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Thursday, February 9, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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UW Men's Basketball

UW needs quick end to losing streak

Seattle Times staff reporter

They may be new-look Huskies that hit the floor tonight against USC, with coach Lorenzo Romar contemplating a few lineup changes in the wake of a three-game losing streak.

Still, you'll excuse the coach if he doesn't think that everything is broken.

UW's losing streak is its longest since the Huskies began the 2004 Pac-10 season 0-5. In between, the Huskies went 59-12.

"It's kind of human nature," Romar said this week. "Based on your last game people decide 'well, they are never going to win another game because they lost their last one.' "

But admittedly, the last one was a disaster, a 77-64 loss at Washington State that was UW's first double-digit defeat of the season.

It left UW 16-5 overall but 5-5 in Pac-10 play and suddenly scrambling for an NCAA tournament berth that seemed all but assured two weeks ago.

"I think we are in a position where we are not a lock by any stretch, but where if we can take it one game at a time we put ourselves in a place where we can get there," Romar said.

What the Huskies probably have to do is win at least five of their remaining eight games.

No Pac-10 team that has finished with a 9-9 conference record has ever been invited to the NCAA tournament and given the conference's poor RPI rating, it's doubtful that trend would be broken this season.

Five more wins would make UW 10-8, and even that isn't a sure thing based on history. Of the last 10 Pac-10 teams to finish with 10-8 conference records, five were invited to the NCAA tournament, including Oregon in 2003, which won the conference tournament to get an automatic bid. The other five were relegated to the NIT.

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But if UW gets to 10-8, it would be 21-8 overall and have in its pocket non-conference wins over Gonzaga and Air Force (which was 18-4 entering a game at San Diego State on Wednesday night). UW would then have a chance to pad that résumé in the conference tournament.

UW senior guard Bobby Jones acknowledged this week that even thinking about the NIT is unsettling.

"It just goes to show you can have a high ranking and be undefeated to a certain point, but once you lose a game, if you start losing consecutively, just like that everything goes away," Jones said.

Romar's potential lineup changes — which he said he won't decide on until today — may indicate a placing of blame for what has gone wrong lately in a few specific areas.

But a look at the stats shows that it has been a team-wide failure during the three-game slump.

The Huskies are scoring 20 fewer points a game (66.7 compared with 86.8) than during their 16-2 start; they are allowing five more points per game (74.7 compared with 69.3); they are shooting worse overall (38.4 percent from 48.7 percent) and from the three-point line (29.3 percent from 35.0 percent), getting five fewer rebounds (35 from 40.1) and dishing out eight fewer assists (10.3 from 18.6).

Husky senior forward Jamaal Williams, who could be replaced in the starting lineup, said he thinks the team's lack of depth — the Huskies have become essentially an eight-man team of late — is becoming an issue.

"It's a long season and we are starting to wear down a little bit," Williams said. "But we've got to find whatever we need deep down to try to get this done. It's going to be tough."

UW's lack of height is also being exposed as opponents are packing in the middle and forcing the Huskies to shoot a lot of jumpers.

The Huskies also aren't getting a lot of easy baskets.

"The biggest thing is we're not getting any transition points," said guard Brandon Roy. "Teams are sending three guys back (on defense once they take a shot.)"

Tonight's game looked a lot more enticing a week ago when USC beat Arizona. But the Trojans lost at home to lowly Arizona State on Saturday, then suffered an even more significant setback Monday when Gabe Pruitt, the team's second-leading scorer, hurt his knee, an injury that will sideline him for at least three weeks.

Like Romar, USC coach Tim Floyd was non-committal about how the Trojans will change their lineup without Pruitt. But the tentative lineup released by the school's PR department lists freshman guard Sead Odzic in Pruitt's place.

NOTES

• Air dates have been set for two shows of ESPN2's "The Season" that will focus on the Huskies. The first will air at 9 p.m. Tuesday and the second at 4:30 p.m. Feb. 22. A film crew has been following UW for the last two weeks.

Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or bcondotta@seattletimes.com

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