NEW YORK – Lorenzo Romar said a lot in the 10 or so minutes that he was in front of the microphones after his Washington team lost to Marquette 79-77 on Tuesday in the Jimmy V Classic, but there was one quote in particular that stood out:
“Tonight, we didn’t finish, but I thought we played a pretty good game. If we do that, we will win our fair share.”
For a team that has been nothing more than a borderline top 25 program over the last few years, winning their “fair share” is not a bad thing. Moral victories like hanging with a talented Marquette team on national television in Madison Square Garden is a positive, a beacon sent out to east coasters that says ‘Hey, we may play late at night and on weird TV stations, but we still have some kids that can hoop’.
And frankly, this Husky program has not been anything special of late. After losing to Marquette, Washington is now 4-3 on the season, having dropped road dates against St. Louis and Nevada. Last season, the Huskies finished third in a thoroughly mediocre Pac-10 and ended the year with a 24-11 record. The season before that, in 2009-2010, Washington again struggled their way through the regular season, needing to win seven games in a row at the end of the year — three of which came in the Pac-10 Tournament — just to earn an at-large bid.
The problem is that Lorenzo Romar consistently stocks his roster with as much raw talent as anyone in the country. This year, its guys like Terrence Ross, CJ Wilcox and Tony Wroten that are taking the reins. Last year, Isaiah Thomas, Justin Holiday and Matthew Bryan-Amaning were on the roster. The year before that Quincy Pondexter was.
Washington is too good to be saying we’ll win games eventually if we continue to play like that.
Its past time for them to start actually winning these close games.
Because if the Huskies settle for another moral victory against Duke on Saturday at the Garden, there is a real chance that Washington could end up on the outside looking in on Selection Sunday. Don’t believe me? Take a look at their non-conference schedule. Their best win right now is against Portland. After Duke, the Huskies host UC-Santa Barbara and South Dakota State, as well as Cal St. Northridge. And while both UCSB and SDSU will have a chance to compete in their respective conferences, they are far from what you would consider a resume victory. (In fact, they are just good enough that U-Dub will need to be on serious upset alert.)
After that, we get into league play, and the Pac-12 has been anything but impressive this year. Right now Cal appears to be the best team — and the only team that deserves any top 25 consideration — in the league, and they have a 39 point loss to Missouri on their resume. And if Washington’s schedule wasn’t already weak enough, they only get one shot at Cal in league play this year.
So you can see why so much is being made out of Saturday’s game.
“We’re aware of that,” Romar said of the importance of getting a win on Saturday. But, in typical coach speak, he also tried to downplay it. “When you go out and play, you have to concentrate on being your best. We don’t tack on ‘Oh, by the way, we gotta win this – extra‘ because of what’s at stake.”
Its a fair point.
He’s avoiding having to put extra pressure on a team that has not proven the ability to handle adversity or a road environment the past two-plus seasons is probably not a good idea.
But maybe this Washington team needs a wake-up call. Maybe they need a dose of perspective. Maybe they need Tony Wroten to understand the consequences of playing so reckless and aggressive. Maybe they need Terrence Ross to understand why he’s being asked to become a dominant presence. Maybe they need to learn that you aren’t going to go far at this level playing lackadaisical defense and making poor decisions on offense.
More than anything, Washington, and Romar in particular, needs to start taking advantage of the talent on their roster.
Settling for moral victories, taking solace in the we-played-well-enough-to-win-but-didn’t theory, is no longer acceptable for this Washington program.
Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @ballinisahabit.