washington guard Isaiah Thomas said. "I don't know what it is. That whole month of February was just not a good month for us."

The Huskies (19-9, 10-6 Pac-10) close out the regular season at home this weekend, beginning with Thursday night's matchup against surging UCLA, which has won eight of nine. Then comes a matchup with USC on Saturday night.

But this weekend will be lacking the celebrations most expected to take place back in the preseason, and even just six weeks ago, when Washington was considered the class of the conference.

They were the preseason conference favorites for the first time in school history and by the end of January had built a 7-1 conference mark with many fans wondering how soon the Huskies would run away and wrap up a second regular-season title in three years.

Then reality smacked the Huskies. They've dropped five of nine since that blistering start, including two straight in the league. They have no shot at the conference crown entering the final weekend and even their NCAA tournament fate is being questioned thanks to the recent struggles.

"I don't think we've progressed nearly as much as we needed to. ... When we were 4-0 and even at 7-1 we talked about we can't remain stagnant," Romar said. "We're doing well right now, but teams are going to get better as the season progresses. We have to make sure that we get better and I don't think we have improved as much as we should."

February was especially damaging to the Huskies, who tumbled out of the Top 25 and most of the national discussion by getting swept on the road at the Oregon schools early in the month. They rebounded with three straight wins before a one-point loss at No. 18 Arizona and then losing to rival Washington State last Sunday night.

Romar's analysis of where the Huskies stand was straightforward. And he was highly critical of their inability to keep their focus on the defensive end, especially against the rival Cougars.

After holding Washington State to just 24 points in the first half -- and still trailing 24-17 at halftime -- the Huskies surrendered a season-high 56 in the second-half.

"The last game that we played was a classic example of totally understanding who we were for a half. I thought we played good defense for a half. Unfortunately we missed eight layups in the first half and every time we missed those layups, I think mentally we deflated a little bit," Romar said. "In the second half, we lost concentration as to who we were. If we miss 40 layups in a game, if we would still continue to defend, we would have a chance. Whenever the Huskies are not playing well, it's because we lose sight of that."

Washington opened the Pac-10 season with a sweep of the Los Angeles schools for only the third time in school history. Thomas joked this week that after that trip, everyone was talking of the Huskies going 18-0 in the conference.

Now, the Huskies point guard is taking the approach that not only does Washington need wins this weekend to close conference play, but needs to impress in the Pac-10 tournament next week just to make sure its place in the postseason isn't left for debate.

"That's the mindset. You want to win every game," Thomas said. "We have five games left possibly, and we want to try and win out so there are no 'ands,' 'ifs' or 'buts' about making the NCAA tournament. I don't feel like we have to win out but as the leader of this team I want my teammates to feel as if we need to."