March 3, 2013
By Gregg Bell - UW Director of Writing
Whoever said talk is cheap wasn't with the player and coach that day prior to last weekend's game at Arizona State.
Romar got the previously fading Suggs to realize how noticeable and detrimental his lack of intensity was on the floor. Romar also got Suggs to see the need to do more than live or die with his shooting, to get deflections, to chase loose balls, to snare rebounds. To lead by doing much more, and with a heightened sense of purpose and urgency.
"For me, it was maybe just doing some other things to get involved in the game. Deflections, steals - something more than missing shots," Suggs explained Sunday afternoon.
"I guess sometimes it doesn't look like I am trying. I'm trying. It's just that I'm trying harder, I guess."
Realization has suddenly become internalization for the fifth-year senior in these final weeks of his UW career. He scored 23 points - one off his career high - against Washington State and tied his career best with five 3-pointers. He uncharacteristically roared and raised his arms after scores. His seven points in the Huskies' decisive, 8-0 run broke a tense tie with 4 minutes left and sent reviving Washington past its archrival 72-68 at roaring Alaska Airlines Arena.
Coupled with his 16-point uprising at Arizona State after the talk with Romar, Suggs has the most points in consecutive games since UW football was preparing for a bowl game in mid-December.
And the Huskies (16-13, 8-8 Pac-12) have their first two-game winning streak since the NFL playoffs were running. That was in mid-January.
This, of course, is March.
"We're just settling in right now," Romar said. "I think we are getting close to the way we want to play."
Washington, winner of the last four regular-season or conference tournament titles, improved to 14-4 since 2009 during the final four games of its regular seasons.
"Our teams tend to do that at the end of the year. We're just figuring it out a little later this year," said Suggs, whose 7-for-10 shooting equaled his accuracy from the field when he scored 24 on Dec. 13 against Seattle U.
Not coincidentally, Suggs' elevated play and his team's two-game improvement have occurred after his heart-to-heart with Romar.
"We talked just about the type of mentality he has to have when he goes out on the basketball floor," Romar said, acknowledging Suggs at times during games has been too laid back, more like his off-court personality.
"I explained to him that I was fortunate enough to play professionally, but if I didn't play with passion I wasn't very good. If Michael Jordan played laid back he would have been just an All-Star, instead of the greatest.
"That passion is something that is very important - and the best players have to play with it."
Previously cold C.J. Wilcox started warm and tacked on free throws late to equal Suggs' 23 points. Abdul Gaddy had nine points and six assists in another impressive game at point guard. And Desmond Simmons provided lock-down defense on WSU's scoring leader Brock Motum for the second time this season - plus had eight rebounds.
The Huskies beat the Cougars for the ninth time in 11 meetings.
The score was tied at 57 with 4½ minutes left when Suggs took over.
He swished a 3 from the top of the key. He drove inside to get free throws - and made four of those. He scored seven of UW's eight unanswered points in 97 seconds to ensure Washington's fifth consecutive victory over their archrivals from wheat land.
The Cougars had a final chance, down 68-63 with the ball and 40 seconds left. But the Huskies' defense, which forced 18 points that became 25 UW points, tied up Motum and WSU's second option, too, on an inbounds pass under the Cougs' basket. Devonte Lacy was forced to chuck the ball into the lane to avoid a five-second violation, and Wilcox easily intercepted it.
Wilcox's final two makes of his 8-for-10 day at the line clinched the victory.
What does a high-performing Suggs do for a team that's been so reliant on Wilcox's shooting and the play of Gaddy this season?
"When Scott gets going the defense has to focus more on him, then C.J. gets more wide open," Gaddy said. "It just opens up the floor that much more for everyone else."
Romar says the Suggs effect goes beyond the floor and permeates the teams' entire week.
"None of us have to have our best game of the year. None of us have to go out and have our career-high performance," Romar said. "We just have to play to the level that we are capable of playing. If we are all doing that on the same night, I think we can be really, really competitive with anyone.
"We just haven't had that consistency this year. Again, you don't have to have the best game of your career. Just play to your potential."
Last-place Washington State (11-18 2-14) used an 11-0 run to take a seven-point lead with 4 minutes left in the first half. Romar was stomping at the bench, demanding more aggressive defense.
On cue, Simmons became his usually scrappy self, keeping Motum from even getting his hands on the ball for long stretches. Suggs made two 3-pointers, one with the shot clock expiring. Then Simmons forced a turnover on a Cougars inbounds pass with 20 seconds left that gave the Huskies the final shot of the half.
Gaddy, the co-hero with Suggs in the win at ASU, broke down Lacy inside the key then beat three Cougars with a crossover dribble in the lane. His scoop shot off the right of the rim kissed in off the glass as the first-half buzzer sounded. The Huskies excitedly ran off the floor with the momentum and the 34-32 lead at the break.
Gaddy has 22 points, 13 assists and just two turnovers in his last 66 minutes, since tipoff last weekend at Arizona State.
The Huskies finish the regular season at home Wednesday night at 8:30 p.m. against USC and then Saturday at 11 a.m. versus UCLA. Wins in those two games could get the Dawgs the fifth seed in the Pac-12 tournament. That would mean a game with the 12 seed, currently WSU, on March 13 to begin the Pac-12 tournament in Las Vegas. The winner of that game would play the conference's fourth-place team in round two March 14.
UW needs those two wins this week plus Colorado to lose to either Oregon or Oregon State at home this week. If the Huskies, Buffaloes and USC all have 10 league wins, Washington wins the tiebreaker with CU. The tiebreaker with USC, which finishes its regular season in Pullman next weekend, would come down to records versus whoever ends up finishing at the top of the league.
"Going into the Pac-12 tournament, teams going in there with momentum usually do pretty well," Suggs said.
"I think we are starting to put together some things."
INSIDE THE DAWGS: Aminata "Amy" N'Diaye, the mother of Aziz N'Diaye, arrived from their native Dakar, Senegal, last week and saw her son play college basketball for the first time on Sunday. Mom sat in the first row at center court wearing a gold dress and matching headdress. N'Diaye played a season-low 13 minutes as Romar used more versatile Jernard Jarreau to match up with WSU center D.J. Shelton, who took six 3-pointers outside. Aminata N'Diaye will likely see the usual, big dose of Aziz in the Huskies' middle this week against USC and UCLA. ... Recently signed recruit Nigel Williams-Goss from the Las Vegas suburb of Henderson, Nev., attended the game and chatted with Romar after it.