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Updated Friday, February 1, 2013 at 12:46 AM

Huskies must learn to win ugly

By Steve Kelley
Seattle Times staff columnist

Nothing came easily for Washington on Thursday night against Arizona. No transition baskets. No layups. No wide-open threes off fast breaks.

That's how it's been for Washington this season. The season of the slog. Every game's a grind. Every win feels like a cage fight. Almost every possession is a hold-your-breath battle against the shot clock.

For most of coach Lorenzo Romar's wildly entertaining run at Washington, the Huskies have pressed and forced turnovers. They thrived in transition. They ran like a relay team. Turnovers were punished. Fast breaks raised the roof.

But Washington doesn't have the athletes or the depth to play that style this season. This team plays basketball in the half-court, a very tough place to make a living.

And Thursday against an Arizona team that looked primed to lose, Washington managed only five points and one field goal in the final four minutes.

This rhythm-less 57-53 loss was Exhibit A in the case against this edition of the Huskies, a team so different from so many of its fast-breaking, running-and-gunning, thrill-show predecessors.

Sometimes, even in a game such as this when the home crowd is standing and trying to lift Washington, it's almost impossible to recognize the team in the white uniforms.

Against Arizona the Huskies had two, only two, fast-break points. They can't win that way. Few teams can.

Romar wants to run. He wants early offense. He wants easy baskets. But he doesn't have the athletes, doesn't have the quickness at guard to make all of that happen. It's really that simple.

These are the un-Huskies.

Here's a statistic that crystallizes this game and the key difference between eighth-ranked Arizona and the troubled Huskies.

Both teams committed 17 turnovers, but Washington managed only 10 points off Arizona's mistakes. Arizona scored 20 points off Washington's 17 turnovers.

Senior Abdul Gaddy had six turnovers against the Wildcats. That's inexcusable for a veteran point guard. But he just doesn't have the quickness to beat the Pac-12 Conference's best guards. He can't break down guys off the dribble. He doesn't get to the hoop often enough.

Romar runs a lot of ball screens for him, hoping Gaddy can get free like he did on an acrobatic drive and score early in the game. But not enough gets done with the ball in his hands.

Too often Gaddy locks on to one player and forces passes he has no business making. Like a young quarterback who can't look off his primary receiver, Gaddy's decision-making has been suspect.

The other offensive problem — and for most of this 12-9 season the problems have been with the offense — is that Washington has gotten little production out of its power forward.

The Huskies have had difficulties spreading the floor because things are too clogged in the low blocks. None of their fours is a good passer, which means that once the ball goes into the low post, the paint becomes as crowded as the S Curves at rush hour.

But this is the team Romar has been dealt.

The Huskies have recruited a quick, pure point guard, Nigel Williams-Goss, who next season could quickly change the way this team looks. They are in the hunt for another point guard.

But for this season, they are going to have to find ways to win with defense and toughness. They had bunches of both on Thursday night. But against a team as good as Arizona, it wasn't enough.

Coaches always believe they can find a way to win, and Romar will coach up this team. He will ramp up the defense even tighter.

He will push Desmond Simmons to be more of a disruptive force inside. Think Reggie Evans. He will continue to demand more from Shawn Kemp Jr., who slowly is looking more comfortable but still needs more playing time.

This is one of those seasons that every program faces. A tweener season, stuck between the glories of the past and the promise of the future.

There will be more nights of celebration in Alaska Airlines Arena this winter. But every game and every win is going to be as grudging as Bataan.

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

More columns at www.seattletimes.com/columnists


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