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Originally published Saturday, January 13, 2007 at 12:00 AM

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UW Men | Young Huskies need to mature — quickly

Suddenly, the season isn't so youthful looking anymore. Washington's 78-77 loss at Stanford on Thursday night was its 16th game, passing...

Seattle Times staff reporter

BERKELEY, Calif. — Suddenly, the season isn't so youthful looking anymore.

Washington's 78-77 loss at Stanford on Thursday night was its 16th game, passing the halfway point of the schedule. The Huskies are guaranteed just 15 more games, including today's 2 p.m. date at California.

If only the team on the court would advance as quickly.

The loss to the Cardinal was another in which the Huskies seemed to fall victim to the vagaries of youth, blowing a 71-66 lead with four minutes left with a flurry of bad fouls, ill-timed turnovers and all-around goofs to fall to 11-5 for the season and 1-4 and eighth place in Pac-10 play.

But while the team might not be showing signs of maturing just yet, coach Lorenzo Romar is definitely feeling aged, calling the Stanford loss one of the most exasperating in his five seasons at Washington. Worse even than last year's loss at Palo Alto, when Justin Dentmon's foul in the final second allowed the Cardinal to force overtime.

"I don't know if there was a game where I was more unhappy," Romar said. "Last year's game here, we certainly had our opportunity and we didn't take advantage of it. But this year was just more frustrating. There were just so many [mistakes]."

In the last 1:35, for instance, Washington missed 3 of 4 free throws, lost two turnovers, and committed a perplexing foul when Ryan Appleby hammered Stanford's Anthony Goods in the backcourt with 27 seconds left and the score tied at 75. Goods made both free throws to put Stanford ahead for good.

Romar said Friday the play was a result of miscommunication. The coach had told his players to foul if Quincy Pondexter, who had missed his first free throw with UW trailing 75-74 with 29 seconds left, missed the second. When Pondexter made the second to tie the score, Romar didn't want a foul. But Appleby thought the foul call was still on.

"It was just a misunderstanding," Romar said.

The late-game meltdown seemed to highlight one of Washington's biggest holes heading into the season — the lack of an experienced floor leader to serve as a calming presence. While the Huskies blew a couple of games last season, they were 6-2 in contests decided by four points or less.

"From the outset, I've always said this team was going to have its ups and downs," Romar said of the Huskies, who feature four freshmen and two sophomores among their top seven players. "But we can't continue to use that [youth] as an excuse."

The question now is whether the Huskies can recover. Romar has several times referenced the 2003-04 team that started out 5-8 overall and 0-5 in Pac-10 play before rallying to qualify for the NCAA tournament.

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"I think we are talented enough to do [the same thing]," he said. "With the exception of the UCLA game, we've had a chance to win every [Pac-10] game, so we are close."

The concern is whether the Huskies still feel the same confidence to put that talent to full use as they did three weeks ago when they routed Louisiana State.

"That's kind of the danger, and we need to be aware of that," said sophomore forward Jon Brockman. "But I think our confidence level is where it should be. It hasn't sunk too low. We just have to get some momentum."

Notes

• Huskies C Spencer Hawes had a costly turnover after getting the ball after a rebound by Dentmon with just more than 40 seconds left and Washington ahead 74-72. Stanford's Lawrence Hill got the steal and converted the turnover into a three-point play. Hawes said he considered calling time but thought he saw an open teammate and tried to pass the ball.

• Appleby on his foul: "I thought they kind of wanted us to foul, so that's what I did. It was just one of those spur-of-the-moment type things at the end of the game."

• Brockman tipped the ball in with .02 seconds left and Washington down three. He said he didn't think there was time left to pass it back out for a three-pointer and hoped he might get fouled to create a three-point-play opportunity.

• Today's game is available on Comcast Cable, which is Ch. 17 in Seattle, Ch. 76 in Bellingham, Ch. 12 in Spokane, Ch. 409 on Dish Network and Ch. 656 on DirecTV. It will not be shown live on FSN due to other programming. California had already set the time because of its own TV deals in the Bay Area, so it could not be moved to a more suitable time for FSN in this area.

• Cal C Taylor Harrison, who didn't play against Washington State due to a sprained ankle, is expected to play today. But the Bears continue to play without C DeVon Hardin, out probably for the entire conference season with a stress fracture.

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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