There is a real sense of desperation for Washington heading in to this game against Oregon. Now 5-6 in the Pac-12 after a 4-0 start, even Coach Romar is admitting that there is no more room for error. Lose any of the last seven games, and an at-large bid to the NCAA tourney is out the window. If the Huskies lose tonight, winning the Pac-12 tournament is their only realistic hope of competing for the national title.
It’s pretty standard sports logic that the desperate team, especially at home, is tough to beat. Add on the fact that it’s a rivalry game against the Ducks, and it’d make sense to favor Washington. The only problem with that logic? The Huskies have been desperate a couple times this year. This isn’t the first time that the narrative has been “win here or else.” In particular, after the loss at Oregon earlier in the year, the third straight loss following the 4-0 start to the conference slate, led to a similar storyline leading up to the home showdown with Arizona. The Huskies lost that one, and haven’t shown anything positive since then apart from the 96-92 win over ASU.
After the thriller against the Sun Devils, I was cautiously optimistic that progress was occurring, mostly due to the career nights from Andrew Andrews and Shawn Kemp Jr. And then UW dropped both games in Southern California. Sure, they haven’t played a game at home since ASU, so it’s possible that some of what appeared to be progress could be continued tonight now that the Huskies are back in Seattle, but I don’t think I buy it at this point.
Instead, it’s starting to look like the run and gun, hyper-fast tempo of that win was an aberration. An example of the Huskies playing to the style of the Sun Devils, who run and run and run this year, and finding some energy and some new vitality in the process. But Oregon isn’t ASU, and they don’t play as fast as ASU, and so I am struggling to be optimistic. I’m struggling to really believe that Andrews and Kemp will suddenly seem like potential stars again.
That being said, I do think that tonight’s game will be competitive. The Huskies might not be a good team, but they have proven that they can stay close if they don’t fall way behind early. The losses to Oregon, Arizona, and UCLA were close until the end. But they have not shown a capability to win those big games.
Another thing working against the “UW is desperate” storyline is the fact that Oregon is also low-key desperate. Not the same kind of “save the season!” desperation that the Huskies are facing, but after an unexpectedly great start to the season, the Ducks lost three straight against Stanford, Cal, and Colorado. They won their most recent contest over Utah, but they would certainly like to put several wins, especially road wins over rivals, between them and that disappointing stretch in order to improve seeding in the NCAA tourney.
They can’t afford more losses, and even with Dominic Artis still injured, Oregon is incredibly balanced (five players averaging double-digit scoring, no one averaging over 11.3 per game) and will be focused no matter what. For the most part, Coach Altman’s team doesn’t dabble in the maddening inconsistency that has been (paradoxically) the norm for the Huskies this year. Oregon isn’t going to come out crazy flat and spend the rest of the contest digging out of a 20-point deficit. Even if they did, guys like E.J. Singler will be there to nail a few too-open treys in a row to break Washington’s back. That’s what Oregon does, and over the course of this year, it’s the sort of thing the Huskies just haven’t learned to overcome.
Maybe I’m wrong. I absolutely hope I’m wrong. The Huskies could rally around the desperation of the situation, Andrews and Kemp could once again step up and perform big. But at this point in the season, I believe it would just be a case of willful ignorance and blind optimism to project a Husky win.
Oregon 77, Washington 69