March 19, 2011
By Gregg Bell
UW Director of Writing
CHARLOTTE, N.C. - Lorenzo Romar has charmed the Tar Heels off the state of North Carolina.
Now it's time for his players to beat UNC.
Washington's coach was a one-man comedy show Saturday afternoon when UW came downtown to meet the media and practice for the only time before Sunday morning's battle royale in the Queen City between the surging, seventh-seeded Huskies (24-10) and second-seeded North Carolina (27-7) in the third round of the NCAA tournament.
Tipoff is at 9:15 a.m (Seattle time) on CBS TV. The Huskies IMG College network again has the live radio broadcast and we will again have a live game chat and play-by-play here on GoHuskies.com.
Told UNC coach Roy Williams was playfully razzing him to the media earlier Saturday, Romar deadpanned, "That's usual."
He went on to jokingly chide Williams for being lonely and forcing him to go along last summer for ice cream in San Antonio when no one else would. Both were working with a national junior team there. He joked Williams was "fabricating" the true story by saying Romar didn't bring any money for the treat.
"He begged me to walk to the store with him to go get ice cream. ... I was minding my own business," Romar said, trying not to smile.
UW's coach poked fun at Williams for trying to use the fact Romar's oldest Terra, who is now in law school in Florida, graduated from North Carolina as a reason Martell Webster should go to Carolina instead of Washington. Webster, then a high school star in Seattle, ultimately signed with UW but entered the NBA instead of playing for the Huskies.
The room was roaring over Romar. At one point, an older man wearing a UNC pullover in Carolina blue gushed "You're such a good story teller."
If his Huskies play like his coach talked, they will knock `em dead Sunday.
To topple one of the giants of college basketball, Washington will have to shoot better from outside than it did while beating Georgia. The Huskies started 2 for 14 from 3-point range and finished 4 for 18 Friday night. Terrence Ross was 0 for 5 and said Saturday that he had some jitters in his first NCAA tournament game. Fellow long-range bomber C.J. Wilcox was 2 for 6.
The Huskies will also have to out-run Carolina, which scored 102 points in beating 15th-seeded Long Island Friday. The Tar Heels welcome the track meet with the nation's third-highest scoring team entering the tournament (83.5 points per game).
"If they want to run, we'll match that intensity," said Harrison Barnes, the Atlantic Coast Conference's freshman of the year.
And most of all, the Huskies will need to be big -- bigger than it has been all season. UNC is well-heeled with a front line of 7-footer Tyler Zeller, 6-10 John Henson and the 6-8 Barnes. Those three toyed with 15th-seeded Long Island here Friday night like men towering over toddlers.
"They have great size," Romar said, again deadpanning.
Then again, size for the NCAA tournament is exactly why the Huskies signed 7-footer Aziz N'Diaye out of the College of Southern Idaho last spring. Romar watched Louisville beat his smaller team a few years ago in the Sweet 16 and saw bigger Connecticut, Purdue and West Virginia do the same in 2006, 2009 and last spring to oust the Huskies from the NCAAs.
"If we wanted an opportunity to go further in the tournament, we needed to have that type of size," Romar said. "I think we've made some strides in the right direction that way."
N'Diaye's arrival, joining 6-9 senior Matthew Bryan-Amaning, allows Romar to say this heading into the North Carolina game: "There are times we can put a lineup out on the floor that I think can come close to matching that size."
The center from Senegal was effective inside late Friday night in Washington's rugged, 68-65 win over Georgia in the second round. He made all three of his shots, had five rebounds and often controlled the lane in 20 minutes. He knows he's likely to play more than that against the Tar Heels, and early.
"Me and Matthew, we should slow them down and be more physical and get them off the blocks," N'Diaye said in detailing his keys for Sunday. "I can contribute a lot in this game."
So, of course, can Isaiah Thomas. As he goes, so go the Huskies. It happened that way again on Friday. Thomas' 19 points, seven assists and aggressive defense led UW back from a seven-point deficit to beat Georgia.
The Huskies' leader has spent this week wishing Michael Jordan, owner of the NBA's Charlotte Bobcats, would stop by his team's arena to watch one of his games.
This would be the one, a track meet featuring the confident, ready Huskies and Jordan's former Tar Heels.
Washington is going for its fourth appearance in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament in Romar's nine seasons. The Huskies are also trying to deny North Carolina an NCAA-record 24th appearance in the Round of 16. The Tar Heels are 28-1 in NCAA tournament games inside North Carolina - and the loss was 32 years ago.
"The best player to ever play the game went there - and then they've got a lot of legendary players. It's basically every kid's dream school," Thomas said.
"I mean, to go to North Carolina or play against them, it's legendary."
A Huskies win Sunday would be, too.