While I hardly was surprised by what I saw from the Huskies in their latest loss (this one to the Beavers), I almost had convinced myself that the No. 9 Cougars were so unflappable that they were immune to turning in a bad performance.
Consider them flapped after last night's upset loss to No. 23 Oregon, the Cougars' personal kryptonite.
There were a lot of reasons why WSU lost this game -- 14 turnovers (the most since a game in November), the hot shooting of Oregon's Tajuan Porter (4-of-6 from 3-point range) and equally cold shooting of Derrick Low (3-of-11 overall), the strange decision by Tony Bennett to give meaningful minutes to some little-used guards, ineffective inside play, the inability to exploit mismatches on the offensive end -- but the biggest in my book is this:
Oregon -- who Washington State lost to for the second time this season and 13th time overall -- is just a darn bad matchup for the Cougs.
No other team in the Pac-10 has the quickness and shooting prowess on the perimeter that the Ducks possess. And while the Cougars often get by on their scrappy nature and execution, both offensively and defensively, the one thing that can never be manufactured is athleticism. Just like "you can't teach tall," you can't teach quick, either. The Ducks have it, with Porter and former McDonalds All-American Aaron Brooks, and the Cougars don't. Oregon was able to penetrate time and time again, and WSU had no answer.
While WSU plays well together, Bennett is right when he reminds his team and fans that the Cougars walk a fine line; they simply aren't talented enough to make a bunch of mistakes and get away with wins against good teams. And although Oregon had been sliding as of late, that's still a good team -- especially when it shoots 11-of-25 from behind the arc.
The biggest concern to me is that the two guys who really make the Cougars go -- Low and Kyle Weaver -- just aren't bringing the same production they were early in the season. I think Bennett has been OK with not asking too much of them over the past month or so, as he seemed reluctant to wear them out prior to tourney time, but the time is now to ask them to carry the load once again. They both need to be more assertive on offense, and I think Bennett will increase their load as we head down the stretch and every game means more.
As for the Huskies, if it's possible for a seventh-place team to overlook anyone, this team did it. Washington was plagued by more of the same stuff that has cursed them all season. While the Beavers have shown this season that experience doesn't necessarily guarantee success in the Pac-10, that experience was precisely the difference last night.
The Huskies racked up a mind-boggling 21 turnovers last night, and point guard Justin Dentmon was particularly horrible, totalling six turnovers and just two assists. It's pretty safe to say that at this point he's the worst point guard in the Pac-10, and about all you need to know about the Huskies is that Lorenzo Romar doesn't have a better alternative on his bench.
Want another mind boggling stat? The only player on Washington's roster last night with a positive assist-to-turnover ratio was Ryan Appleby, who had four assists and three turnovers. (Hans Gasser and Phil Nelson, who played six minutes each, at least finished even with zero and zero.)
I know it's like beating a dead horse, but Husky fans must be torturing themselves with "what ifs" -- the main one being, "What if we even had just a servicable point guard?" This team would be scary. I even made the statement to a friend yesterday that this is the kind of team I could see winning the NIT, that it was playing much better ball lately.
At this point, I'm just going to pretend that I never said that.
So, what are the Huskies left with? Not much, save for winning the Pac-10 Tournament. I suppose if they beat No. 23 Oregon, USC and No. 4 UCLA to finish out the regular season, then win a couple of games in the Pac-10 Tournament, they might have a slim shot at an at-large berth, but there is little evidence to suggest even that type of run is in the offing.
It's time for Romar to pack it in for the year, suck it up, stop trying so hard to win every game and figure out a way to get his young kids better. Quincy Pondexter finally played more than 22 minutes for the first time since the first WSU game, but Adrian Oliver totalled just 19 minutes and Nelson, as mentioned before, played only six. If this is where Washington's bread is going to be buttered over the next two years or so, it's time to let them take their lumps. You know what Justin Dentmon can do (not much); find out what these other guys can learn down the stretch.