Jan. 5, 2013
By Gregg Bell
UW Director of Writing
PULLMAN, Wash. - Up 17 early, the determined Huskies seemed ready to roll over Washington State.
But any Dawg knows it's never easy over here.
Washington State got all the way back and into a 4-point lead with 5 minutes left. Yet instead of wilting, these developing Dawgs showed some bite back. Desmond Simmons showed more of what makes him invaluable to UW. And Andrew Andrews showed some steel.
The redshirt freshman from Portland, Ore., rewarded coach Lorenzo Romar for leaving him on the floor for the tense, deciding moments by making four consecutive free throws in the final 23 seconds to send the Huskies to a buoying, 68-63 victory Saturday night at stunned Friel Court in the 275th meeting of archrivals.
"I want it in my hands," said Andrews, who scored half his points with those final free throws to turn a two-point Huskies lead into the final, five-point margin.
"When the crowd started cheering it kind of made me want to make it even more. It made me mad."
This time, mad was magnificent for this team Romar has challenged for months to be tougher.
"He's tough. He's not intimidated by circumstances," Romar said of his fearless freshman. "He's scrappy. He's gritty. He's one of the guys on our team that brings toughness."
As for the value of this rebound-within-a-rebound win in the Pac-12 opener for defending league champion - UW led 21-4 early but trailed 56-52 with 5 minutes left -- Romar shook his head approvingly.
"It reinforces that when we are gritty and we don't lose our composure, (we win)," the 11th-year coach said. "I thought we lost our composure at Connecticut for a bit (in last weekend's 61-53 loss). Tonight, we didn't do that. I think our guys can learn from that."
C.J. Wilcox rebounded from a rare off night last weekend at Connecticut with 18 points. When he tired noticeably in the second half senior co-captain Scott Suggs awakened with six key points. Seven-footer Aziz N'Diaye had 14 points and 10 rebounds, including two offensive boards and a put-back score that kept WSU from adding to its largest lead of 56-52 with 5 minutes left.
As important as all that was, Simmons was huge. He battled through and around single and double screens and stayed in the shirt of WSU all-conference scorer Brock Motum all night. Only 11 points late allowed Motum to finish with 15, four points below his average. The Aussie had just two put-back baskets in the first 21 minutes.
Afterward, Simmons was the first player Romar recognized in front of the team in the locker room. Then his thankful teammates mobbed him.
"We wouldn't have won with him," Wilcox said.
All were exhausted in the final minutes, yet the Huskies (9-5, 1-0 Pac-12) won for the fourth time in five winters on the dark, cold Palouse. They also won in an impressive way that belied soft play during baffling parts of November and December.
Asked what the Dawgs learned on this night, Wilcox said: "That we can compete with anybody, that we can win on the road.
"Coming in here, getting this done, it means a lot."
The 19-points-per-game sharpshooter was coming off a 2-for-12 night last weekend at UConn, one of the worst shooting games of his career. But he made four of his first seven shots as UW stormed out of the locker room at WSU as if it was a completely different team than the one that drifted in and out of its first 13 games.
The Huskies scored the first nine points and seemed to stun the Cougars with the instant intensity. When Shawn Kemp Jr. went Reign Man Jr. with consecutive, emphatic dunks, Washington led 21-4. The home crowd - about half its normal size during Wazzu's holiday break - stood in shock and silence.
But then Simmons, the hardest-nosed Husky, got his second foul. Upon his exit from bamboozling Motum, the Huskies' defense became more porous inside. WSU got the rim more easily over the final 10 minutes of the half, and got that 17-point lead down to six, at 28-22 and then 34-27 at the break.
The defensive intensity wavered early in the second half, too, allowing WSU to take that four-point lead with 5:44 left.
"Stay calm. We're good," Simmons, Abdul Gaddy, Wilcox and said told each other and their teammates in a timeout huddle amid the roars.
Then N'Diaye got repeated offensive rebounds. Suggs hit a long jumper from the left side in front of the WSU student section to put the Huskies up 62-61 with 1:29 to go. Simmons - who else? - scrapped for the key one of his five rebounds of a miss by WSU's Devonte Lacy. Suggs then darted past two Cougars down the lane to the rim with 62 seconds left to make it 64-61 Huskies.
It was a sudden awakening, considering how foggy Suggs appeared in the first half when Romar kept yelling for his senior to play harder.
When the Huskies absolutely needed him to, he did.
"I see it all the time in practice. When he gets frustrated, that's when he gets going," Wilcox said.
Then came Andrews' clutch performance. The Cougars were so sure the freshman would get rattled that they fouled him the second time during a dead ball, before Gaddy even inbounded it.
Yet Andrews swished all four as if he it was a Tuesday morning practice at Hec Ed.
When it ended, the players' roars echoed over the silence off all those in crimson. And Romar pumped his fist. He tied former California coach Ben Braun for 14th in all-time conference coaching wins with his 110th in 11 UW seasons. Howard Dallmar is 13th with 132 league wins.
"It's a big win, of course," Andrews said. "But we aren't going to dwell on it. We have to get ready to go to Cal."
That developing maturity may come in mighty handy Wednesday night in Berkeley, not to mention over these next couple months.