PULLMAN – Normally, Lorenzo Romar isn’t overly concerned with the Pac-12 conference standings.
Like most coaches, his attention is consumed with the next drill, the next practice, the next opponent or the next recruit.
However, this season Romar is watching the Pac-12 race more intently than ever before. And he’s encouraging the Huskies to pay attention as well.
“That’s something I don’t really talk about — the standings — but this year, we’ve talked about it more,” Romar said. “The reason we have is we started out the way we did. We were so poor defensively. Our record wasn’t the best. We didn’t play great basketball.
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“I think it’s important now for us to see the big picture and see where we’re at, because it’d be easy to still think about how we were, and not realize what we accomplished. We’ve talked to our team about that. We had the injuries. … We had the adversity, and this is where we are.”
After a loss to then-No. 10 Connecticut on Dec. 22, the Huskies fell to 6-5 and the season seemed as if it was over just as it was beginning.
Since then, Washington (13-8, 5-3 Pac-12) has resurrected its NCAA tournament hopes and looks to conclude the first half of the conference season on a high note when it plays at rival Washington State at 3 p.m. Saturday.
Romar often reminds the Huskies of the improvements they have made over the past five weeks and what they need to do to avoid a setback.
“Do we want to go back to poverty?” he said. “Do we want to go back there? Or do we like the way this feels? And in order for us to stay here, these are some of the things we’re going to have to do, and that’s one of the reasons we’ve brought it up and made them more aware of it this year.”
The Huskies are locked in a three-way tie with California and Arizona State for third place in the Pac-12. No. 1 Arizona is on top of the standings, followed by UCLA.
“Our goal since the beginning of the year was to get to the NCAA tournament and we faced a lot of adversity, but we’ve bounced back and put ourselves in a position where that’s actually a possibility,” said freshman guard Nigel Williams-Goss, who is coming off a career-best 32-point performance last Saturday against Oregon State. “So I definitely follow how teams are doing. If we finish in the top four, we should be pretty safe.”
If the Huskies are watching the standings, they’ve surely noticed Washington State (8-12, 1-7) is tied for last in the conference.
The Cougars have struggled offensively without leading scorer DaVonte Lacy, who has missed the past six games due to a rib injury. He also missed two games due to an appendectomy.
Without the 6-foot-4 junior shooting guard from Curtis High in University Place, WSU loses a dynamic scorer who averaged 17.7 points in 12 games. The Cougars average just 49 points when Lacy is out of the lineup.
They’ve set historic lows this season in scoring, including a 60-25 defeat at Arizona, which was the fewest points for a WSU team since 1938.
Lacy was cleared to practice this week.
“I think there’s a chance he could play this Saturday,” Bone said Tuesday. “It was a four- to six-week diagnosed rehab time and four weeks is this Sunday. So he’d make it right on the crust there, but we’ll see.”
Washington prepared this week as if Lacy will play.
Despite a six-game winning streak against Washington State and the Cougars’ current troubles — WSU has a four-game losing streak — the Huskies don’t believe Saturday’s game will be easy.
“Going into play in Pullman you just look at the numbers alone and there could be a mental letdown,” Romar said. “But … we played them three times last year and every time we played them it was a fight.
“And I don’t see any other reason it won’t be a fight this time. If our guys can come in — I didn’t say win, lose, what the score’s going to be — if we can come in with the right mindset, that will tell us a lot about our team.”
Percy Allen: 206-464-2278 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @percyallen.