Nov. 10, 2012
|WASHINGTON VS. LOYOLA-MARYLAND
Sun., Nov. 11| 5:00 pm | Alaska Airlines Arena | Live Stats
Buy Tickets | TV: Pac-12 (Kevin Calabro & Lenny Wilkens)
Online: Live Chat | Radio: Bob Rondeau and Jason Hamilton on KJR 950 AM & 102.9 FM (Affiliates)
By Gregg Bell - UW Director of Writing
That and the lack of a proven, low-post scorer are why Washington, the defending conference champion, has been picked for fifth this season inside the Pac-12.
"We are kind of under the radar, and this is the first time that I've been here that we've been like that," senior captain and point guard Abdul Gaddy said. "Every year I've been here we've pretty much been first or second.
"We've got the underdog mentality. We are going to have to grind out wins and prove to everybody else that we are not fifth or sixth. We are trying to be the best. It drives me, and I know it drives my teammates."
Then there's the new, high-post offense coach Lorenzo Romar has installed for this season. It is getting a lot of attention - and curiosity - as it replaces the guard-penetration, motion offense as the primary half-court scheme the Huskies have run for the last decade.
But it seems everyone is overlooking the most important aspect of this 2012-13 season entering Sunday's 5 p.m. opener against Loyola, Md., at Alaska Airlines Arena. It's the absolute bedrock of the program, the principle to which Washington will need to return if it is to extend its streak of four consecutive Pac-12 regular-season or tournament titles.
That is, everyone is overlooking it except the players into whom Romar has been drilling the concept since August.
"Defense is a big key for us this year," returning, fifth-year senior Scott Suggs said. "In past years, we won most with our defense. Last year, we got away from that.
"Coach Romar mentioned it on Day One. He said, `We are going to play defense. That's going to be our focus.' He let everybody know: `Anybody that doesn't want to play defense is going to have a loooong year.'"
Buried beneath the outcry of the Huskies becoming the first outright regular-season champions of a major conference to be left out the NCAA tournament last spring: the chronic lack of on-ball and help defense. It caused the consecutive losses at UCLA to end the regular season. It's why eighth-seeded Oregon State rolled up 86 points while upsetting the top-seed Dawgs in the first round of the Pac-12 tournament in March.
Those defeats are why the Huskies made a deep run to the semifinals of the National Invitation Tournament instead of the covered NCAA one.
While Ross and, at times, Wroten lit it up offensively, Romar became convinced as last season ended he must re-instill the principles of in-your-shirt defense. That he must get his guys back dedicated to moving their feet and communicating and helping on that end of the floor.
If the Huskies play defense this season, conference championships, NCAA tournaments and everything else to which UW has grown accustomed in 10 seasons with Romar will take care of themselves.
Gaddy, undeniably the leader of this team, knows it.
"You know, we've built a trend here. Every year I've been here we've won a Pac-10 or a Pac-12 championship, whether it's been in the tournament or outright," Gaddy said. "We are trying to continue that trend."
Gaddy never expected to be here for a fourth season at UW. The top-rated point guard out of Bellarmine Prep in Tacoma years ago originally committed to Arizona, then came home and signed with the Huskies after Wildcats coach Lute Olson retired. Like most others, he saw himself getting to the NBA a year or two ago, before Ross and Wroten. But he tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his knee in January 2011.
"No I didn't (expect to still be in college). But for me to make it here I feel blessed," Gaddy said. "I have the opportunity to win another Pac-12 title, and to get my degree. I just feel blessed to have this opportunity."
It's an opportunity for redemption.
Oh, yes, Gaddy and his teammates are driven by the NCAA tournament snub from last spring. It was the first time in three seasons Gaddy didn't make it to the Big Dance.
"It left a big chip, in the fact it's one of the big reasons to come to college and play college basketball. You want to play in the NCAA tournament," he said. "That's one of the perks of playing college basketball. You get to have millions of people in the world play basketball. It's just a great moment that you get to live.
"Us not getting to live in that moment kind of made us upset, like, `Man, next year, we have to get back.' We made a pact this summer, some of did, that every day we have to give it our all (to get back)."
Gaddy, Suggs, sharpshooting junior C.J. Wilcox, and sixth-man guard Andrew Andrews, a confident redshirt freshman from Portland, need to carry the Huskies through the early tests this season. UW plays in the Hall of Fame Tipoff Tournament against Seton Hall and either Ohio State or Rhode Island next weekend in Uncasville, Conn., then at home against NCAA tournament contenders Colorado State (Nov. 24), Saint Louis (Nov. 28), Nevada (Dec. 8) - not to mention a Dec. 29 game at Connecticut.
The Huskies will do all that without Shawn Kemp Jr. The sophomore power forward Romar this week called the team's best low-post scoring threat is out until at least early January with a torn patella tendon.
Gaddy -- and when he spells him, Andrews, whom Romar calls "a pit bull" - will be the decision makers in the new high-post offense with a one-guard front.
And the coach is more than fine with that.
"Abdul Gaddy, without question, will have his best year as a Husky. By far," Romar said.
When the preferred fast-break chances aren't there for Gaddy, 7-foot senior center Aziz N'Diaye plus forwards Desmond Simmons, Jernard Jarreau and Martin Breunig will set up around the foul-line area to set screens and at times receive entry passes from the point guard.
Wilcox and Suggs will be the primary options for shots cutting off those high posts. Once opponents get used to Gaddy's reads off the high posts, the onus will be on the senior point guard to set back and make the many outside looks he will undoubtedly get in this new scheme.
Romar has wanted to install this as his primary halfcourt offense since he arrived from Saint Louis in 2002. But his personnel of dominant, daring guards from Nate Robinson through Isaiah Thomas and Wroten demanded a more free-flowing, motion offense featuring drives into the lane.
But this season, with the poised, steady Gaddy running the offense and the bonus opportunity to install it in 10 extra practices this summer before a six-game exhibition tour of Europe, Romar changed to the high-post scheme.
Romar, a native of the Los Angeles area who began college coaching as an assistant at UCLA, points out this new Huskies' offense has won 13 national championships. Ten of those were under John Wooden. Don MacLean of UCLA - remember him? -- became the conference's career scoring leader in this scheme.
So, yes, when executed properly, it works.
It's just for Washington, it will be well ... different.
"I think we are as talented (as his previous teams)," Gaddy said.
"It's different. People don't know the abilities Scott has. People don't know Scott has improved so much. People don't know that I have improved so much from last year. C.J. has improved. Aziz has improved.
"I think we are just as talented a team as we were last year. It's just a different type of talent.
"As we going through our non-conference schedule people are going to say, `Oh, OK. Now I see.'"