Lackluster start may prove costly for Washington in March

It's no understatement to call Washington's path to an NCAA tournament bid an uphill battle after an 86-80 loss to Duke on Saturday afternoon.

At this point, the Huskies face the equivalent of climbing Mount Rainier to get back into at-large contention.

Normally a pedestrian 4-4 start and a lack of marquee non-league victories would be flaws Washington could overcome in conference play, but the unusually weak Pac-12 doesn't provide many chances for noteworthy wins. The Pac-12 ranks ninth in conference RPI entering the weekend and does not boast a single team in either major Top 25 poll.

Winning the Pac-12 regular season title would almost certainly get Washington into the NCAA tournament, but more experienced Huskies teams have been unable to play with enough consistency on the road to achieve that goal. Washington is 0-2 in true road games this season, dropping its road record to 9-14 since the start of the 2009-10 season.

Perhaps worst of all for the Huskies, they may not have their top big man for an extended period of time as a result of a first half injury. The initial diagnosis for 7-foot center Aziz N'Diaye is a sprained knee, but he'll likely need an MRI in the next 48 hours to determine if there's ligament damage.

It's understandable that Washington would take some time to jell early in the season since it lost all-conference guard Isaiah Thomas to the NBA and senior starters Justin Holiday and Matthew Bryan-Amaning to graduation. Still, the Huskies certainly don't lack for talent especially on the perimeter, where they have NBA hopeful Terrence Ross, sweet-shooting C.J. Wilcox and talented point guards Tony Wroten and Abdul Gaddy. {YSP:MORE}

The six-point margin against Duke was deceptive because the Huskies trailed by double figures in the opening 10 minutes and only cut it to single digits after the game was all but decided. Wroten's 23 points, Wilcox's 22 points and the late comeback were bright spots, but Washington took too many quick shots and largely failed to exploit its quickness advantage on the perimeter in the decisive first half.

The Huskies definitely have the talent to make a second-half push and get back into NCAA tournament contention. What remains to be seen is whether they can play with consistency necessary to overcome the early hole they've dug for themselves.

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