A year ago today, Washington was 14-4 and seemingly poised for their first Big Dance invitation since 2011. But then the unthinkable happen – the Huskies lost 11 of their next 13 games. It was an epic tailspin that continues to haunt the Huskies.
Forgive Husky fans if they wait just a little bit longer before jumping on a Washington men’s basketball team’s bandwagon that appears to be racing toward the NCAA tournament for the first time in five years.
The UW die-hards have been through this before.
A year ago, Washington was 14-4 and seemingly poised for its first Big Dance invitation since 2011.
Utah @ UW men, 5:30 p.m., ESPNU
But then the unthinkable happened – the Huskies lost 11 of their next 13 games. It was an epic tailspin that continues to haunt the Huskies.
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“Last year is always in the back of my mind because I know how quickly it can turn,” senior captain Andrew Andrews said. “I just try to – not so much say it to the guys – I try to make sure that we’re staying on top of what we need to stay on top of. Make sure that we know we have a lot of season left.”
After 18 games, Washington is once again enjoying surprising success midway through the season. The Huskies are 13-5 overall and on top of the Pac-12 at 5-1.
As good as they’ve been playing recently, there remains a large contingent of skeptical UW fans still waiting for the proverbial other shoe to drop.
Coach Lorenzo Romar can’t guarantee the Huskies won’t fall flat in the second half of the season again, but he believes the makeup of this year’s team is better suited to handle adversity.
“Last year’s team and this year’s team have zero in common,” he said. “Zero. Except that we started with similar wins and losses. Other than that, there’s zero in common.”
Unlike Andrews, Romar has put last season behind him for the most part. However, that’s not to say the 2014-15 collapse hasn’t impacted this season.
In fact, last season’s failures prompted Romar to return to the coaching and recruiting tactics he used that guided Washington to six NCAA tournament appearances during his first nine years with the Huskies.
“We were in a situation where there was a little slippage starting with me,” Romar said. “It just taught me a lot about the importance of having guys that really want to be with you through the tough times and the good times. It taught me how important that is.”
Eight players who started the 2014-15 season with the Huskies left the team via dismissal, transfer, graduation or retirement. Romar replaced them with seven freshmen and a junior-college transfer who he said “had a burning desire to be a Husky.”
“We made some decisions in recruiting and swung and missed,” Romar said. “But we recruited those guys. We took them on with the intent that we were going to make it work and it didn’t work out. That’s no fault to any of those guys.
“It just didn’t work out. But we just decided this is really how we’re going to do this from here on out.”
After last season’s phenomenal start, Washington lost 77-56 at Utah, which was the first of seven straight defeats — the longest losing streak in Romar’s 14 years at UW — and the beginning to the end of a promising season that began with 11 consecutive wins.
As fate would have it, the Huskies face the Utes (13-5, 3-3) at 5:30 p.m. Sunday at Alaska Airlines Arena.
Utah thoroughly whipped UW at the Huntsman Center last January, but that 21-point defeat alone didn’t necessarily push the Huskies over the edge. The next day, the team dismissed star center Robert Upshaw, its record-setting shot-blocker, and the Huskies couldn’t overcome a roster ravaged with injuries.
“We could see it coming internally,” Romar said when asked about the train-wreck finish. “My thought was hopefully we could hold on as long as we can. But internally there was just too much going on.”
Fast forward one year, and there’s renewed merriment on Montlake.
Scoring is up 26 percent for the Huskies, who average 85 points. They’ve already won as many Pac-12 games as they did last season. UW leads the nation with 7.3 blocks per game and is sixth in rebounding at 48.9.
Andrews, the Pac-12 scoring leader who averages 22.0 points, is an early conference MVP candidate and Dejounte Murray leads Pac-12 freshmen at 15.1 points per game.
Romar, who said Friday’s practice was one of the best of the season, appears genuinely fond of a group that seems to have embraced the grind of a 30-game, five-month regular season.
“These guys don’t have any preconceived notions about how things are supposed to go,” Romar said. “They’re not telling us what to do. They want to know what to do.
“Sometimes older guys get set in their ways and they will question. These guys don’t question.”
• Freshman backup forward Devenir Duruisseau, who suffered a concussion in practice last week and sat out the past three games, is probable for Sunday.