Nov. 28, 2012
By Gregg Bell - UW Director of Writing
SEATTLE - Now that's more like it.
C.J. Wilcox was slashing and swishing for 27 more points, one off his career high set Saturday. Abdul Gaddy responded from a subpar Saturday to score 16 points, include a momentum-seizing 3-pointer that tied the game at halftime.
Gaddy smartly fed Aziz N'Diaye inside for 12 of the 7-footer's 14 points in the second half. And the Huskies looked far more like they've wanted to all year at home while beating rugged Saint Louis 66-61 late Wednesday night at revived Alaska Airlines Arena.
"Good to see our guys competing better," relieved, smiling coach Lorenzo Romar said before laughing over what he was about to say next.
"Understatement: We really needed that one."
Being aggressive on drives into the lane again with senior wing Scott Suggs (sprained foot) still out, Wilcox made 11 of 13 shots in all. Energized Washington (3-3) made 14 of 22 shots after halftime to rally from six down.
The Huskies entered Wednesday having lost two consecutive non-conference home games for the first time since December 2000.
How relieved was Gaddy with this victory -- and with his personal bounce back from being benched in the final minutes of a 4-for-12 Saturday in a 73-55 loss to Colorado State?
"Big time," he said. "We got one. We knew we needed this one. When we were in the locker room (Saturday) we were really upset. Even in practice we were chippy with each other."
Wednesday, they got chippy with the Billikens. After the Huskies were out-rebounded 45-21 against Colorado State they owned a 32-30 edge on Saint Louis
But what really made the difference for the Dawgs was them looking more like last season's team. Or like the ones for the last decade under Romar.
At halftime, the 11th-year coach added a wrinkle to UW's high-post offense, which his team is featuring for the first time this season. He had his guards lead a return to the Huskies' old, spread-em-out, drive-the-lane, motion offense, as an option beyond the high-post sets.
"Old-school" Washington made 10 of its first 16 shots after halftime while focusing more on dribble penetration by Gaddy, Wilcox and Andrew Andrews plus getting the ball to N'Diaye more in the low post. N'Diaye responded by scoring 10 of his 12 points in the first dozen minutes after halftime, putting UW ahead 54-48.
"It was a different look," Romar said. "They were really bodying us up, grabbing, holding. ... When we spread them out we didn't think they could guard us off the dribble.
"That was proven correct."
And then when Saint Louis sagged in on Washington's drives, Wilcox stepped back out and swished from deep.
After a Billikens turnover, Wilcox made his fourth 3-pointer in five tries to put the Huskies up 57-48 with 6:51 left. The Huskies' defense, more active than it had been in weeks, forced a Saint Louis shot-clock violation on the ensuing possession. Then Andrews, the redshirt freshman from Portland, Ore., making his first career start, fed N'Diaye inside for a thunderous, two-handed dunk.
The Huskies sprinted off the floor for Saint Louis' ensuing time out pumping their fists to their roaring crowd of 6,928. For the first time at home this season UW looked like the fun, free-flowing team it has wanted to be. The Dawgs never relinquished the lead from there.
"After they kept playing the curl (into the lane) I took the fade outside," said Wilcox, whose 11-for-13 shooting was the most accurate game of his three seasons as a Husky. "Just giving what the defense gives you."
Saint Louis (3-3), which lost by 14 last week to Kansas, went 3 minutes without scoring late to keep Washington ahead by at least a half dozen until the final minute.
Yet the Billikens closed to 65-61 with 26.7 seconds left after UW's Jernard Jarreau missed the front end of a one-and-one free-throw situation and Rob Loe of SLU scored inside. Andrews made one of two free throws for the Huskies - and on the miss Desmond Simmons made one of his characteristic great hustle play to track down the ball in the corner for a key offensive rebound.
The Huskies dribbled out the final 20 seconds after Simmons' rebound, ending a rare losing streak at college basketball's winningest home count (923 wins and counting).
The Billikens have been without All-Atlantic-10 scoring guard Kwamain Mitchell so far this season. Mitchell had 18 points, four steals, three assists and no turnovers last November when Saint Louis beat visiting UW 77-64 in a game that wasn't that close.
This time, the Billikens led by six with 7 minutes left in the first half - then did not score for more than 3 minutes. The Huskies didn't exactly seize on that opportunity, missing all three of their shots from the field and going 2 for 4 from the line in that stretch to stay down 23-20.
Even Romar's first technical foul of the season in the opening half, for tepidly and only briefly arguing an over-and-back violation that officials did not call on Saint Louis - "weird," Gaddy said -- didn't get the Huskies fired up. They seemed to lack zest throughout most of the first 20 minutes.
But Gaddy gave Washington its first jolt with a 3-point swish from the top of the deep arc just before the halftime buzzer. That tied the game at 29. The senior co-captain immediately sprinted from the floor through the team tunnel to lead the buoyed Dawgs into their locker room.
They kept that zest throughout the second half, the most relieving and reassuring 20 minutes of their young season.
"Toughness and grit. We boxed out more. We just played more physical," Gaddy said. "That's always been a trademark of our team. We got after it these last two practices. It showed (Wednesday). We played a tough team in Saint Louis that likes to grind out wins.
"We played tough today."
INSIDE THE DAWGS: UW next hosts Cal State Fullerton (3-2 entering its game Friday at Eastern Washington) on Sunday at 4 p.m. ... Suggs was in street clothes on the bench this time, after sitting in team warmups and his walking boot during Saturday's game. Romar said his senior co-captain is "much better." While the coach doesn't think Suggs will play Sunday he said there is a chance his veteran scorer and defender could return next week when the Huskies host Nevada Dec. 8. ... Redshirt freshman Jernard Jarreau had a season-high six rebounds to go with a season high-tying six points. ... As Romar said he would, the Huskies played more zone defense to take advantage of this being the tallest and longest team the coach has had at UW. ... Emblematic of their depth issues without Suggs and Shawn Kemp (out until December with a torn patella tendon), UW played just seven players. Sophomore Hikeem Stewart and Simmons did not score, but Stewart again played stout defense in his career-high 16 minutes.