Jan. 30, 2010
SEATTLE - Coming out of the halftime break, a dejected Christina Rozier shuffled over to the scorer's table at Beasley Coliseum. In a show of support, teammate Charmaine Barlow sidled up next to the senior guard, whispered some words of encouragement and then gave her a mini-hug.
Rozier had played so poorly in the first half that she nearly asked out of the game. But she persevered, scored some critical baskets in overtime and the Huskies escaped Pullman with a 76-70 win over Washington State. It was an impressive turnaround for Rozier, and another example of how leadership from the Huskies' upperclassmen has led to their turnaround this season. At 9-10, 4-5 in the Pac-10, the Huskies have surpassed both of their win totals from last season.
The win snapped a four-game losing streak for Washington and gave the team a much-needed catapult into their upcoming road trip to the Arizona schools next week.
Because Kristi Kingma was still suffering from the effects of a mild concussion, Coach Tia Jackson tapped Rozier for her first start. The Miami native responded by uncharacteristically attempting to take the game over from the onset, taking ill-advised shots not in the flow of the offense. On defense, she lost April Cook, allowing the stellar WSU guard to knock down a flurry of early 3-pointers. To punctuate the first half, Rozier inexplicably fouled a Cougars player in the backcourt with seconds left and Huskies in the bonus, giving the hosts a pair of free throws.
"(Rozier) maybe played her all-time worst in the first half," said assistant coach Judy Spoelstra. "She turned it around with her desire and her heart. That showed a lot of maturity."
The Huskies hung in the game on the strength of a career night from senior Sami Whitcomb, who scored 32 points and provided life-support for the Huskies offense.
Without Kingma, who averages 9.4 ppg, the Huskies were lacking another go-to scorer to accompany Whitcomb, which at times caused them to stagnate in their end. But Rozier made her mark in overtime, preventing the Cougars from snapping the Huskies 28-game winning streak. She cracked the ice in OT, nailing an 18-foot jumper from the wing. After a pickpocket steal at midcourt, she worked an exquisite give-and-go with Whitcomb for another layup, which featured a no-look touch pass from one senior to another. The dagger came with 18 seconds left, when Rozier sunk of floater in the lane, deflating the frenzied crowd at Beasley. She ended up with a modest score line (eight points and nine rebounds), but it was the timing that allowed the Huskies to enjoy the five-hour bus ride back to Seattle.
Afterwards, Rozier said the tough words from the Husky coaches gave her the right motivation, along with a softer brand of encouragement from her teammates.
"The coaching staff needed people to step up," Rozier said. "My teammates helped me in the second half. They said not to worry, that the coaches were just trying to motivate me. They just kept saying good things and lifting me up."
The Cougars came into the game winless in the Pac-10, but you wouldn't have known it by the way they packed Beasley Coliseum. Signs around Pullman proclaimed "Beat the Dawgs!" As the Huskies came out to warm up, WSU students held up newspapers bearing the same title. On big baskets, the Cougars would howl and pump their fists in celebration. There was no question this was one of the more intimidating environments the Huskies have played in this season.
Having not grown up on the West Coast, Rozier is not indoctrinated in the Huskies-Cougars rivalry like some of her teammates. But its importance was not lost on her after the game.
"My team was just so hyped," Rozier said. "They were saying, `It's all about who's the best in Washington.' We needed this win. We were coming off two close losses. It shows that even with key players hurt we can still pick up a win."