Jan. 9, 2013
By Gregg Bell
UW Director of Writing
BERKELEY, Calif. - Road, schmoad.
If the Huskies keep rebounding and playing defense like this, they can succeed on Mars.
C.J. Wilcox had 19 points to become the 37th Husky with 1,000 career points -- and tied his career high with eight rebounds. Aziz N'Diaye dominated the inside as if he was sideline color commentator Bill Walton, finishing with 12 points, 12 rebounds and four blocks. And UW stormed to a 16-0 run in the first half then never let Cal get back in it for a resounding, 62-47 thumping of the Bears Wednesday night at Haas Pavilion.
"Our guys were relentless," coach Lorenzo Romar said.
He was obviously pleased that months of imploring the importance of defense is paying off now after a non-conference season in which the D came and went like autumn winds.
As it was Saturday in winning at Washington State, the key for Washington was defense. Wilcox had four assists and combined with senior co-captain Scott Suggs shut down Cal's Allen Crabbe. Crabbe, averaging 21.4 points coming in, finished with just nine to end his streak of 20 consecutive games in double figures.
"The main thing is, now we have a little bit of grit," Wilcox said, comparing these Dawgs to the ones that slogged through five losses in the non-conference seasons.
Three of those were at home, when they simply weren't tough enough.
Washington (10-5, 2-0 Pac-12) improved to 4-2 away from Seattle this season and won for the 19th time in 24 games inside the Pac-12 regular season and league tournament dating to March 2011.
Even with scorers Terrence Ross and Tony Wroten gone early to the NBA after last season, the Huskies are suddenly looking like the team that has won four consecutive Pac-12 regular-season or tournament championships.
Asked when the vibe of this previously cool, too-comfortable team changed, Wilcox said: "Right when conference started. We know we have to make a really good run in our conference to get to where we want to go.
"For the last two weeks, our practices have been intense."
Andrew Andrews, who sealed Saturday's win at Washington State with four free throws in the final 22 seconds, scored 12 points. It was the second time this season the redshirt freshman had scored in double digits. The 6-foot-2 guard even had a career-high seven rebounds, indicative of UW waxing Cal on the glass 48-33.
The Huskies are 2-0 in the conference for the third consecutive season, and the fourth time in five seasons.
Crabbe was left crabby. He made just three of 12 shots, and because of UW's blanketing rarely had enough space to see the rim -- let alone put the ball through it.
Wilcox and Suggs continually stayed with Crabbe around curls off high screens. And Huskies bigs N'Diaye, Shawn Kemp Jr. and Desmond Simmons -- playing near his East Bay home of Vallejo for the first time as a Husky -- kept jumping out to slow Crabbe's dribble at the foul line.
These Huskies had a lot of experience defending Crabbe's curl and drives for shots. Heck, it's the same way Wilcox plays in every UW practice.
"Yeah, that helped," Wilcox said. "I mean, they play me every day. And Crabbe plays just like I do."
While Crabbe tanked, Washington's offense soared. The score was 18-all with 7 minutes left in the first half when N'Diaye dunked emphatically. Then Wilcox hit a jumper. Jernard Jarreau scored inside. So did the slashing, fearless Andrews while getting fouled for a three-point play.
By the time Wilcox swished another, livid Cal coach Mike Montgomery called a timeout with his team down by 11.
The Bears never got any closer than that, as the Huskies maintained their defensive intensity over the final 25 minutes.
When Andrews made two free throws with 3:04 left in the half, UW led 34-18 -- and Montgomery was spewing like one of the Bay Area's many fuel refineries.
N'Diaye's over-the-back put back off a Gaddy miss in the lane gave Washington a 43-28 lead with 15 minutes to go, keeping Cal seemingly demoralized. Minutes later he grabbed his 10th rebound for his 12th career double-double - his sixth of this, his senior season - and then got his fourth block by spiking a shot, volleyball style, into the floor.
The Dawgs are 10-2 when their big man dominates with a double-double.
The Huskies built a huge first-half lead while benefiting from officials allowing them to be scrappy with their hands and bodies on defense. Washington basically bullied the Bears (9-6, 1-2) at both ends of the floor. The Dawgs, frenzied early for the second consecutive game, seized 30 of the first 43 rebounds and took 18 more shots en route to a 34-20 lead at halftime.
"What the HELL!" Montgomery screamed to his players at one point during the Huskies' onslaught, in one of the only PG-rated rants he had in the first half. "What floor are we ON?"
Meanwhile, N'Diaye was on another level - at both ends of the floor. He scored 10 points, grabbed seven rebounds and even set up teammates for kick-out shots and drives while showing how comfortable he is getting while touching the ball regularly at the foul line in UW's high-post offense.
The boffo opening half was a 7-foot reason why Washington had those 30 rebounds in the first 20 minutes - as many as it had in three entire games earlier this season. Two of those were losses, to Ohio State and Colorado State.
Cal's 20 points were the fewest points allowed by UW in a half this season. And its total of 47 -- a season-low allowed by the Huskies -- was the fewest the Bears have scored in four-plus seasons under Montgomery, the former guru at Stanford and then coach of the NBA's Golden State Warriors.
For that and many other reasons, Romar headed home late Wednesday night to prepare for another Bay Area trip for Saturday's game at Stanford thinking this was perhaps his team's finest game this season.
"I thought we sustained the defense throughout the game," Romar said. "So it was right up there."