Feb. 17, 2011
By Gregg Bell
UW Director of Writing
TEMPE, Ariz. - Matthew Bryan-Amaning emerged from the visiting locker room with huge grin. So did Isaiah Thomas. Inside, the Huskies were roaring, cracking up while visiting with last year's star Quincy Pondexter, who is on his NBA All-Star break.
Yep, there were some happy Dawgs on the road this time.
Bryan-Amaning had 22 points and 12 rebounds, and Washington answered its three-game road losing streak and an early eight-point deficit Thursday night with defense and deep shooting in an eventual, 79-62 race past Arizona State at silenced Wells Fargo Arena.
Three-point shooting by redshirt freshman C.J. Wilcox, who finished with 16 points and eight rebounds, plus jump-starting defense from Venoy Overton and Terrence Ross sparked a 25-point turnaround after an ugly first 10 minutes for the Huskies (18-7, 10-4 Pac-10). The comeback ended the sour road skid that had dropped them from first to third place in the conference.
UW also stayed a game and a half behind Arizona in the Pac-10 -- then boarded a bus bound for Tucson and Saturday's showdown with the Wildcats.
"We just settled down," Bryan-Amaning said after he carved up ASU's zone defense for his eighth double-double of the season. "Good teams grow later in the season. We've learned these last few weeks to keep our composure when things aren't going our way. ... Just trust in the game plan and stay with it."
They did - with the added bonus of Overton becoming a bigger part of it. The 6-foot senior finished with 10 points and a career-best eight rebounds, with five assists, in his third consecutive strong game. His play strongly suggests he is back to his stellar form of late last season.
He entered Thursday for the first time when starting guard Scott Suggs limped off while propped against a trainer and a teammate in the opening minutes. Suggs has a sprained medial collateral ligament in his left knee.
Coach Lorenzo Romar said Suggs is unlikely to play at Arizona, and the 6-6 junior echoed that. Suggs, who ran into Thomas near the Sun Devils' basket when he got hurt, said the injury is worse than the sprained MCL he had at the Maui Invitational in November. He added it took him five or six days to get back strong again from that.
Suggs started his ninth consecutive game on Thursday, and his insertion into the starting lineup in January coincided with Thomas moving to point guard for injured Abdul Gaddy and playing the best ball of his career.
So, yes, Suggs' injury is big. But it is also coinciding with Wilcox's return to sharpshooting, after a staph infection in January made his shooting rusty for a month.
"It's good to have me coming back right now," said Wilcox, who was 6 for 11 in a season-high 25 minutes."Coach has been trying to get me and Venoy to be more aggressive."
Overton may start in Suggs' place at Arizona. Romar seems likely to choose his senior guard for his experience, grittiness and recent strong play amid what promises to be a raucous scene at McKale Center.
"He continued to play with that edge," Romar said of last season's key contributor to UW's Pac-10 tournament title and rush into the NCAA tournament's Sweet 16. Wilcox and Ross are primed to be big factors, as well.
The Huskies fell behind by 8 early to Arizona State (9-15, 1-11), again looking lethargic early on the road. ASU's Ty Abbott singed them early with 13 points in the game's first 12 minutes. Then Thomas stepped up defensively against the leading Sun Devil, showing why he is so invaluable even when he doesn't score 20.
Abbott missed his next five shots with Thomas in his face, and didn't score again until 7:47 remained in the game. Washington was rolling by then, up 68-50.
"We settled down ... and I just had to play harder on defense," Thomas said. "(Abbott) had too many open shots early. I felt like if I stopped him our lead would increase."
He did and it did, thanks to Wilcox. He fueled the comeback by making three of his first six 3-point shots. And Bryan-Amaning took advantage of large gaps in Arizona State's active zone defense to score 13 points in the first half.
Bryan-Amaning's soaring, right-handed dunk got the Huskies' mojo back, and put UW suddenly up by six.
Ross, owner of what Romar says is the best offensive gifts on the team, is showing defense after three months of learning UW's system. The freshman from Portland's Jefferson High School left his man on help defense and ripped the ball from ASU's 7-foot-2 Jordan Bachynski from behind in the low post for a steal, leading to Bryan-Amaning essentially passing the ball to himself in the lane for a crafty basket. That put the Huskies up 38-28 late in the half.
On ASU's next possession, Ross raced and then jumped beyond the baseline to save a ball from going out of bounds. That brought the Huskies' bench to their feet, and prompted assistant coach Paul Fortier to extend a hearty hand to his rapidly developing freshman.
A fringe benefit to the easy second half: Thomas, who was just named Pac-10 player of the week for the third time this season, played just 29 minutes and got rest for Arizona Saturday. He finished with 11 points and six assists.
Arizona State shot 50 percent overall and 60 percent from 3-point range while staying with the Huskies until UW pulled away at the end for a 13-point win in Seattle last month. But ASU couldn't stay with the Dawgs' surge this time. They were without their outside scoring threat, Rihards Kuksiks. And when Thomas stifled Abbott, that essentially robbed the Sun Devils of their only pitchfork for the fight.
Their best shove back was Abbott's two-hand shiver of Thomas at midcourt 2 minutes into the second half, after Thomas had objected to ASU's Kyle Cain trying to run him over away from the ball. That drew offsetting technical fouls on Abbott and Thomas.
The home crowd got fired up, and so did the Sun Devils. They ran off four quick points to get within 49-42. An uncharacteristically demonstrative Romar called time out and sternly warned his Huskies not to get dragged into an alley fight and provide the trailing home team with momentum. The coach threw his arms toward the court and across his body to emphasize his point, showing as much vigor as he has during games all season.
"Those situations can change the complexion of the game," Romar said. "We didn't want to get into that."
Just as Bryan-Amaning says, they've learned. The Huskies stayed above the fray - and far above the Sun Devils. Wilcox made a layup after the time out. Bryan-Amaning had another thunderous dunk. Holiday and Wilcox hit consecutive 3s. Just like that, UW led 59-42 and cruised from there.
They cruised all the way down Interstate 10 to Tucson late Thursday night, knowing their last chance at winning the Pac-10 regular-season title is next. Romar and his staff watched film of the Wildcats on laptop computers the entire way.
"I would say this is a big game," Romar deadpanned. "There's a lot at stake."
Matthew Bryan-Amaning has a career high three assists and equaled a season-high with four blocks. His fourth block was the 143rd of his career and moved him one past Todd MacCulloch into second all-time in UW history. Christian Welp is the all-time leader with 186 blocks.
So far, Washington has beat every Pac-10 team that they lost to on the road in 2010 (UCLA, USC, California and Arizona State). Conversely, every Pac-10 team that UW beat on the road in 2010 (Stanford, Washington State, Oregon State and Oregon) has beat the Huskies on their home court in 2011.