Feb. 10, 2011
SEATTLE - Since returning from Oregon on a three-game losing streak, Lorenzo Romar drilled his Huskies on getting back to finding easier shots offensively inside. On the advantages of finally getting back home. But most of all, on returning to their signature, in-your-shirt defense.
"This week in practice coach said `We're going to play defense -- and whoever doesn't is going to sit next to me,'" point guard Isaiah Thomas said. "You know guys don't want to sit, so they played some defense."
Thomas scored 23 points and had nine assists to continue his personal dismantling of California that began last month, Matthew Bryan-Amaning added 18 points, nine rebounds and four of UW's 11 blocks, and the Dawgs ended their three-game losing streak with a thunderous, 109-77 victory over some stunned Bears Thursday night - a rout that was a product of increased intensity on defense.
"We wanted to change everything we'd been doing," Thomas said of a humbling, embarrassing week on the road. "If we get stops, we can compete with anyone in the Pac-10, or anyone in the country.
"When we play defense, our offense looks crazy."
As in crazy good.
It was if losses at Washington State, Oregon State and Oregon last week never happened. Alaska Airlines Arena was rockin' in the first home game since Jan. 22 for Washington (16-7, 8-4 Pac-10), which moved within 1½ games of idle Arizona for first place in the Pac-10 - the place it lost with the three road losses last week.
"It all started on the defensive end," said Thomas, whose huge numbers came despite sitting for the game's final 9½ minutes. "Teams were doing whatever they wanted to us on that three-game losing streak. And we wanted to change that.
"I took that on the chin, losing three in a row. It all starts with me. No matter what, it starts with me."
Starts and ends. Thomas had 50 points, 22 assists - and just seven turnovers - in 61 minutes against Cal (13-11, 6-6) this season. That's why UW won by 21 in Berkeley and by 32 Thursday night. He didn't make his first turnover this time until he had 18 points, seven assists and 19 minutes played.
Following Romar's orders - and not wanting to sit on the bench - Thomas picked up Bears point guard Brandon Smith defensively in the backcourt, sometimes 85 or 90 feet from Cal's basket. Fellow guard Venoy Overton did the same thing.
Inside, Bryan-Amaning and 7-footer Aziz N'Diaye combined for seven blocked shots and 13 rebounds.
That stifling defense set up many fast breaks and many open holes in Cal's rushed and unprepared defense. The Huskies shot 57 percent overall - after reaching 64 percent early in the second half.
Their many drives and passes into the lane opened wings for many open shots off kick-out passes. UW tied a team record for 3-pointers made by swishing 17 of 31.
Washington set so many records it could have been Vinyl Night at Hec Edmundson Pavilion. The Huskies, 12-0 at home, topped 100 points for a school-record sixth time this season. They have won 13 in a row at home by 10 points or more, another school mark. The 201 points they scored while sweeping the Bears this season is the most ever for UW against a conference opponent in a regular-season series.
The whipping was so thorough, this glaring disparity did not matter: Cal shot 37 free throws, 30 more than Washington.
"They scored 109 points and we only out them on the free throw line seven times," Cal coach Mike Montgomery said. "We weren't even close (to them)."
The Huskies' new-found edge should stay at least through the weekend, since they next host Stanford - which gave them their first conference loss last month. Then Washington heads to Arizona State next Thursday and to Arizona for a showdown a week from Saturday.
Arizona plays next at Arizona State Sunday night.
The Huskies made 20 of their first 32 shots and had a whopping 18 assists on 22 field goals, with just four turnovers, in the runaway first half that was among their most dominant 20 minutes of the season. It made last week seem like a decade ago.
The 58 points were the second-most in any half this season, just off the 61 the Huskies scored against McNeese State in the season opener and against Texas Tech in early December.
The Huskies scored 32 and 34 points in their first halves at Oregon State and Oregon last week.
Bryan-Amaning could be heard yelling "Get that out!" as he got the first of his two blocked shots in the roaring half. He had eight of UW's first 18 points, all inside, and 10 points overall on 5 of 6 shooting in the half. Yes, Washington's guards internalized this week's message of getting the ball inside more instead of relying solely on 3-point shooting.
Not that they abandoned that. The Huskies made 10 of their first 16 attempts from deep in the opening half. Thomas made 3 of 5 from bonus range in the period. "When he's knocking down shots yet still setting up other guys, he's pretty much unstoppable," Bryan-Amaning said of his old pal from their days together at South Kent prep school in Connecticut.
Huskies dived for loose balls, swatted shots, took charges. Romar loved the show, pumping his fist and going onto the floor to congratulate his players' effort -- especially when Justin Holiday ran up the sideline and dived to poke the ball away from a Bear, to Thomas across the floor. Thomas found Terrence Ross for an open 3, which swished like almost everything else for the Huskies to put them up 40-17 in the first half.
Cal called time out. Romar met Holiday, who was jogging to the bench. The coach bent his knees and wound up for a high-five so enthusiastic it seemed capable of slapping the skin off the senior's right hand.
Later, when UW's guards were so close to Cal's ball handlers 35 feet from the basket they forced a five-second call and another Bears turnover, Romar raised his right first to the ceiling of the arena and emitted a huge, satisfied roar.
"Defensive energy, focus, and concentration allow us to be a better basketball team ... that's what we've been talking about," Romar said. "Hopefully our team was able to see that tonight and have kind of a reminder of what can happen when you are intense defensively."