Nov. 16, 2010
by Gregg Bell
UW Director of Writing
SEATTLE - To Justin Holiday, and to most Huskies fans, the basketball season really begins now.
Two routs of overwhelmed opponents -- the latest Eastern Washington in the Dawgs' 98-72 victory on Tuesday night at Hec Edmundson Pavilion -- has 17th-ranked Washington rolling early on its way into a loaded Maui Invitational that includes Kentucky, Michigan State, Connecticut, Oklahoma.
"Now, real basketball starts," Holiday said minutes after he scored a career-high 18 points on 8-of-13 shooting over and through Eastern's zone defense. "We can see where we are with the rest of the nation."
Even coach Lorenzo Romar was looking ahead to Saturday's trip to Hawaii and Monday's opening game there against Virginia and former Washington State coach Tony Bennett.
"It was a great game for us to use as a springboard to go to Maui," Romar said of Washington's 11th win in 12 games against EWU since 1990.
On the Huskies' last mainland test before the nationally televised showcase on the islands, Holiday led an early Senior Night on the UW campus.
Two days before Jake Locker leads his fellow Huskies football seniors into their home finale, senior Venoy Overton jump-started the hoops team out of an early funk with three steals and one, wondrous, over-the-shoulder pass. In the second half, coach Lorenzo Romar told Overton to hound Tremayne Johnson, who had scored 10 points in the first half for the Eagles (0-2). Johnson made one basket the rest of the night.
"I guess when I come in the energy comes up a little bit," Overton deadpanned. "No. 20, he was killing us in the first half. ... That took care of that problem fast."
And classmate Matthew Bryan-Amaning continued his surge that started at the end of last season with 14 points and 10 rebounds for his second consecutive double-double. The 6-9 forward had a career-high 28 points with 13 rebounds in Saturday's 118-64 race past McNeese State.
Abdul Gaddy showed he's grown up, too, from a subpar freshman year. He tied his career-high with 13 points, and was 3 for 4 from 3-point range. He has four bonus baskets in two games, one more than he had all last season.
"I put a lot of work in over the summer, and it showed tonight," said Gaddy, who went home to Tacoma, Wash., and worked on his shooting and psyche with UW point guard Isaiah Thomas, who offset 2 for 9 shooting Tuesday with a career high-tying five steals.
Gaddy lost 10 pounds through the workouts, down to 185. The former heralded Arizona recruit who changed his mind and came home when Wildcats coach Lute Olson left that program is noticeably quicker and more aggressive with the dribble on offense. For the second consecutive game, he created shots for himself or easy ones for teammates with drives through the lane. And now he is showing off a jumper.
He even dived to the floor to fight an Eagle for a loose ball and force a tie up in the second half, something he said he wouldn't have done at the start of last season. His teammates and Romar roared along with the crowd of 8,897 at that grittiness.
"I feel a lot more confident," Gaddy said. "I do feel like a different player."
Eastern Washington was missing injured point guard, leader and defensive whiz Glen Dean, yet led by five early. That's when Romar sat down his five starters - Thomas, Gaddy, Bryan-Amaning, Holiday and Darnell Gant - after EWU kept beating the Huskies down court to begin the game.
"We were just getting out-scrapped," Romar said, calling it the one negative of the night. "Yeah, we talked about that (on the bench)."
Nobody out-scraps Overton. He entered and immediately became his usual, menacing self on defense. He just about single-handedly ruined the Eagles' night, and certainly their lead, with defense.
Overton had three steals while playing 13 minutes of the first half. Poof! Eastern's five-point lead became a 42-34 edge for the Huskies by halftime.
Overton stole the ball off a dribble by Eastern's Cliff Colimon at half court late in the opening half, then flipped a no-look pass over his shoulder to streaking Bryan-Amaning. As the crowd roared over the fancy flip, Bryan-Amaning dunked for his first big play of the night.
"With the way Venoy is, he's always the first one to a loose ball," Bryan-Amaning said. "On that play I was just ran down the other end and was thinking, `He's going to save it. And I am wide open.'"
Seconds later, Overton again stole the ball at half court. This time he took it all the way, gliding in for a double-clutch layup. The pair of vintage Overton plays gave Washington its biggest lead to that point.
He did the same thing on Saturday against McNeese State. Seconds after he entered that game for the first time, a McNeese guard dribbled the ball out of bounds off his foot at the mere sight of renowned defensive pest.
"Once I got in there I was going to pressure up," said Overton, who had an ice pack on his left tailbone following a hard fall on a shot late in the game.
"I expected it," he said of the havoc he again created, "and that's what happened."