If you didn’t watch Washington’s Thursday night game against California — or if you didn’t catch the final score — it might have seemed like coach Lorenzo Romar was describing a victory on Friday afternoon.
He praised his team’s defensive effort, which limited Cal to just 39.3 percent shooting from the field and forced 16 turnovers. He noted UW’s renewed dedication to boxing out and protecting the offensive glass — Cal still had more rebounds (54 to 44), but the Huskies had more offensive boards and second-chance points. And Romar said the Huskies took better care of the ball, because they committed only seven turnovers.
But the Huskies still lost, 78-75, for their fourth consecutive defeat — each by single digits, three by five points or fewer — and their third Pac-12 home loss of the season.
With just four regular-season games remaining, the Huskies are 15-11 and 7-7 in Pac-12 play. They desperately need to beat Stanford (13-11, 6-7) on Saturday to retain any hope of earning an at-large bid into the NCAA tournament, to say nothing of the treacherous road trip to Oregon State and Oregon that awaits next week.
Romar, though, does not seem particularly discouraged by the losing streak, or by the opportunity the Huskies fumbled away Thursday.
They can beat Stanford, he said, “if we come out and do most of the things we did last night. And I say most, because one of the things we did not do was win the game.
“But I look back and there are other games where we’re all fired up because we won, and maybe we made free throws in the last two minutes, maybe we made eight or nine 3s in that game, and the end result was that we won. Well, the end result (on Thursday) was we lost. So it doesn’t look as good. But I like our chances, anywhere, if we do a lot of the things we did last night.”
They certainly need to shoot better, both from the field and the free-throw line. UW attempted 70 shots against California and made only 23 of them — and only 4-of-17 from 3-point range — and the Huskies made just 25 of their 38 foul shots.
“They just didn’t go in last night,” Romar said. “We just did not shoot the ball well. Around the rim, I do think Cal’s length bothered us a little bit. You look at Cal’s defensive profile, they’re pretty good, defensively. But we still also had a lot of looks that we weren’t able to convert.”
And that’s just kind of how things have gone for the young Huskies in recent weeks. They lost by five points at home against Arizona after allowing 17 offensive rebounds. They lost by eight points at Utah after allowing the Utes to shoot 67.3 percent from the field. They lost by one point at Colorado after allowing the Buffaloes to rebound nearly half of their own missed shots. If the Huskies had only slightly improved upon their most glaring weaknesses in any of those games, they could still be competing for a first-round bye in the Pac-12 tournament.
This is in contrast to how UW started Pac-12 play. The Huskies won five of their first six conference games, four of which were decided by five points or fewer, two of which were decided in overtime. Romar said at the time that those close victories would be nothing more than “fool’s gold” if the Huskies didn’t correct their flaws, which were apparent then but masked somewhat by their sparkling record.
And now …
“That’s exactly what I was talking about,” Romar said.
“Our team is so resilient and doesn’t have quit in them (so) that we’d find a way to get it done. But sooner or later, if we weren’t able to knock the foul shots down, if we weren’t able to hit those 3s, if we weren’t able to impose our will and force turnovers, then we weren’t doing the things that were necessary to really win games at a high, high level.
“And here we go again, back to — our decision-making wasn’t where it needed to be. We were giving up too many blow-bys and not keeping teams off the backboard. So that’s exactly what I was talking about. But again, in spite of a loss, I was encouraged last night, because we went a long way in getting better at some of those deficiencies.”
The Cardinal recently assembled a four-game losing streak of its own, but snapped it with a 76-72 victory over 16th-ranked Oregon last week and won 72-56 Thursday at Washington State. Stanford is capable, obviously, of beating anyone in the league, and is led by the 15.4 points per game of senior forward Rosco Allen.
But they are not an opponent to which an NCAA tournament-caliber team should lose to at home. This is a must-win game, though Romar obviously says the Huskies aren’t thinking about the big picture.
Instead, they’re emphasizing improvement in the aforementioned areas: preventing dribble penetration, rebounding and taking care of the ball.
“Those are our musts,” Romar said. “That’s how we look at it.”
Stanford (13-11, 6-7 Pac-12) at Washington (15-11, 7-7)
5 p.m., Hec Edmundson Pavilion, Seattle
TV: Pac-12 Network. Radio: 1000-AM, 97.7-FM.
All-time series: Stanford leads, 74-69.
Statistics for 2015-16:
15 Marcus Allen, G (6-3, jr.): 11.5 ppg, 4.0 rpg.
1 Christian Sanders, G (6-4, sr.): 4.3 ppg, 2.8 apg.
30 Grant Verhoeven, C (6-9, sr.): 3.3 ppg, 2.1 rpg.
25 Rosco Allen, F (6-9, sr.): 15.4 ppg, 6.4 rpg.
10 Michael Humphrey, F (6-9, so.): 9.8 ppg, 6.0 rpg.
12 Andrew Andrews, G (6-2, sr.): 20.4 ppg, 6.0 rpg, 4.5 apg.
5 Dejounte Murray, G (6-4 1/2, fr.): 14.8 ppg, 6.2 rpg, 4.6 apg.
4 Matisse Thybulle, G (6-5, fr.): 6.5 ppg, 3.3 rpg.
10 Malik Dime, F (6-9, jr.): 6.7 ppg, 5.7 rpg.
0 Marquese Chriss, F (6-9, fr.): 13.3 ppg, 5.3 rpg.
Scouting report: Romar said Malik Dime will make his second career start after making his starting lineup debut Thursday. He played 19 minutes, scored eight points, grabbed four rebounds and blocked three shots. Noah Dickerson, who had started UW’s first 25 games, played 25 minutes off the bench. Prior to Thursday, UW was one of three power-conference teams this season to use the same starting lineup in every game. … Stanford ripped WSU on Thursday, 72-56, in Pullman. The Cardinal also beat then-first-place Oregon in the Bay Area last week, a victory that snapped a four-game losing streak. … This game will feature contrasting styles — Washington plays at a faster pace than any team in the Pac-12, and the Cardinal plays at a slower pace than any other conference team. As a result, Stanford is the lowest-scoring team in the Pac-12, and it ranks 10th in field goal percentage at 42.3. … Dorian Pickens has started 18 games for the Cardinal this season but has come off the bench recently, making him the team’s top reserve — he scores 11.5 points per game, one of three available Stanford players who average in double-figures. A fourth, sophomore forward Reid Travis, has been out since mid-December with a leg injury. … Stanford has the second-worst field-goal percentage defense in the conference, allowing opponents to shoot 44.0 percent. The Cardinal is also the worst 3-point shooting team in the league at 32.8 percent.