Scott Woodward broke into a grin, perhaps knowing where the line of questioning was headed.
The Washington athletic director stood in the tunnel beneath Alaska Airlines Arena after the Huskies basketball team pulled out a thrilling win against Oregon State last month.
This was one of the few bright spots in a season that has gone terribly wrong. And yet despite the victory, Woodward fielded questions about the longterm viability of the UW men’s team and its coach, Lorenzo Romar.
As Washington appears headed to a third straight season without an NCAA tournament berth, Woodward expressed confidence in Romar.
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“Definitely,” he said. “He’s the right man for the job. And I don’t make that statement lightly.”
In April 2010, Romar signed a 10-year contract extension on a deal that pays him $1.7 million annually and expires after the 2019-20 season. It was the third extension since his original deal in 2002.
With six years remaining on the contract, there are no plans to renegotiate another extension. However, Woodward said that’s not an indication he’s unhappy with Romar’s performance.
“In every way, Coach is a great ambassador for this program, those kids, our school and this community,” Woodward said. “Now would he like a few more wins? Well, yeah. We all would. Coach knows that, and he would be the first to say that.
“But as far as I’m concerned, Lorenzo Romar is a perfect fit for Washington.”
After 12 years with the Huskies, the former UW point guard who returned to resurrect his former team is a victim of his success.
Romar, 55, is second on UW’s all-time coaching wins list at 252-141 and he’s being judged by the standards he established. His predecessor, Bob Bender, went 116-142 (.450) with two NCAA tournament appearances and five losing seasons in nine years.
During his first nine seasons, Romar guided Washington to six NCAA tournaments and three Sweet 16 appearances.
However, the past three seasons have fallen short.
The Huskies won the conference regular-season title in 2011-12, but failed to receive an at-large berth to the NCAA tourney.
“We did some good things that year,” Romar said before the season. “After a tough start (UW was 5-5), we came together during league play. We went 14-4 in the conference and won 24 games. But we didn’t finish as well as we would have liked.
“For fans, I’m sure some may look at that year as a disappointment because we didn’t make the NCAA tournament. I don’t know. I don’t necessarily see it that way.”
Last season, the Huskies finished sixth in the conference at 9-9. They were 18-16 overall.
The past two seasons, Washington is 33-29, including 15-13 and 7-8 in the Pac-12 this season.
Entering a rare Friday night game against Washington State, the Huskies are tied for seventh in the Pac-12 and would need a miraculous run to make the NCAAs.
There are several reasons to explain their current state.
The Huskies missed the mark in recruiting the past few years and failed to land several out-of-state, five-star prospects.
Since 2010, eight players have left the program to enter the NBA (Isaiah Thomas, Terrence Ross and Tony Wroten Jr.), transfer (Elston Turner, Clarence Trent, Mark McLaughlin, Martin Breuning and Hikeem Stewart) or due to medical reasons (Tyreese Breshers) — which has robbed UW of its stars and hurt the team’s depth.
Senior guard C.J. Wilcox was the only returner who started more than 15 games in 2012-13 for the Huskies, who were picked to finish eighth in the Pac-12 in a preseason media poll.
Weeks before the season, junior forward Shawn Kemp Jr. was diagnosed with Graves’ disease, an autoimmune disorder that causes enlargement of the thyroid.
In the opener, sophomore forward Jernard Jarreau suffered a season-ending knee injury. He was slated to anchor Washington’s high-post offense, which was installed last season.
Jarreau’s absence and Kemp’s affliction help explain why UW’s big men have produced just 32 percent of the scoring and the Huskies are forced to rely on a four-guard lineup that includes newcomer Mike Anderson, a 6-4 junior-college transfer.
Washington’s leading scorers are Wilcox, freshman Nigel Williams-Goss and sophomore Andrew Andrews. When one of them has an off night, the Huskies struggle.
After a 2-3 start, Washington revamped its ballhawking attack and implemented a prevent defense designed to keep guards away from the basket.
Midway in the season, Romar maintained the Huskies were making improvements. After the Oregon State win on Jan. 25 talk began to percolate around Montlake that this was Romar’s best coaching performance. The Huskies were 13-8 and third in the Pac-12 at 5-3 at the time.
“We’ve made progress,” Romar said back then. “Now it’s about finding some consistency and continuing to get better.” Since then, Washington is 2-5.
The start of the tailspin began Feb. 1 at Washington State, a 72-67 defeat that is still a head-scratcher.
“We felt we let that one get away,” Wilcox said. “That’s not to say that one game would have turned the season around, but we were in a good place and after that game things started to go the other way.”
To underscore the disappointing season, fan apathy is up and attendance is down — by 19 percent at 10,000-seat Alaska Airlines Arena, where the Huskies are averaging 6,439 fans.
“We have to give (fans) something to be excited about,” Romar said after 3,424 attended Washington’s 59-57 win over Utah on Jan. 8. “We’ve had a couple of down years before and we bounced back. I’m sure we’ll do that again.”
Percy Allen: 206-464-2278
On Twitter @percyallen