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Originally published February 15, 2012 at 6:55 PM | Page modified February 15, 2012 at 8:43 PM

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NCAA tournament berth is simple for Huskies: Win out

As his team winds down the season, coach Lorenzo Romar emphasizes the Huskies control what they can and don't worry about outside distractions.

Seattle Times staff reporter

Thursday

Arizona St. @ UW, 8 p.m., ROOT Sports

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For Washington, the path to a Pac-12 regular-season championship and a school-record fourth consecutive NCAA tournament appearance is painstakingly simple.

Win out.

Leave the bubble-watching, RPI-crunching and mock brackets to everyone else, said coach Lorenzo Romar when asked about postseason projections.

"Control what you can control," he said. "That's how I see it. We're in a situation where we can help control our future if we do what we're supposed to do. Beyond that I don't know what's going to happen."

With five games and three weeks remaining in the regular season, it can be maddening trying to forecast the multiple scenarios that could unfold in the most hotly contested conference race in years.

Only a game separates league co-leaders California and Washington from Oregon, Arizona and Colorado, who are tied for third place.

"I feel like we definitely can't lose another game because Cal is a good team and they're not going to allow themselves to keep losing," freshman guard Tony Wroten Jr. said. "So if we want to get the outright we're going to have to win every game from here on out."

The Huskies have been in a similar position the past two years.

In the 2009-10 season, they started 17-9 before closing the regular season with four straight wins and finishing third in the conference.

Last season the Huskies started 15-7 and posted a 2-3 record in their final five conference games to finish third.

Sophomore guard C.J. Wilcox remembers the nerve-wracking feeling last year of needing to win the conference tournament for the Huskies to push their way into the NCAA tournament.

This time, the Huskies can make things easier on themselves if they can close the way they did in 2010.

They finish the regular season with Thursday's 8 p.m. game at Edmundson Pavilion against Arizona State followed by the home finale versus Arizona before three road games at Washington State, USC and UCLA.

"We know if we don't win the outright (regular-season title), we need to win the Pac-12 tournament, which is hard to do," Wilcox said.

Wroten added: "You don't want to lose a few more games and then you have to win the Pac-12 (tournament) to get in. You want to be able to win the (title) outright and then have a little leeway."

Sophomore guard Terrence Ross likened the remaining games to a playoff-type scenario. "You win and you're in," he said, referring to the NCAA tournament.

To that end, the Huskies (17-8, 10-3 Pac-12) say they're not overlooking Arizona State (8-17, 4-9), which is 1-6 on the road.

In 10 years under Romar, Washington is 17-5 against ASU, the Huskies' best winning percentage against a Pac-12 team.

Despite their recent dominance against the Sun Devils, the Huskies say they're not underestimating Arizona State and eyeing Saturday's big rematch against Arizona.

In light of last week's dismal offensive displays, the Huskies aren't in a position to look past anyone.

Washington fell into a shooting slump in Oregon, when it shot 36 percent during a 25-point defeat to the Ducks. In their next game, the Huskies shot a season-low 34.8 percent — their lowest percentage in the past 40 games — in a three-point win at Oregon State.

During a radio interview, Romar said the Huskies are fortunate to be tied for first place considering their shooting woes.

"We haven't been making shots with regularity for a while now — for several weeks — and we're still able to somehow maintain a first-place situation," he told KJR. "They're just not going in right now. We're getting really good looks at the basket."

Washington is 9 of 47 on three-pointers in the past three games, largely because Wilcox, the team's best perimeter shooter, is recovering from a left leg injury that's negatively affected his shot. He's 4 of 17 outside the arc in the past three games.

Wilcox is unable to practice with the team and is limited to 150 shots each day.

"I'm just not getting reps at practice, and it's tough with my shooting," he said. "My shot's not falling, so I have to find other ways to help."

The Huskies have won six of the past seven games with defense and rebounding, while their usually high-scoring offense averages just 70.4 points and ranks fourth in the Pac-12 in conference-only games.

"I just can't see our team not making these shots down the stretch, and for me that's a positive," Romar said. "Things can only get better on the offensive end."

Note

• Wroten is one of five finalists selected by the U.S. Basketball Writers Association for the 2012 Wayman Tisdale Award given to the nation's most outstanding first-year player. The other finalists are Kentucky teammates Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Duke's Austin Rivers and Indiana's Cody Zeller.

Percy Allen: 206-464-2278 or pallen@seattletimes.com


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