No-Show Supporters and Somnolent Students Hurting Husky Hoops
What was more embarrassing than the University of Washington basketball team’s loss to Utah on Saturday? The fact that the once-boisterous Hec Ed crowd couldn’t be bothered to care.
The lower section of the arena was spattered with empty seats — representing hundreds of Husky season ticket holders who didn’t want to go to the game, and didn’t care enough about the program to try to find someone who could.
Meanwhile, the student section, the self-dubbed Dawgpack, sounded less like a pack of dogs than a sack of kittens. Once a swirling mass of noise and excitement, the current Dawgpack stood mostly mute just when the sputtering Huskies needed energy. (The performance was so bad, students formed a new Twitter account and held an emergency meeting last night to try to resuscitate themselves.)
The team itself been up and down all season. They lost four of their first five games, including an ugly home defeat to the University of Albany. Then, shockingly, the Huskies started Pac-12 play 4-0, before crashing to Earth with the loss to Utah.
They’re hot, they’re cold, they’re hot, they’re cold — average it out and you get what the 2012-13 Huskies really are: mediocre.
Everything that’s good about the Huskies is paired with something that’s bad. Guards C.J. Wilcox and Scott Suggs are excellent perimeter shooters — but both are unintimidating perimeter defenders.
Center Aziz N’Diaye has the size and athleticism of an NBA center — but not the skill, as the Senegal native didn’t start playing basketball until he was 14. (Which, due my own level of size and athleticism, is when I quit.)
Point guard Andrew Andrews (sic) is fast and fearless — but he’s not playing as much as he should.
Which brings us to what the Huskies can be doing to improve. The quickest fix a simple one: Playing Andrews more. As ESPN’s Kevin Pelton points out on his outstanding Husky-focused blog, the Huskies are far better with Andrews on the floor and starting PG Abdul Gaddy off of it.
Gaddy, once thought of as a sure NBA lottery pick, has struggled as a collegian. Now a senior, he hasn’t ever developed the quickness or shooting ability a starting Pac-12 point guard needs. Andrews’ shooting isn’t much better than Gaddy’s, but he gets to the foul line much more often. On defense, he is far superior, with the quickness to keep opposing guards out of the lane.
The second thing the Huskies need is some decent fan support.
A college basketball program isn’t just the players. Fans provide support in the form of donations, and, most importantly, energy on game day that inspires players and intimidates referees. In eleven years under coach Lorenzo Romar, Washington had lost just six home non-conference games — this year, with fan support at a historically low volume, they lost three.
Part of the problem is the way the university now allocates season tickets. Once, the best seats went to the fans who had had season tickets the longest. Now, everything’s based on how much money you donate to the university – the more you pay, the closer you sit. For the best seats, wealthy fans and businesses donate $1,150 per seat, plus the face value of the ticket. Diehard fans — the fans who’d been coming for decades, win or lose, have been priced up into the rafters, or out of the arena altogether.
The athletic department has maximized revenue, but they’ve also turned Husky hoops fandom into an economic exchange rather than an article of faith. Fans who aren’t getting their money’s worth (and some are paying effective ticket prices in the triple digits) have written the Dawgs off as a sunk cost.
Tonight, the Huskies play at Oregon State. A win is crucial, as the Dawgs face highly-ranked Arizona and Oregon next. A win would also turn up the heat on Beavers coach Craig Robinson, whose Beavers have started conference play with five straight losses.
Coincidentally, it was against Oregon State in 2004, with the Huskies looking an 0-6 record in the face, when Lorenzo Romar scored the most-important win of his tenure — a comeback overtime victory that sparked an unlikely run to the NCAA tournament.
Robinson will be looking for a similar spark from his team, struggling after star Jared Cunningham left early for the NBA and senior leader Angus Brandt was lost for the season with an ACL tear.
The Huskies/Oregon St. game is tonight at 8:30 p.m. on the Pac 12 Network.
For the students — well, there’s simply no excuse.