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Commentary: Is it time to hit the panic button for Washington’s basketball team?

UPDATED: Mon., Dec. 7, 2020

Utah forward Timmy Allen, right, shoots against Washington center Riley Sorn last Thursday in Salt Lake City.  (Rick Bowmer/Associated Press)
Utah forward Timmy Allen, right, shoots against Washington center Riley Sorn last Thursday in Salt Lake City. (Rick Bowmer/Associated Press)
By Percy Allen Seattle Times

SEATTLE – For the first time since 2002 – when Lorenzo Romar took over – the Washington men’s basketball team has started a season 0-3.

The Huskies return home from a dreadful three-games-in-five-days road trip in which they’ve lost by at least 14 points in each outing.

UW’s latest setback – a 76-62 defeat at Utah on Thursday – marked a slight improvement for a team that lost by 34 and 15 points respectively in its two previous games.

Here are three impressions.

The new offense isn’t working. That’s a simple and basic analysis of Washington’s revamped attack, which is supposed to feature an array of perimeter shooters. During his first three seasons, coach Mike Hopkins favored a low-post attack led by Noah Dickerson in the first two years and Isaiah Stewart last season. With redshirt sophomore Nate Roberts making his first start at forward and slowly maturing as a low-post scoring option, Hopkins installed a three-point attack as UW’s primary offensive weapon.

So far, that decision has been a miscalculation. After Thursday’s games, Washington ranked 279th among 285 Division I teams in 3-point field-goal percentage (18.9%). That statistic is even more distressing considering UW ranks 42nd nationally with 24.7 3-point attempts.

It might be too early to pull the plug on UW’s offense, but the Huskies rank 280th in scoring (52.0), and it’s difficult to imagine they’re suddenly going to shoot better with more practice.

No one is suggesting backup center Riley Sorn is going to save Washington’s season, but the 7-foot-4 backup center looks as if he’s deserving of more minutes after his latest performance. Keep in mind, the redshirt sophomore had played a total of four minutes in his UW career before Thursday. But against Utah, Sorn finished with eight points on 4-for-7 shooting, six rebounds and two blocks in 16 minutes. And the big fella with expansive wingspan is a towering defender in the middle of Washington’s 2-3 zone.

Sorn got beat a couple of times defensively and allowed a backdoor layup and dunk, but he also led the Huskies with five offensive rebounds. And he’s a mismatch nightmare offensively for opposing teams. Sorn is the antithesis of new UW’s 3-point offense, but he’s also a potential game changer if given minutes and opportunities.

Washington plays its next three games at home – without fans in the stands – against Seattle University on Wednesday followed by Oregon (Dec. 12) and Montana (Dec. 16). It’s not hyperbole to suggest, the crosstown battle against the Redhawks is a must-win game for the Huskies. SU lost 78-52 at UCLA on Thursday to fall to 3-2. UW needs to win a game to restore hope in a season that in many ways already feels lost.

Washington has a 15-game winning streak against Seattle U and needs to retain its dominance in the neighborhood rivalry to restore its ebbing confidence. It’s one thing to get blown out by No. 2 Baylor and drop some games on the road, but if the Huskies can’t win at home against non-Power 6 teams, then it’s time to hit the panic button.

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