But now it's March and there is very little that is scary about Washington. The Huskies don't look like the Huskies.
They used to be scary.
Playing the Huskies was as uncomfortable as wearing wool in a rain forest. They were in-your-face, all scratches, bumps and bruises. They made the 94 feet feel like 60 and at times teams would swear there were eight Huskies on the floor at once.
They played the gospel according to coach Lorenzo Romar.
The Huskies swarmed like hornets. Turned point guards panicky. Dived after loose balls like sharks after red meat and forced turnovers that started fast breaks that led to dunks that turned the tide.
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Remember the first game of this season when a freaked-out McNeese State point guard, Daniel Richard, dribbled into backcourt trying to escape Venoy Overton’s pressure?
Washington was a team to be feared.
In November, the Huskies had multiple ways to beat you. They could win with speed and unrelenting pressure. They could win inside with whirling dervish Matthew Bryan-Amaning in the paint.
They could win with threes from players as diverse as Justin Holiday and Isaiah Thomas, Darnell Gant and Scott Suggs. Early in the season, this looked like the best stable of shooters in Romar’s nine-year Washington tenure.
Clearly Washington looked like the toast of a tepid Pac-10 Conference.
So many times, since the days of Brandon Roy, Will Conroy and Nate Robinson, Romar’s teams found ways to impose their will on opponents.
They won on the run. They won with defense. They won with three-point jump shots that sucked the will out of teams. They played like strong safeties with smooth jumpers.
They were thrilling to watch.
Even in this season of disappointment, the 20-10 Huskies have had their OMG moments.
Four times early in the season they scored more than 100 points. Their 106-63 win over Virginia in Maui in November still might be their most impressive performance of their season.
But now it’s March and there is very little that is scary about Washington.
The Huskies don’t look like the Huskies.
They are 4-6 in their last 10 Pac-10 Conference games. They have lost two of their last three at home, needing C.J. Wilcox’s remarkable 24-point second half last Thursday to escape from the slow death of the slowdown UCLA Bruins.
I wouldn’t have thought it could happen to this team, but Washington has lost its confidence. Instead of playing scary, they’re playing scared.
Going into the Pac-10 tournament where it plays Washington State on Thursday night, there is nothing about Washington that teams should fear.
The Huskies look tight. They aren’t playing with the freedom they had in the 4-0 conference start. They aren’t running, mainly because their defensive intensity and their defensive rebounding aren’t consistent forces.
And the heart of the team, the guy who, for most of this season was neck-and-neck with Arizona’s Derrick Williams in the race for conference player of the year, junior point guard Isaiah Thomas, is playing as if he’s carrying too heavy a load.
Thomas has to be the unstoppable force, always penetrating into the teeth of the defense, taking the hit from the big men, forcing the other team to collapse around him, making the right decisions in an eye blink.
But in the past few weeks, he hasn’t played like his usual fearless self. It has been strange watching Thomas avoid contact on his trips into the paint and seeing so many front-rimmed free throws.
The success of the Husky season now rests with Thomas’ resuscitation. The Huskies still have the most talent in the conference. They can win the conference tournament. They can get lucky with their seeding in an NCAA tournament that is filled with mediocrity.
But Thomas has to be the player that teams fear. He has to put the scary back in Washington.
It can happen.
Romar should sit Thomas down today and show him the video of the Huskies’ victory over Arizona in January.
Replay and replay and replay the play of the year, when Thomas dived into the tunnel, saved a loose ball, recovered and made the pass that led to a Gant three.
Thomas had 22 points and 10 assists in that game. As he often is, Thomas was the best player on the floor. That’s who he is and that is the player Romar needs to reclaim.
The second season starts Thursday. Can the Huskies play scary again? Can they amp-up their defensive pressure? Can they relax and make their threes? Can Thomas be the tough-minded leader he has been for so much of this season?
Washington should be entering the Pac-10 tournament this week with all of the answers.
Instead, they’re burdened with all of these questions and seeking a reason to be feared again.