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Updated Wednesday, November 14, 2012 at 10:53 AM

Flat Huskies take strange fall against Albany

By Steve Kelley
Times staff columnist

It was quiet inside Alaska Airlines Arena Tuesday night. Too quiet.

The crowd was sparse. Even Romarville, the student section, had vacancies.

Maybe the Hope Solo-Jerramy Stevens nuptials siphoned off some of the crowd. Well probably not.

More likely the town isn't sold on these new-look Huskies. With Terrence Ross and Tony Wroten gone early to the NBA, this is looking like a wait-and-see season at Washington.

And inside the arena, there was no energy in the stands and not much energy on the floor. It was as if people hadn't gotten the memo that the season had begun.

Who were these guys wearing the Husky colors?

Washington's first fast-break points didn't come until the 16th minute of the first half when Abdul Gaddy drove coast-to-coast.

For a program that has played at high revs for a decade, it was strange to watch this oh-my-gosh 63-62 loss to Albany. Strange to see Washington score only six fast-break points.

We've gotten used to watching Washington's full-court, 40 minutes of hell. But this night and this game felt more like 40 minutes of heck.

The Huskies had 10 points off Great Dane turnovers. It was as un-Husky-like as any game this building has seen since its remodel.

Welcome to the season of the great unknown. Washington basketball is undergoing a transformation. Romar has changed styles, running a new high-post offense, taking advantage of his size up front with 7-foot Aziz N'Diaye and 6-foot-10 Jernard Jarreau.

For a team that has won playing run-and-gun, this offense is going to take some more getting used to, for the players and for the fans. Who was this team that was working so uncharacteristically hard to score in its half-court offense?

Before the season, Romar promised that his team still will run, but Albany's pair of talented guards, Mike Black and Jacob Iati, did an excellent job of controlling tempo.

Teams that walk the ball up the floor have always given Romar's teams problems. But in the past Washington has been able to force the tempo with its defense. On this night the defense let down the team.

"We were definitely flat. There's no doubt," Romar said. "In the second half we came out with energy. We went up eight (48-40). We played good defense until the end of the shot clock, then someone would get away from us."

In the final minutes, Washington's defense continued to break down. The Huskies got beat continuously at the rim at the end of the clock.

With one second left on the shot clock, somehow Sam Rowley got free for an uncontested layup on an inbounds play that gave Albany a 56-53 lead. Just before that John Puk sprung loose for a dunk.

And time after time, slippery Black beat the Huskies off the dribble, got to the rim and fearlessly scored over the big men. Not once did the Huskies knock him to the floor.

On Black's winning drive, he beat C.J. Wilcox and no Husky came to help. Black scored the winner with 3.7 seconds left.

Give Albany credit for running its offense as if this were a practice. On the road it kept its poise after falling behind by eight points with 11 minutes left.

"I'll take full responsibility for this loss," Romar said. "You can't place the blame anywhere else. We should have done a better job of defending them, especially down the stretch. That's my responsibility."

It wasn't Romar finest hour.

"Blame the teacher," he said.

This season is going to be a challenge for him, probably the most difficult challenge since his first season of 2002, when he had to change the culture of the program.

This is as thin as the roster has been since Romar arrived from Saint Louis. He doesn't have anybody who can come off the bench and change the direction of the game by draining a couple of threes.

He doesn't have a Venoy Overton-type of guard, who can disrupt an offense and ignite a run that gets the crowd up and rumbling. Washington's crowd is one of the best in the conference, but it needs fuel.

Tuesday night, in front of an announced crowd of 7.041 was a harsh smack in the mouth.

This didn't look like Husky basketball, didn't feel like Husky basketball. It was almost chilly inside the arena and much too quiet.

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

Saturday

UW vs. Seton Hall, Uncasville, Conn., 4:30 p.m., ESPN3


MARK HARRISON / THE SEATTLE TIMES
Albany guard Mike Black scores the winning basket despite the defensive efforts of C.J. Wilcox (23) and Hikeem Stewart (4).




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