March 15, 2011
March 15, 2011
NCAA Tournament Central
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Georgia Gives UW Chance To Flex Lineup Versatility
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Charlotte, N.C. - It took the entire regular season, but the normally unfazed Terrence Ross was finally fazed.
He had played just 4 minutes of the Huskies' penultimate regular-season game, against UCLA, then two days later never got off the bench. Yep, he watched all 40 minutes of the finale against USC while in his team warm-ups. Coach Lorenzo Romar explained afterward he simply ran out of minutes with fellow guards C.J. Wilcox and Scott Suggs playing well in a close game Washington ultimately lost.
But two days after that, on March 7, Romar walked up to Ross before practice and told the quick-triggered freshman shooter he was going to make his first career start, in the Pac-10 tournament.
"It was kind of shocking," Ross said of the sudden promotion from invisible to indispensible. "I wasn't understanding it at first."
He's more than up to speed on everything now.
The 6-foot-6 shooting guard has gone from excluded 10 days ago to Washington's "X" factor in the NCAA tournament that begins for seventh-seeded UW (23-10) on Friday night at 6:45 p.m. Pacific time here in the East region against 10th-seeded Georgia (21-11).
Ross may start again alongside point guard Isaiah Thomas against the Bulldogs, creating immediate matchup issues. Georgia's starting guards are 5-11 Dustin Ware and 6-1 Gerald Robinson Jr., and their tallest reserve guard who plays much is 6-2 Sherrard Brantley, meaning a taller forward may try to stay with Ross.
"Try" is the key word. Ross' quickness, his athleticism that Romar says is UW's best and his streaky shooting, when on, change games faster than you can say "Ross for 3!"
He didn't just start for the first time in last weekend's Pac-10 tournament. He finished.
Romar inserted Ross into the lineup in place of 7-foot center Aziz N'Diaye to get bigger on the perimeter and to inject the Huskies' then-skittish offense with scoring from the jump. The switch worked brilliantly, perhaps even better than Romar had hoped.
Ross scored 17 points in 29 minutes Thursday in Los Angeles to help rally the Huskies past Washington State. He scored 13 points in Friday's semifinals against Oregon. That included a soaring dunk, after a remarkable behind-the-back dribble across his body back into his right hand, a play that was among the nation's top highlights that night. Hours later in Saturday's championship game against Arizona, Ross made a clutch 3-pointer with 17 seconds left that began UW's comeback from four points down in the final 26 seconds.
Ross' steely shot was almost as "cold-blooded" as Thomas' eventual game winner at the buzzer of overtime. Ross' 3 didn't decide the game, only the question of whether the former Oregon state champion at Portland's Jefferson High School could produce on a grand stage so early in his college career. Ross was the relatively out-of-nowhere member of the conference's all-tournament team.
The stage gets even grander Friday night at Time Warner Cable Arena downtown in this Queen City. And if the last five months - and especially the last week -- are the indicators the Huskies think they are, Ross will be the coolest cat in the building.
"It's rare for anyone - especially for a freshman," Romar said of Ross' always-even temperament. "I just think Terrence is the type if he's coming off the bench, if he's in the starting lineup, if he wakes up and he's playing in a Final Four, if he wakes up and he's in his driveway shooting, I think he's the same.
"He does have a rare, refreshing uniqueness about him that way."
It's more than just mentality that define Ross, though. His size outside has been a nightmare for opponents. After Washington was miserable at the start of its Pac-10 opener at USC on Dec. 29, Ross came off the bench and saved the Huskies with then-season bests of 18 points, 26 minutes in the Dawgs' overtime win. Many of those points came after Ross took smaller USC guards down in the low post for the most unfair matchup since the Huskies opened the season beating McNeese State by 54.
But Ross, whose career high is the 25 he dropped on Oregon in January, is best known for his fearlessness. He is willing, and able, to gun from anywhere at any time.
There are perhaps a handful of freshmen that play on a team with three seniors (Justin Holiday, Matthew Bryan-Amaning and Venoy Overton) plus a midseason candidate for the national player of the year (Thomas, a junior) yet is willing to shoot from deep behind the 3-point arc with a title on the line. Ross did that against Arizona in Los Angeles. There are even fewer who would swish that shot while down 4 with 17 seconds left, as Ross did Saturday.
Gun shy? If anything, Ross has had to remind himself to slow down the shooting barrage in his first UW season.
"It's something where I've kind of told myself to be patient," said Ross, who grew up in Vancouver, Wash., and commuted to high school crossing the Columbia River with his mother, who worked in downtown Portland. "Before people didn't realize I'm a shooter. Now, they do, so I need to be aware of that and use pump fakes or create better shots for myself."
Given what he's already made in his first Huskies season, that could be quite a show.