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Originally published February 28, 2011 at 10:01 PM | Page modified March 1, 2011 at 5:43 PM

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Steve Kelley

It's time Lorenzo Romar gets the Huskies running again

Huskies face challenge with slow-paced UCLA and USC up next

Seattle Times staff columnist

Almost from the beginning, something about Washington's loss Sunday to Washington State didn't feel right.

The rhythm of the game didn't fit the setting.

There was Huskies guard Isaiah Thomas walking the ball up the floor as if he were playing for UCLA or Temple, or some other down-tempo team.

There was Thomas, slogging instead of jetting into the frontcourt, slowly getting Washington into its offense, perfectly playing into WSU's well-designed game plan.

There are few secrets in college basketball. Every coach with TiVo knows Washington plays fast. Washington wins fast.

The scouting report on the Huskies always is the same. Control tempo. Stop their transition. Limit their possessions and they can be beat.

Coach Lorenzo Romar recruits players he believes are willing to make the commitment to play up-tempo, who are willing to get in the kind of physical condition and play the kind of frenzied defense it takes to play fast.

Isaiah Thomas is one of those players.

But in Sunday's loss, Thomas looked restrained. The Huskies seemed willing to play as slowly as the Cougars. It was strange to watch, like seeing Snoop sing opera, or watching Seth Rogen act in a Quentin Tarantino movie.

It looked like the wrong team, playing the wrong game at the wrong place. It was a game that didn't belong at Edmundson Pavilion.

Now, because of that loss, Washington has made its life difficult.

Considered a lock for the NCAA tournament before they left for the desert two weekends ago, the Huskies (19-9) now likely have to win two more games just to get into the tournament.

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Now Romar is facing the biggest coaching challenge of his nine years at Washington. Make no mistake, entering this best month in college sports, Romar is on trial.

With two slowdown teams, UCLA and USC, coming to town this weekend, he has to find a way to speed up the game.

Romar has to find a way to make his team play fast again. He has a couple of practices to find ways to get them out of this funk.

This team is underachieving.

It hasn't had a signature victory all season. It hasn't had the kind of spurt where it rips off eight or nine wins in a row and identifies itself as a legitimate tournament threat.

The challenge for Romar is that this late in the season he can't remake his team. This up-tempo style is in his players' DNAs.

But now he has to find a way to play fast against a couple of teams that only play slow.

Even when UCLA had sprinters like Russell Westbrook, Arron Afflalo and Jordan Farmar, Bruins coach Ben Howland won games while scoring in the 50s and 60s.

Now, this less-talented team seems perfectly suited for Howland's slow style.

Romar has to convince his team that it has to impose its will on the Bruins. He has to put the game on Thomas' shoulders; has to make Thomas commit to pushing the ball up the floor.

Romar's instruction to his point guard should be simple: "Don't ever walk the ball up the floor. Beat the Bruins up the floor. Attack the UCLA defense before it can get set. And if you can't get to the basket, kick it to your three-point shooters, who should be running with you and should be open above the arc."

If it runs, Washington can win.

For most of Sunday's loss, the Huskies had no inside offense. UCLA, with Reeves Nelson, Josh Smith and Anthony Stover, is bigger and stronger than Washington State's front line.

But if Washington can make the UCLA big men run hard up the floor on every possession, it can get easier buckets for Matthew Bryan-Amaning, Aziz N'Diaye and Darnell Gant, and it can drain the energy out of the legs of the Bruins' post players.

Romar also needs to trap more. Press the Bruins. Create some turnovers. Speed up the game. That's a gamble. UCLA's guards handle the ball better than the Cougars, but the rest of this season, for Washington, is all about tempo.

There is no wiggle room left for the Huskies.

Washington has to find a way to run, in order to find a way to win.

Steve Kelley: 206-464-2176 or skelley@seattletimes.com

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About Steve Kelley

Steve Kelley covers all sports, putting his spin on matters involving both the home team and the nation.
skelley@seattletimes.com | 206-464-2176

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