Ready or not, Washington begins Pac-12 play Thursday at Arizona State.
While some may consider Sunday’s 73-67 win over Hartford – in which the Huskies trailed in the final three minutes – another reason for concern, coach Lorenzo Romar praised the team’s focus.
“Hartford took the lead, the game was back and forth,” he said. “We didn’t put our heads down. We stayed the course. If we can do that same thing when we go on the road and then make shots on top of it, I feel good about our team.”
Romar also commended the Huskies’ ball handling. They entered the game committing at least 10 turnovers in each of the previous six games, including 16 in their last outing. On Sunday, Washington had a season-low seven.
“Two things that had been bothering me and tonight I thought we got an A,” Romar said. “We maintained our focus for 40 minutes and we turned the ball over seven times, which is a season low. We had been turning the ball over too much after taking very good care of the basketball in the beginning of the year and we went back to taking care of it tonight so I would say we’re much further along now.”
The Huskies also did an amazing job at the free throw line where they were 26 of 30. Washington leads the Pac-12 with a 77.4 percent free-throw shooting percentage.
Still there were areas of concern.
For starters, the Huskies have to ask themselves how in the world did Hartford hang in the game for so long?
The Hawks (5-9) looked as if they would capture the upset and their biggest win of the season when they led 65-63 with 2:32 remaining.
From there, the Huskies outscored them 10-2. C.J. Wilcox buried a long jumper to tie the score 65-65. After Nate Sikma missed a shot, Nigel Williams-Goss collected the rebound. He dribbled quickly down the court, staggered off a screen and didn’t hesitate to release a mid-range jumper that put UW up for good.
Andrews, Wilcox and Desmond Simmons each hit a pair of free throws down the stretch to cap the scoring for the Huskies.
The Huskies are 3-0 in games decided by six points or less. Those wins came against seemingly overmatched opponents (Montana, Long Beach State and Hartford). And this doesn’t take into account UW has lost every game by seven or more points.
Still, the Huskies believe their narrow wins will help them during the Pac-12 season.
“It depends on the way you look at it,” Wilcox said. “We look at it as we played close games so if we end up in another one, we know how to handle ourselves.”
Even though Hartford scored just 67 points, Washington still has problems defensively. The Hawks converted 55.8 percent from the field, including 9 of 18 on three-pointers.
For the second straight year, Washington enters conference play at 8-5. In 2011-12 they rebounded from a sluggish start, won the regular-season conference crown with a 14-4 record and finished 24-11. Last season’s non-conference performances were a barometer of the league play as Washington tied for sixth in the Pac-12 at 9-9 and bottomed out at 18-16 overall.
“We still have room to grow,” Wilcox said. “Guys that haven’t been here are going to find out what it’s like playing in our conference, but I think we will have a really good learning curve. After a couple of league games, to see how we have to play, once we get that I think we will be better in playing to our potential.”
In each of its first four games, Washington faces teams with double-digit wins, including No. 1-ranked Arizona (13-0) and No. 21 Colorado (11-2). The others include: ASU (11-2) and Utah (11-1).
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