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Updated Saturday, February 9, 2013 at 09:16 PM

Huskies still focused on NCAA tournament bid

By Percy Allen
Seattle Times staff reporter

LOS ANGELES — Lorenzo Romar has all but abandoned the Washington men's basketball team's bid to repeat as Pac-12 regular-season champions.

The Huskies are 13-10 overall, tied for fifth in the conference standings at 5-5 and three games behind conference leader Arizona with eight games remaining.

"I don't think we can win the regular-season title right now," he said. "We're too far behind. We're three games behind with a loss to the two who are already on top.

"I don't think we can do that at this point. Mathematically it's possible, but beyond mathematics I just think it's difficult."

While the league's regular-season title may be beyond their reach, Romar believes the Huskies can finish the season in the NCAA tournament even though they've lost five of the past six games.

He noted Washington started conference play with a 5-5 mark twice during his 11-year tenure and both times (2004 and 2010) it has advanced to the NCAAs.

The 2010 team won the Pac-10 title and claimed the league's automatic berth to the Big Dance.

However, Romar isn't pinning hopes of an NCAA tourney appearance on winning the Pac-12 tournament.

"Our goal is to try to win enough games so we can get an at-large bid without the (Pac-12) tournament," he said. "I definitely think that's possible.

"It's going to be difficult, but I think that's possible and that's what we're looking at regardless of what place we're in in the league."

Washington is 74th in the latest RPI, which is one of several criteria used by the NCAA selection committee in deciding the 68-team tournament.

Thirty of 31 teams are given automatic bids for winning their league tournaments — the Ivy League doesn't have a conference tourney and the regular-season champion gets the automatic berth — while the committee awards 37 at-large berths.

Teams in the RPI top 40 have a good chance of making the tourney.

Five of Washington's remaining eight games are at home, and Romar believes the Huskies can claim enough victories to impress the selection committee members and the computers.

The RPI rewards road wins and the Huskies could bolster its lackluster résumé with a win Sunday night against USC (10-13, 5-5) at the Galen Center. Since firing coach Kevin O'Neill last month, the Trojans are 3-3 under interim coach Bob Cantu.

Washington spent the past three days in Los Angeles recovering from Thursday's heartbreaking 59-57 loss at UCLA on a last-second jumper.

The biggest takeaway from the defeat: avoid turnovers.

"It's our No. 1 key for the SC game," Romar said. "Take care of the ball. We take care of the ball, we're in pretty good position right now if we do that."

Washington has committed at least 14 turnovers in the past five games. In five conference losses, UW committed 81 turnovers. In five conference wins, UW committed 56 TOs.

There hasn't been a common theme for the miscues, which have occurred in half-court sets, fast-break opportunities, entry passes into the post, offensive fouls and traveling violations.

No one on the team has been immune to the turnover bug: Six players have lost the ball at least 27 times this season.

"It's been a little of everything," sophomore forward Desmond Simmons said. "It's the one thing holding us back. We play good enough to win these games, but it's hard to win if you keep giving the other team the ball."

Note

C.J. Wilcox was limited in Saturday's practice due to soreness in his left foot, but is expected to play Sunday. He's dealt with the pain since January and wore a protective walking boot after Thursday's game at UCLA. An MRI last week revealed early stages of a stress fracture, Wilcox said. Romar contends the injury isn't serious.

"C.J. is not hurt," he said. "If I feel like the flu is about to come on, it's not wise for me to go on a 10-mile run that day necessarily. I probably need to rest that day, and I'll be fine. It's kind of like that."

Percy Allen: 206-464-2278 or pallen@seattletimes.com

RPI on UW
The NCAA tournament features a field of 68 teams. In the RPI rankings Saturday, the Huskies were No. 74.
Rank Team
70 Detroit
71 N. Dakota St.
72 Richmond
73 Texas A&M
74 Washington
75 California
76 New Mexico St.
Source: cbssports.com


STEPHEN DUNN / GETTY IMAGES
Washington coach Lorenzo Romar gives instructions to Shawn Kemp Jr. during the Huskies' 59-57 loss at UCLA on Wednesday that dropped UW to 5-5 in the conference.




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