The Huskies got off to a good 8-3 start in non-conference games, although in retrospect we can see where the red flags where. Close losses to Texas A&M, Michigan State and Kentucky looked pretty good, but all three of those teams have struggled mightily in league play.
Washington's conference run included victories over key competitors UCLA and Arizona, as well as a win over defending Pac-10 champ Cal. Here too, we have the benefit of hindsight to see the warning signs. Opposing forwards were establishing an ability to have big games. Reeves Nelson did for UCLA. So did Derrick Williams for Arizona, along with Cal's Harper Kamp. Washington was giving up a lot of points at the free throw line, something we can deduce is a logical consequence of teams being able to get the ball down low consistently. Even a win at the end of the streak, an 88-75 victory over lowly Arizona State held warning signs. If you're giving up 75 to the inept Sun Devils, what's going to happen against stronger opposition? But it was the game right after their decisive 17-point thumping of Arizona, so it was easy to dismiss as a letdown.
The Huskies were being held upright by their own ability to shoot the ball, hitting about 50 percent from the floor in those three wins. This wasn't a fluke, since their own ability to score from the forward position was strong, as Matthew Bryan-Amaning and Justin Holiday were each scoring and rebounding. Point guard Isaiah Thomas kept the offense running, both scoring from the outside and racking up assists.
Washington's losses these last three games have come to Washington State, Oregon State and Oregon. Only WSU is a real contender to make the NCAA Tournament, so it's not as though the caliber of competition suddenly increased. But all three have been on the road. On an individual level, there's been some inconsistency among the three key contributors, but nothing really shocking. What Washington is doing is turning the ball over, and they're no longer shooting with the same consistency, under 40 percent in two of the games.
The conclusion we can draw is that Washington isn't built to win on the road--you need to pack your defense with you if you're going to get wins in a hostile environment. The Huskies are too reliant on high percentages from the floor and they need other players to step up, namely center Aziz N'Diaye who's been AWOL far too frequently this season.
Washington now trails Arizona by two games and UCLA by one, but they play both teams again, so a run at the Pac-10 title is still possible. The Huskies have the individual parts necessary to have a strong finish, but they're going to have to take on a different personality if a Pac-10 crown is in their future.
Image from indiatimes.com
Dan Flaherty is the editor of the Sports Notebook Family, published through the Real Clear Sports Blog Network, offering daily commentary on the NFL playoffs and coverage of college basketball.