Nov. 13, 2010
By Gregg Bell
UW Director of Writing
SEATTLE - Alarmed by a Division II team outrebounding them in an exhibition, the Huskies spent this practice week conducting intrasquad tug-of-wars beneath the basket.
Coaches had an elastic lid stretched over hoop and fastened to the rim. Every shot became a battle royale for a rebound. Bodies flew. Players grunted.
Senior Matthew Bryan-Amaning scored a career-high 28 points and had 13 rebounds - two short of another career best - Isaiah Thomas scored 17 and seven Dawgs scored in double figures as 18th-ranked Washington blew away McNeese State 118-64 in Saturday afternoon's opener at Hec Edmundson Pavilion.
Coach Lorenzo Romar somehow kept a straight face when he uttered after the game, "I have to say we made progress in a week's time."
Seven-foot junior-college transfer Aziz N'Diaye dominated with 13 points and 15 rebounds in just 15 minutes in his debut for the preseason favorites to win the Pac-10. Senior Justin Holiday had 12 rebounds as Washington held a whopping 69-32 edge on the boards. That helped the Huskies score the third-most points in school history.
Saint Martin's had out-rebounded the Huskies by 10 in last week's exhibition. Romar's preseason thoughts that his fast, athletic team would need a collective rebounding effort from many contributors suddenly became a mission.
"We did a lot of drills, just say that," Bryan-Amaning said. "We have a lot of rebounding drills. Sometimes I think he makes it up on the spot."
Venoy Overton, who said he was 100 percent for the first time in the seven weeks since he pulled a hamstring, had six assists. He also scared the ball out of the overwhelmed Cowboys while forcing many of their 27 turnovers.
Overton saw rebounding drills in his sleep this week. And he's a 6-foot guard.
"Even in the walkthroughs, when it's not a rebounding drill, he's on us to crash the boards," Overton said of Romar.
Bryan-Amaning took advantage of McNeese State playing him with a single, smaller man down low and of Huskies guards continually making brilliant moves and exquisite passes to him. He scored on jumpers, layups, one-handed dunks and one wowing, reverse slam.
Those guards also kept finding N'Diaye alone inside for easy scores. Bryan-Amaning and N'Diaye were a combined 16 for 23 from the field.
"Matt and I were just finishing," said N'Diaye, who ran the floor like a sprinter in his first regular-season game since reconstructive knee surgery in June 2009. "They were making our jobs easy."
Romar has been saying all summer and fall that N'Diaye gives Washington a presence inside it hasn't had in his eight previous seasons leading the Huskies. And in Huskies debut, the towering former soccer player in Senegal with a 7½-foot wingspan stood like the Space Needle and moved like a supersonic jet.
"His presence down there is ridiculous," Bryan-Amaning said.
So was the size of this mismatch. UW seized a 44-point lead in the first 15 minutes against a team that went 10-20 in the Southland Conference last season.
The only alarms heard this time were at the foul line. The Huskies would have surpassed the school record of 130 points, reached in a win over Chico State in 1992, had they been even respectable at the foul line. Washington made just 20 of 42 free throws.
After the game, in the hallway outside the Huskies' locker room, Romar was still refining his new prize. The coach was pantomiming seizing a pass and decisively moving to the basket as N'Diaye stood next to him and watched.
The students in UW's "Dawg Pack" had a grand ol' time all day - even before tipoff. That's when they serenaded Romar as he walked onto the court with a Happy Birthday chorus for him turning 52 on Saturday. The coach just smiled at that.
He stayed happy once the game began.
After Patrick Richard made a 3-pointer to begin the game for McNeese State, Washington held the Cowboys without a field goal for the next 12½ minutes. The Huskies took a 44-7 lead in that span.
After he got leveled by a McNeese State screen, Thomas made three consecutive 3-pointers midway through the first half to put Washington ahead 41-7. Each make produced a larger grin. After the third one, the flashy junior bounced up and down in place, pointed to the floor and mouthed "Right here!" The crowd roared even more.
"A competitor," Romar said admiringly of his national player-of-the-year candidate. "He plays with an edge to him."
Abdul Gaddy scored 10 points and had five assists. The heralded recruit who changed his mind out of a commitment to Arizona before last season looked much quicker and was far more aggressive than he was in most of his up-and-down freshman season.
Gaddy spent the summer with Thomas in their native Tacoma, Wash., working on his swagger and his shot. Saturday, he continually blew past defenders and spun in the lane for fancy passes. One of them sailed past a surprised N'Diaye inside. Another stunned Bryan-Amaning, who missed the lay in.
"Just trying to stay aggressive. I think I am better when I play that way," Gaddy said.
N'Diaye, who arrived this summer from the College of Southern Idaho, had 10 rebounds in his first 7 minutes of the first half.
McNeese State was so inept just trying to get the ball across halfcourt, N'Diaye really never had a chance to control the inside defensively as UW expects him to. The only noticeable flaw in his debut was going 3 for 15 from the foul line. He admitted he began thinking a bit about all the misses as the game went on.
Bryan-Amaning made just six of 12 free throws. The big men going a combined 9 of 27 from the line won't get it done in the tougher games, which are coming in the loaded Maui Invitational that begins on Nov. 22 against Virginia.
So Romar and his staff a new point of emphasis in drills before Tuesday night's home game against Eastern Washington.
If Saturday's rebounding emphasis and results are any indication, Washington might make all of their freebies against EWU.
"Defensive and rebounding," Bryan-Amaning said when asked for the Huskies' identity. "That's all it is."
NOTES: Redshirt junior forward Darnell Gant started along with Thomas, Gaddy, Bryan-Amaning and Holiday. Scott Suggs had started the exhibition, but Romar said he likes the 6-8 Gant's experience and added size early in games. ... Desmond Simmons was the only one on the roster who did not play. Romar said after the game the 6-7 freshman forward would be redshirting. He started preseason practice late because of arthroscopic knee surgery.