Team preview: Washington
Blue Ribbon Yearbook previews the 2006-07 college basketball season, exclusively on Insider.
(Information in this team report is as of October 1.)
There were some bitter defeats in the 2006 NCAA Tournament, from No. 14-seeded Northwestern State draining a fadeaway three-pointer from the corner to knock out Iowa, to the stunning UCLA comeback in the final minute that led to the image of Adam Morrison crying at mid-court with time remaining out on the clock, to Texas draining a three at the buzzer to knock out West Virginia.
And while Gonzaga probably wins the prize for most painful loss, blowing a 17-point second-half advantage and having to witness UCLA score the game's final 11 points, Washington's Sweet 16 setback to UConn probably ranked second. The Huskies led by 10 in the early stages of the second half, and allowed a game-tying three-pointer with 1.8 seconds remaining in regulation. Minus four players that had fouled out by game's end, Washington fell in overtime, 98-92. The score wasn't indicative of the extra session, though, as the Huskies briefly had possession down two points with 15 seconds remaining.
So how long does such a loss linger within a coach?
"In terms of not being able to sleep; and just being preoccupied by it, I'd say about a week," Washington coach Lorenzo Romar said. "For me personally, the goal is to win a national championship. Ideally, you'd like to imagine competing for one every year, but no one ever does.
"When you get into a situation of playing in the Sweet 16, and have a legit chance of winning and then looking ahead, you had a decent chance of advancing to the Final Four, those opportunities are very special. After you have a little time to reflect, it's 'Boy, these opportunities aren't handed to you' and it's tough when you come that close and don't take advantage."
A season after finishing 29-6 and also losing in the Sweet 16, the Huskies surprised some by winning another 26 games and finishing a game back of UCLA for the regular-season Pac-10 title at 13-5.
Washington wasn't far off its 2004-05 pace -- three of its seven loses came in overtime and another was decided by two points. Bizarrely, of the team's other three defeats, two came against Washington State, 78-71 and 77-64. Outside of those two wins, WSU finished 2-10 in Pac-10 play.
"You can say that just about any team, a bounce here and there and we're 30-3, sure, but the bottom line is, we weren't good enough to get it done," Romar said. "You look back after a few weeks, and yeah, it was a fantastic season."
Moving forward, this year's version of the Huskies is again talented, but it's an entirely different look from a season ago, where the foundation included four seniors, led by first-team consensus All-American Brandon Roy.
The official 15-player preseason roster includes just two seniors -- and they combined for all of 459 minutes last season -- and three juniors, one of which is a transfer ineligible to play this season while the other two have one career start between them.
Rounding out the team are six freshmen, including two red-shirts, and four sophomores. Seven of the 15 players haven't played a single minute at Washington.
"We're very inexperienced; this is the youngest group I've been around as an assistant or a head coach," said Romar, who started his collegiate coaching career as a UCLA assistant in 1992. "No question, with a group this young, as a coaching staff, you need to go slower. You must be patient, and most important, you can't break their spirit. You can be firm at times, but more so with a young group than an experienced team, you have to be careful of losing them. Once that happens, it's over, the season's gone.
"With an experienced team, guys know what's going on. For example, a veteran teams runs through preseason pretty smoothly, they're ready for that first game early on. That won't be the case this time around. I see this group being much-improved at the end of the season compared to the first few weeks of games."
Considering the incoming recruiting class was rated among the top five nationally and last year's group included two players that started 32-of-33 games and claimed Pac-10 All-Freshman honors, this is by no means a transition year at Washington.
"At the least, we expect to make the NCAA Tournament," Romar said. "And we want to advance once we're there, too.
"We'll throw them out there and let guys make mistakes early and let them learn from their mistakes. About the time you get to conference play, your players are a little more seasoned."
And while Romar plans on taking it slow during the preseason, his team's style of play will remain in tact: run the floor and play aggressive defense.