Friday’s game against No. 7 Arizona, a lopsided defeat, represented the most difficult challenge on the Washington Huskies’ remaining men’s basketball schedule.
Their next game, at home against Arizona State, might represent the opposite end of that spectrum.
Nothing is easy right now for the Huskies (14-10, 3-9 in Pac-12 play), losers of six consecutive games as the Sun Devils visit Hec Edmundson Pavilion at 2:30 p.m. Sunday. UW is riding the longest losing streak of coach Lorenzo Romar’s 13-year career at the school, and the two most recent losses have come by margins of 14 and 24 points.
But if there has been a cure in recent years for whatever has ailed this Washington team, it has been a game against Arizona State, which has lost its past eight against the Huskies — and 21 of its last 24 — and hasn’t won in Seattle since Feb. 23, 2008.
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So a dubious streak will end on Sunday afternoon, one way or the other.
“Each loss makes it more difficult, but you say it after a couple losses — it takes one win,” Romar said Friday night after Arizona blew past UW in an 86-62 blowout. “And it kind of gets your mind right. That’s what we’re looking for, that one win.”
The Huskies are already assured of a Pac-12 record no better than .500, the third consecutive season in which they will finish conference play without a winning record. Prior to 2012-13, UW finished with a non-winning Pac-12 record three times in 10 years. Romar’s worst conference record at UW was 5-13 in his first season in 2002-03.
With six games remaining and only three victories achieved, work remains for the Huskies to avoid the worst Pac-12 season of Romar’s career.
ASU, then, might be a good place to start. The Sun Devils (12-12, 4-7 in Pac-12) are tied for ninth in the conference, though they’ve improved since beginning Pac-12 play 0-4, evidenced by an 81-78 upset of Arizona last week. They don’t have overpowering size and interior strength like Arizona — in this league, nobody does — and they start one player taller than 6-foot-6.
“They don’t play with two bigs, they play with four perimeter guys,” Romar said. “So if we’re not able to keep them in front of us, they will rain 3s all day. So we have to be able to stay with them and not give them wide-open looks from the 3-point line. That’s probably our biggest challenge.”
Still, a perimeter-oriented game would be good news for the Huskies, who start four guards along with 6-9 senior forward Shawn Kemp Jr.
“It is tough just being the only big man out there,” Kemp said after UW’s loss to Arizona. “But that’s just what it is right now. We’ve got to work with what we have.”
On paper, this doesn’t appear to be a personnel mismatch, and that’s not something the Huskies have been able to say much since Romar dismissed 7-foot shot-blocker Robert Upshaw from the team and lost 6-10 starting forward Jernard Jarreau to a knee injury.
Jarreau is nearing his return, though it likely won’t be Sunday. Romar said he expects him back next week against Washington State.
Until then, UW is left to solve its losing streak with what it has, which will start with snapping its six-game streak of allowing opponents to shoot 50 percent or better from the field.
“The spurts that we have where we are doing the right things defensively, we have to be able to sustain those,” Romar said. “I’m not thinking, ‘We just don’t have the horses.’ Just my thought process.”