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Husky Men's Basketball

The latest news and analysis on Husky men's hoops.

March 19, 2008 at 10:21 PM

Valpo aftermath

You didn’t necessarily think it was going to end tonight. Not once Jon Brockman shook off the warmups and entered the game midway through the first half, then hit six of his first eight shots.
But if it was going to end, you figured it would end this way —- with a lot of missed free throws, and clanked shots and a general inability to get it done when it really counted.
“Free throws, finishing games, we had numerous opportunities where we could have stepped up,” Brockman said, agreeing that the 72-71 loss to Valparaiso was pretty much a microcosm of the season. “A lot of times in close games like that it’s just the more mentally strong, experienced team (that wins). The team that isn’t going to get flustered and isn’t going to change the way they play but just play the same way the whole time.”
The Huskies finish 16-17 overall, their first losing season since Lorenzo Romar’s first year in 2003, and 2-7 in games decided by four points or less.
They also don’t take advantage of the second (or maybe it should be third) chance given to them by the CBI to make something of this season.
“They just wanted it more than us today,” said UW guard Joel Smith.
Maybe, though no one really questioned the effort a whole lot afterward.
Speaking specifically of this game, the Huskies were definitely hurt when Artem Wallace went out with a knee injury less than two minutes in. For all the things he’s not, he is one of UW’s best defenders, and Valpo immediately took advantage by going inside time and again. Anybody who didn’t know who Bryan Bouchie is knows who he is now after he scored 20 points on 9-12 shooting.
Wallace suffered what may be a serious ACL injury, though it won’t be known for sure until he is examined further, and that may not happen for a few days. Wallace said later his knee simply buckled as he tried to jump for a rebound. “I hope it’s just a sprain,” he said, though otherse feared it may be worse.
Wallace’s absence helped force the hand on the decision to use Brockman. Romar said he hoped he wouldn’t have to play him in this game at all.
“When neither team scored too much early, we decided to give him an opportunity just to see how he would look,” Romar said.
Brockman looked just fine on offense, hitting 9-13 shots and grabbing 12 rebounds. But he didn’t seem to move well on defense, saying he couldn’t jump and didn’t have much explosion, and with Matthew Bryan-Amaning and Joe Wolfinger each struggling, as well, Valpo’s inside guys had some of their best days of the season.
“He didn’t have his normal spring,” Romar said. “Even during timeouts, as he walked back out on the floor, I could see as the game progressed his limp became stronger.”
With Wallace out and Brockman still gimpy, Valpo, which came in with a reputation as a dangerous three-point shooting team, scored 34 points in the paint.
“They didn’t go crazy from the three-point line (7-25) but I think that spread us out and we just had one-on-one coverage (inside),” Romar said.
So that was a problem specific to tonight.
The other problems, however, we’ve seen all season.
UW hit just 11-24 free throws, 3-12 in the second half, with Brockman missing two that could have put UW ahead with 4.7 seconds left. He finished the game 4-8, sadly almost right on his average of 53.6.
Brockman said he had hit 84-100 in practice Tuesday and felt like he was going to make them. He said later that “it’s a mental thing.”
But he wasn’t alone. Quincy Pondexter was 2-5, Tim Morris 3-5 and Justin Dentmon 1-3.
“We definitely were a horrible free-throw shooting team this year and that’s one of the keys that we need to focus on this summer as a whole,” said guard Joel Smith.
Said Romar: “If we were a decent free-throw shooting team. I firmly believe we’d be in the NCAA Tournament.”
UW finishes the year at 58.6 percent from the line, the second-worst in school history (worst was the 2000-01 Huskies of Bob Bender at 57.5)
UW also simply couldn’t convert down the stretch, missing its last eight shots in the final 3:10. Brockman, Pondexter, Dentmon and Ryan Appleby all had makeable shots in that stretch that just didn’t go down.
‘It’s frustrating,” said Smith, who played one of his best games of the season with nine points and three assists in 20 minutes. “We scrapped and tried to get the job done. We just couldn’t pull it out in the last couple of minutes.”
Just like the two WSU games, or the Pitt game, or the Stanford game, or the two Cal games.
UW ends the year on a three-game losing streak, the defeats coming by a combined seven points.
“I’m obviously very disappointed,” Romar said speaking of the game, and surely the season.
It was a somewhat weird atmosphere all night with just 3,227 in attendance. But when things got exciting, the crowd got loud, and no UW players or coaches used the somewhat odd surroundings as an excuse.
“This is our homecourt,” Smith said. “It shouldn’t be a weird atmosphere at all no matter how many fans are there. We still have to bring it to the floor.”
UW will lose money on the deal, having to pay a $60,000 guarantee for the right to host. It figured it needed at least 4,000 to break even. But Husky officials said they would do it again, saying their ultimate purpose is to provide opportunities for their athletes. “I’m grateful we got a chance to participate although we had a quick departure,” Romar said.
The loss came two years and one day after the Huskies beat Illinois to advance to the Sweet 16 for the second straight season.
The Huskies may seem far away from such heady days now.
But Romar remains confident the program is on the right track, and while I know there is frustration in the fan base, it’s absurd to even bring up the issue of Romar’s future. He’s 119-72 in six years at UW, a winning percentage just shy of that of Marv Harshman (who was 246-146) and miles beyond his predecessor, Bender, who was 116-142.
Sure, there are questions about where it’s all headed, and lots of issues about the future to ponder.
I won’t get into those tonight as we’ll have lots of time to ponder those later —- a lot more time than anyone wearing purple and gold hoped.



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