LOS ANGELES — February used to belong to Lorenzo Romar.
During his 11-year tenure, his Washington men’s basketball teams traditionally struggled early in the season, but the Huskies are famous for regrouping, recovering and storming into March with tremendous momentum.
However, a sluggish start and horrendous free-throw shooting dropped the Huskies into a 19-point deficit in a 71-60 loss Sunday night at USC in a game both teams needed to remain remotely competitive in the Pac-12 title chase.
Washington trimmed its deficit to five points late in the second half, but last-minute turnovers spoiled a comeback bid in front of 4,214 at Galen Center.
The loss dropped the Huskies into ninth place in the conference, and they’re forced to wonder if there’s enough time in the season for another fabulous finish.
“We got to hurry,” Romar said. “It needs to start Wednesday. We should have started it tonight, but we didn’t get it done.”
With a win, Washington would have trailed conference leaders Arizona, Oregon and UCLA by two games with seven remaining in the conference season.
The Huskies fell to 13-11 and 5-6 in the Pac-12 with seven regular-season games remaining.
Any realistic hope of making the NCAA tournament will only come to fruition if the Huskies win the conference tournament title.
But they can’t worry about the postseason right now.
Washington, losers of six of its last seven games, has more immediate concerns such as regaining its confidence that has been wavering for several weeks.
“There’s no more time to be thinking too much,” said senior center Aziz N’Diaye, who had 10 points and 12 rebounds. “We just got to think less and just go have fun and play.”
Inexplicably, the Huskies came out flat, which had been a problem this season.
They fell behind 18-6 after five minutes and USC guard J.T. Terrell (game-high 18 points) nearly delivered an early knockout punch when he flushed an alley-oop dunk and drained a fast-break three-pointer, giving the Trojans (11-13, 6-5) a 35-16 lead with 5:21 left in the first half.
The Huskies finished the first half by scoring on six of eight possessions while USC missed its last four shots.
Washington trailed 40-29 at halftime and cut its deficit to 63-58 when Scott Suggs drained a three-pointer with 3:33 left.
“Even though we started out bad there was still plenty of game left,” said Suggs, who had a team-high 16 points. “We knew we could chip away at it.”
Eric Wise extended USC’s advantage with a layup and a free throw before Suggs answered with another long jumper.
That’s when everything fell apart for the Huskies. They committed turnovers on their next three possessions.
Shawn Kemp Jr. drew an offensive foul. Abdul Gaddy threw a pass that was intercepted. Andrew Andrews lost the ball in transition. USC connected on five of six free throws.
“There are things that we can build on from here,” Romar said. “We just have to find that one game where we’re defending. (Where) everybody is playing decently and not everybody having a career night. Just no one is having a bad night.
“We just have to do that one time, get everybody on the same page and we can get this thing turned around to where we have some momentum going into the Pac-12 tournament.”