Ducks up creek without Brooks vs. Huskies
Oregon, playing without star Aaron Brooks, looked like it wanted to be anywhere but Seattle on Thursday in its loss to Washington, writes David Albright.
SEATTLE -- Aaron Brooks must have wanted to change the channel.
While the suspended senior point guard was forced to watch Thursday night's game at Washington on TV from an undisclosed location, his Oregon teammates looked like they wanted to be anywhere but a raucous Hec Edmundson Pavilion to avoid playing the Huskies without him.
Before the game was even a minute old, the Ducks were down 7-0 and coach Ernie Kent had seen enough. He was forced to call a timeout to try and stem the tide. Despite a couple of Oregon runs, the deficit grew to double digits several times in both halves as the Ducks put forth a mostly uninspired effort to start a rough four-game road trip and dropped an 89-77 decision to the previously reeling Huskies.
Make no mistake, without Brooks in the lineup, these weren't the same Ducks that sprinted out to an 18-1 start (6-1 in the Pac-10) and a No. 7 national ranking. To be fair, take away a player who has probably been the Pac-10 Player of the Year to date and who deserves to be in the conversation for national POY honors, and many teams would wilt.
"We can't use the excuse of not having Aaron here," Kent said. "This is a good enough basketball team that could have played a little bit better basketball. [Washington] took the fight to us and we didn't respond well enough to it.
"[Aaron] is our leader and we know that. But at the same time he has nothing to do with blocking out [Jon] Brockman and blocking out Spencer [Hawes] on the boards. That's not Aaron. Weak side rotations, that has nothing to do with Aaron either. So there were some things on the floor that, yes, we missed Aaron. But there's other things on the floor that have to do with the guys in that locker room and we didn't do a good enough job in this ball game."
Kent didn't have to look far to find the many flaws:
• Washington dominated the Ducks on the glass 33-22, including 13-4 on the offensive end.
• Oregon turned the ball over 18 times, leading to 25 Husky points.
• Washington shot nearly 53 percent from the floor, including 6-of-14 from beyond the arc -- both well above what the Ducks' defense had been allowing this season.
To their credit, the Oregon players knew there was more to the loss than simply not having Brooks in the lineup.
"They played harder than we did and it seemed like they wanted it more than us," said forward Bryce Taylor, who led the Ducks with 19 points. "We didn't come out with that fire that we needed to right off the bat. We were almost too laid back. You want to come in and be calm in a hostile environment but not to the point where you're making careless turnovers and not taking care of the ball."
Brooks, who served the second of his University-issued two-game suspension for a flagrant foul committed against Washington's Ryan Appleby in last March's Pac-10 Tournament, will be back in the lineup for Saturday's game at No. 18 Washington State.
Oregon responded from its first loss of the season back on Jan. 4 (84-82 vs. USC) by beating then No. 1 UCLA 68-66 two days later. But those games were in the over-friendly confines of McArthur Court -- one of the best home-court advantages in the country.
The trip to the Palouse will be another story.
But the Ducks believe having Brooks back in the lineup will make all the difference.
"We missed his presence on the court," Ducks guard Chamberlain Oguchi said. "Aaron Brooks wouldn't have turned the ball over. We missed him a lot but now that we got him back we're going to be back on our game."
Can the same be said for Washington?
After starting the season 10-1, the Huskies promptly lost six of seven to start Pac-10 play -- although five of those were on the road. With the win UW has now won eight of its last nine home games against ranked opponents -- including four of the last five visits by top 10 teams.
"I am proud of our guys for how well they competed tonight," Washington coach Lorenzo Romar said. "I think that we put forth the type of effort that wins ball games. I think that a lot of guys stepped up and did some great things."
The leader in that category was guard Justin Dentmon, who returned to the starting lineup after three weeks on the bench to score a career high 24 points to go along with 6 rebounds, 7 assists and 3 steals. And Appleby, who was on the wrong end of Brooks' elbow last March, rained in 16 points on the strength of 4-of-7 shooting from three.
When they find a rhythm, the Huskies have a nice inside-outside mix that can be tough to defend.
It may be too much of an uphill climb for the Huskies (12-7, 2-6) to realistically think about making a fourth consecutive trip to the NCAA Tournament, but there are still six home games on the schedule and a couple of winnable road games (at Arizona State, at Oregon State) before the Pac-10 Tournament.
The good news for Oregon is that it doesn't have time to dwell on the loss.
"I think the biggest thing we can do is learn from the loss and let's bounce back," Kent said. "And realize we're going to get another tough game on Saturday. Just respond and understand what it's going to be like the rest of the way -- particularly on the road. That's a challenge that let's you grow as a basketball team."
The challenge should be much more manageable with Brooks back in the lineup in Pullman. Then it's the rematch at UCLA next Thursday, followed by an opportunity two days later at USC to avenge the Ducks first loss of the season.
How Ernie Kent's club finishes this brutal four game road swing could go a long way in determining how it might finish in even bigger road tests come March.
David Albright is the senior coordinator for college sports at ESPN.com. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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