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Originally published Saturday, January 6, 2007 at 12:00 AM

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Washington men desperate for defensive breakthrough

Washington fans who don't make it to Edmundson Pavilion for the Huskies' game today against Arizona State will likely spend the day channel...

Seattle Times staff reporter

Washington fans who don't make it to Edmundson Pavilion for the Huskies' game today against Arizona State will likely spend the day channel flipping between the Huskies and the Seahawks' playoff game — both contests begin at 5 p.m.

And they shouldn't be too surprised if they turn away from the Huskies for a while and turn back only to find the score hasn't changed a whole lot.

Under their first-year coach Herb Sendek, the Sun Devils have replaced Washington State as the least offensive team in the Pac-10, averaging just 63.9 points.

That would seem to make the Sun Devils the perfect opponent tonight for the Huskies, who desperately need not only a win, but to re-establish their defensive prowess.

The Huskies fell to 0-3 in the Pac-10 (10-4 overall) with Thursday's 96-87 loss to Arizona. The Wildcats shot 65 percent, the best shooting by a Huskies opponent since Dec. 20, 1987, when another Arizona team shot 70 percent in Seattle. That came on the heels of last Sunday's game at UCLA in which the Bruins shot 60 percent.

Washington coach Lorenzo Romar said Friday he's far from thinking that the sky is falling on his team's season. But he'd like his players to play defense like it is.

"We need to press mentally, defensively," Romar said. "We need to be concerned defensively that the world is coming to an end, that this is serious stuff. That's the area where we've got to get better."

Romar had few issues with UW's offense Thursday as the Huskies shot 54 percent and lost just 11 turnovers after averaging 21 in defeats last weekend to USC and UCLA.

He credited some of the offensive improvement to the team's new starting lineup — Ryan Appleby started at guard in place of Justin Dentmon and Phil Nelson at forward in place of Quincy Pondexter. Romar said the lineup — also including Adrian Oliver, Jon Brockman and Spencer Hawes — will go again today.

"We'll see what happens," Romar said. "But I think there was a reason that our turnovers were cut down [against Arizona] and that there was a reason that offensively, I think we started the game off better."

Romar, however, has said all along he thought this year's lineup could change the most of any of his five seasons at Washington. This is the fourth different lineup this year, and Romar said more changes could be coming.

Certainly, the coach is still searching for answers on defense. On Thursday, Romar — usually a stickler for man-to-man defense — went with a 2-3 zone for most of the second half. Arizona took advantage by firing away from the outside and making 6 of 10 three-pointers in the second half (11 of 20 for the game).

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Romar said, "I think we stayed too long in the zone," and that the Huskies should have "gone back and forth a little more to disrupt their rhythm a little bit."

The zone could make another appearance today, and if it does, expect ASU to try the same strategy as Arizona. While the Sun Devils don't score much, they like to air it out from three-point range. They've attempted 297 for the season, second-most in the Pac-10. But while Arizona leads the Pac-10 in three-point percentage, ASU is eighth, making just 33 percent.

For Washington, the game looms as a virtual must-win. The Huskies and Sun Devils are tied for the cellar of the Pac-10, and Washington will play its next three games at Stanford, California and Washington State. Romar said the specter of that road swing should be enough to fire up his team today, even if the arena proves less than energetic with some ticket-holding fans likely opting to watch the Seahawks.

"If we go out and can't get up to play this last home game [before the trip], then we've got real problems," Romar said.

Notes

• Romar revealed that Brockman has played the past three games with a sore right shoulder that he apparently injured in the Weber State game Dec. 22. "He went a week where he didn't shoot [in practice] at all," Romar said. "He's been able to shoot free throws this week, but in the game, every time he goes up to shoot there was a lot of pain. But he's back to normal now."

• Romar said Hawes, who has been battling a stomach flu, was much better Friday.

• Dentmon played a career-low 14 minutes against Arizona and didn't start for the first time in his career for performance-related reasons. "We need Justin Dentmon to play well for this team to be as good as it can be," Romar said. "Justin just needs to keep working hard, and he will find his way."

• Sendek coached North Carolina State for 10 years before coming to ASU to replace Rob Evans, who was fired. Sendek made one previous trip to Seattle, when the Huskies beat N.C. State 68-64 in December 2004.

• Washington has won seven in a row against Arizona State dating to a 79-77 overtime loss on Feb. 8, 2003, its longest current winning streak against any conference team.

• The game is officially a sellout, though some tickets might become available shortly before tipoff.

Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or bcondotta@seattletimes.com. Read his blogs on Washington football and basketball at www.seattletimes.com/huskies.

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