Despite losing twice, Huskies' NCAA goal remains reachable
Washington assistant coach Cameron Dollar was the last to pack up and leave the Huskies' locker room at Pittsburgh on Saturday. Among the items he...
Seattle Times staff reporter
PITTSBURGH — Washington assistant coach Cameron Dollar was the last to pack up and leave the Huskies' locker room at Pittsburgh on Saturday. Among the items he took with him — a little hope.
In a Washington season that has often defied convention, the Huskies lost two "must-win" games in four days — each by scores of 65-61 — yet came out feeling as if their goals are still reachable.
"We're not even close to being over," Dollar said.
You might not expect a coach to say anything else.
But that feeling permeated the locker room after the Huskies' loss Saturday at No. 7 Pitt, UW's best road performance of the season considering the opponent and surroundings.
And while the defeat left the Huskies at 16-10 overall — a record that has NIT written all over it, especially since UW's RPI remains at No. 80 — events elsewhere were conspiring to make it at least a faint possibility that Washington could reach the NCAA tournament as an at-large team.
Oregon and Arizona each lost twice over the weekend, keeping the Huskies within striking distance of them. In fact, should UW win at Oregon State and Washington State beat Oregon on Thursday night, the Huskies would go to Eugene on Saturday night with a chance to pass the Ducks in the Pac-10 standings.
No doubt, a lot to ask of a team that has won just one road game all season.
And even if UW pulled off the Oregon sweep, the Huskies would then have to beat USC and UCLA at home on the final weekend to get in position to at least be in the discussion.
But if they did it, the Huskies might be able to move past both Oregon and Arizona — the Wildcats are 8-7 in conference play and finish with three road games to conclude the regular season — and into fifth place in the final standings in a year when almost everyone concedes that the Pac-10 will have five teams invited to the tournament.
"It's not something we can't do," Dollar said.
The odds, though, are still long. But it could be a little more plausible if the Huskies continue to play in the fashion they have the last four games while cleaning up a few of the items that prevented them from beating WSU and Pittsburgh, namely turnovers and hitting a few shots down the stretch.
Washington stayed in it until the end against the Cougars and Panthers — each Top 10 teams this week — by slowing down on offense and focusing on an inside-out attack centered around Spencer Hawes and Jon Brockman (the two have combined to take 105 of UW's 218 shots in the last four games), while tightening the defense and dominating the boards.
Pitt, for instance, entered the week ranked No. 27 in the nation in rebounding at plus-six per game, but was outrebounded by the Huskies 42-32. And UW has held four of the last six teams it has played to 44 percent shooting or less after allowing six of the eight teams before that to shoot better than 50 percent.
"We're just playing the right way now," Dollar said. "We're playing with a purpose on both ends of the floor. Our foundation had been so out of whack before."
Turnovers remain Washington's biggest impediment. The Huskies had 16 to Pitt's six Saturday, with the Panthers scoring 21 points off turnovers to Washington's six.
"I think there are a lot of positives we can take from this as long as we channel it the right way," Hawes said. "I think as much as any other loss, we can benefit from this."
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