Is this the season when the Huskies hoops breaks through to the Elite Eight or beyond? The answer to that question will be determined by the answers to several other questions. And we’ll begin getting answers tonight when UW opens the Pac-10 season at USC:
Will UW’s rebounding inconsistency linger?
Last season, Washington led the Pac-10 in rebounding margin. This season they have fallen to fourth, despite a starting lineup that replaces 6-foot-6 Quincy Pondexter with 7-foot Azia N’Diaye. Significantly, UW has been out-rebounded in all three losses. The problem isn’t physical: These Huskies are taller than last year’s version, and appear just as quick. So far, this appears to be a failing of either head or heart: a lack of discipline or desire to block out and get after loose balls. Eleven games is a third of the season. That’s a pretty fair sample. This could the rare UW team that struggles on the boards.
Can the Huskies thrive in a slower-paced game?
As with rebounding, this doesn’t seem like it should be a problem. These Huskies distribute with a league-leading 1.66 assist-to-turnover ratio. They seem to have the size and quickness to get the ball in the paint. And when a defense reacts by packing it in, UW should have the shooters to score from the outside. But once again, the three losses offer cautionary tales. The good news is that UW leads the Pac-10 with a 90.5 scoring average. The bad news is that it breaks down this way: 99.5 points in the wins, 66.7 points in the losses.
Who is UW’s go-to guy?
Coach Lorenzo Romar loves balanced scoring, and he’s got it. Isaiah Thomas has a team-high 15.8 scoring average, but five other Huskies average more than 7.5 points. Whe Huskies have been in only three close games this season, and they lost all of them.
With everything on the line against Michigan State and Texas A&M, the crucial shots were taken by Wilcox. Both missed. (Wilcox, in fact, has emerged as another indicator of success: averaging 10 points per game in wins, five points in losses.)
However, this is the kind of tendency that can change instantly in conference play. With more close games certainly ahead, it’s likely the Huskies will turn league games over to Thomas, or to seniors Holiday and Bryan-Amaning.
Is this Romar’s most tournament-run-ready team?
Everything points to yes – except for on-court evidence. Tired of being bounced from the NCAA tournament by bigger teams, Romar went out got one of his own. When Venoy Overton is healthy, these Huskies seem to be the most defensively harassing since the days of Nate Robinson and Will Conroy. And they seem to have the best outside shooting since the days of Tre Simmons and Ryan Appleby.
To that, they have added the kind of size that advances to Elite Eights and even Final Fours.
Yet, this team failed all three tests against the kinds of teams that you meet in the second and third rounds of the NCAA tournament.
The next test comes tonight:
WASHINGTON (8-3)AT SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA (8-5)
7:30 p.m., Galen Center, Los Angeles.
TV: None. Radio: 950-AM
Series: USC leads, 67-65, after sweeping the Huskies last season. At home, the Trojans lead the series 38-26.
Statistical leaders: For UW – Isaiah Thomas, 15.8 ppg; Matthew Bryan-Amaning, 13.9 rpg; Venoy Overton, 4.5 apg. For SC – Jio Fontan, 16.3 ppg, ppg; Nicola Vucevic, 9.6 rpg; Maurice Jones, 4.2 apg.
Scouting report: This is the Pacific-10 Conference opener for both teams. Each comes in with a two-game winning streaks. … The Trojans feature the Pac-10’s top two rebounders: Vucevic and Alex Stephenson (8.6 rpg). … Fontan has played in three games since transferring from Fordham. His second and third games were enough to earn Pac-10 player-of-the-week honors after averaging 17 points, four assists and 3.5 steals in wins over Tennessee and Lehigh. … Washington averages a conference-best 90.6 points per game, while USC has allowed an average of 69.1 (third in the conference). … UW has won seven consecutive Pac-10 games and four straight conference road games. A win tonight would establish a school record for consecutive Pac-10 road wins. … UW seniors Justin Holiday (foot) and Venoy Overton (ankle) are expected to be available.
Next: 1 p.m. Friday, at UCLA, Pauley Pavilion; FSN.