March 30, 2010
Reserve Your Spot For The Husky Basketball Banquet
Press Conference: Audio
By Tim Booth / The Associated Press
SEATTLE -- It may look like a frustrating obstacle to fans that Washington hasn't solved.
For Lorenzo Romar, it's equally disheartening. But it's also validation.
For the third time in Romar's tenure, Washington reached the round of 16 in the NCAA tournament this season. And for the third time, the Huskies' season ended in the regional semifinals, this time with a 69-56 loss to West Virginia.
But while some question whether there is a "Sweet 16 wall" that Romar's teams haven't been able to surmount, the coach believes the fact that such a question is even posed pays a compliment to the progress Washington has made since Romar arrived in 2002.
"We would like to have that breakthrough, but you can't take away from the fact that we've had progress," Romar said on Monday.
This run in the NCAA tournament that ended last Thursday night in Syracuse, N.Y., is the most surprising of any in Romar's time at Washington.
Criticized at midseason as one of the great disappointments in the country sitting at 3-5 in conference play, the Huskies (26-10) reversed their season to rally for the Pac-10 Conference tournament championship and upsets of Marquette and New Mexico in the first two rounds of the NCAAs.
And the group that takes the floor next November will look very similar to the team that walked off the floor on Thursday night. For the first time in quite a while, there won't be a major overhaul of the Huskies roster. Washington's only senior was Quincy Pondexter and Romar expects the other 11 who saw playing time this season to return.
"Hopefully it doesn't take us as long to settle in to what our rotations will be. With some new faces and guys developing over the summer it was difficult to settle in to who was going to play," Romar said. "With an older team, even though we will have a few new faces ... you still have a nucleus that's back and hopefully we can become a team quicker as a result of our experience."
Replacing Pondexter isn't as simple as it may sound. The senior became Washington's leading scorer and rebounder in his final season, making a strong case for Pac-10 player of the year before losing out to California's Jerome Randle. Pondexter averaged 19.3 points and 7.4 rebounds - both team highs - raising his points by more than seven per game and his rebounds by nearly two. He also provided an interior presence that was missing for the early part of the season.
The Huskies faced a similar challenge a year ago. When bruising forward Jon Brockman graduated, Washington understood the impact of Brockman's departure.
Is it the same with Pondexter?
"Players will step up, four points here, three points there, can collectively compensate for his scoring," Romar said. "I think the thing that has to happen, Marquette ... we knew Quincy was going to have the ball for that last shot. Stanford, we knew the ball was going to be in his hand. That'll be more what we look at than replacing points, is who will be that go-to guy."
With Pondexter gone, much of the leadership is expected to be taken up by guard Isaiah Thomas, who will be a junior next season. Thomas tempered his offensive game in the second-half of this season and began relying on his teammates more. He still averaged 16.9 points, but also raised his assist total and cut down on his turnovers from his freshman season.
Along with Thomas, the Huskies hope Matthew Bryan-Amaning can continue his improvement in the middle. Benched early in conference play, Bryan-Amaning responded with the best play of his career in the final two months. In his final 14 games of 2010, Bryan-Amaning averaged 11.8 points and 7.5 rebounds, developing into the third scoring option Washington sought all season.
Bryan-Amaning and Thomas will be among eight juniors and seniors on Washington's roster next season. Romar hopes that experience could help them have a repeat of the 2005 and 2006 seasons, when the Huskies advanced to the round of 16 in consecutive years.
"I like the fact we have an old team, a lot of guys have played together and I like that," Romar said. "In terms of being able to predict what's going to happen, I have no idea. We'll see."