Answers may be at power forward for Huskies

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SEATTLE — No one is suggesting Washington’s high turnover at power forward is to blame for a disappointing men’s basketball season.

However, the fits and starts of Shawn Kemp Jr., Desmond Simmons and Jernard Jarreau are a microcosm of everything that’s gone so terribly wrong for the Huskies in the past month.

At varying times each has been brilliant and dumbfounding.

They’ve shown remarkable promise and poise, and they’ve been incredibly inactive and immature.

But mostly, the Husky trio has been inconsistent, which just about sums up Washington in a season that’s included two four-game winning streaks and two losing streaks of at least three defeats.

The Huskies’ record (14-12, 6-7 Pac-12) reflects their struggles entering Wednesday’s 8 p.m. game at No. 12 Arizona (21-4, 9-4).

Whenever things turn bad, coach Lorenzo Romar’s strategy has been to change power forwards. The tweaks in the lineup have produced mixed results.

“Throughout this year we’ve been giving different players opportunities,” Romar said. “If you’re not winning consistently that never helps because you keep feeling like you have to try something different.”

The Huskies knew coming into the season they had a slim margin of error after losing leading scorers Terrence Ross and Tony Wroten Jr., both taken in the first round of the NBA draft.

Say what you will about Romar’s personnel decisions, for the most part he has hit on four of the five starting positions.

Guards C.J. Wilcox, who scores 17.6 points per game, Scott Suggs (11.3), Abdul Gaddy (11.2) and center Aziz N’Diaye (10.3) have all increased their scoring averages from last season.

Kemp, a 6-foot-9, 255-pound sophomore who averages 5.8 points and 2.6 rebounds, and 6-7 sophomore Simmons (5.0 and 7.0) have also stepped up their production. In many ways Jarreau (2.9 and 2.7) has exceeded expectations for a 6-10 redshirt freshman.

Collectively, the Huskies are receiving 13.7 points and 12.3 rebounds from the power-forward position.

“Those would be great numbers — all-conference numbers — for one person,” Gaddy said, smiling. “They know we need them. It seems like when we get something good from that spot, then we do good as a team.”

Simmons has started 14 games, and the Huskies are 5-2 when he collects at least 10 rebounds, including the 18 he grabbed against Cal-State Fullerton.

They’re 8-3 when Jarreau, who has started the first seven games, plays at least 13 minutes.

And 2-2 when Kemp, the starter in the past six games, scores at least 10 points.

The trick is getting them to play well at the same time.

“They’re all completely different,” Romar said. “None of those guys can rebound like Desmond can rebound.

“Desmond may be the best defender of the three.

“But I think Shawn Kemp is the best low-post scorer and the strongest of the three. Jernard is the most versatile of the three. So they all bring something to the table.”

Finding minutes for them can also be difficult, which explains why Jarreau didn’t play in the two games before Saturday’s breakout performance against Oregon State. He had career highs in points (eight) and rebounds (seven).

“I always wanted to play, but it’s up to the coach’s decision,” Jarreau said. “I just held my head high and stayed positive. ... Last game my name was called, and I was ready to go from the jump.”

Theoretically, Jarreau is the best fit long term because he’s adept at collecting steals and blocking shots due to his 7-7 wingspan.

In Washington’s new high-post offense, he’s tall enough to look over defenders, survey the defense and make entry passes into the post or knock down a midrange jumper.

Admittedly, Jarreau needs to be more like the athletic Kemp and more like the physical Simmons to climb to the top of the pecking order.

“What needs to happen is guys need to step up and be consistent across the board over a long stretch of time,” Romar said.

“That’s when you make your case.”

He was talking about the battle for minutes at power forward, but the same can be said about Washington’s push for a postseason tournament berth.

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