Jan. 16, 2013
By Gregg Bell - UW Director of Writing
SEATTLE - Before he led his Huskies out of New York last March, after a loss in the semifinals of the National Invitation Tournament that completed a wholly deflating end to a Pac-12-title season, Lorenzo Romar made a vow.
"We will," he told those Dawgs who would return for this season, "be stronger mentally and play better defense."
But did UW's veteran coach ever imagine this?
"No. I didn't. Because I don't think we've ever had a team hold four (consecutive) teams under 40-percent shooting," Romar said late Wednesday night.
These resurgent Huskies have done just that, after bamboozling the Colorado Buffaloes to just 36 percent in a 64-54 lock-down victory that had Alaska Airlines Arena roaring over this new way to win at Washington.
The Huskies (12-5) are 4-0 in the Pac-12 for only the fourth time in the last 35 years entering Saturday night's home game against Utah, which lost Wednesday at Washington State.
Washington has been 5-0 in the league just twice in those 35 years, in 1984 and '82.
Pac-12 player of the week C.J. Wilcox scored 25 more points and played more smothering D, while Aziz N'Diaye, Desmond Simmons and the rest of the Huskies defenders held Colorado to 36.2-percent shooting, as cold as the Rocky Mountains in January.
Just like UW chilled WSU (36.8 percent), California (37.7 percent) and Stanford (39 percent) while winning on the road immediately before its Pac-12 home opener.
Now that Washington has gotten senior co-captain Scott Suggs and sophomore low-post presence Shawn Kemp Jr. fully back from injuries that slowed them into December, the Dawgs are growling on defense like they have few other times in Romar's 11, mostly great seasons at Washington.
Turns out their coach overlooked this has happened one other time since he's been at UW. In 2010 the Huskies held six consecutive foes under 40 percent on the way to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament.
"It's both our attitude and us figuring things out. We take pride in our defense; we don't like when people score off us," senior co-captain Abdul Gaddy said after Colorado missed 18 of its first 24 shots and scored just 20 points while falling behind by eight at the end of the first half.
That equaled the season low for points allowed in a half that UW had set while romping at Cal seven days earlier.
"We feed off our two main guys on defense, Dez and Aziz. We get our identity from those guys," Gaddy said. "And it amps us up on defense."
28-20 games at halftime. Fiercely contested shots clanging all over the gym. Rugby-like scrums for loose balls and long rebounds. 7-footer N'Diaye sprawling into the cameras behind the baseline to save possessions.
Ugly? It sure looks beautiful to the Huskies and their defense-first coach.
"Color it whatever way you want to color it," Romar said. "I just know when you have single digits in turnovers (nine on Wednesday) and you rebound like we have been, when you hold teams to under 40 percent from the field, we are starting to do things right.
"The only ugly thing, if you want to call it that, is we aren't making our shots."
Except for Wilcox.
He made eight of 14 attempts and scored 22 or more points for the sixth time this season - as many such games as he had over his first two UW seasons combined.
By the way: The other times the Huskies have started 4-0 in the league: 2011, 1984 and '82. The 2011 team won one game in the NCAA tournament. The'84 team won two in the NCAAs. The '82 team won once in the NIT.
This team again played like it wants no part of another NIT.
Suggs finished with 13 points. Simmons had another dozen rebounds, continuing his mammoth glass work this month. N'Diaye had six points with 11 rebounds.
The senior center also contested five of Colorado's first six shots to send the clear message that this was going to be a long night at sea level for CU, which walloped UW in mile-high Boulder 12 months ago en route to the Pac-12 tournament title. That CU run in Los Angeles helped take an NCAA tournament bid away from the Huskies, the league's regular-season champions last March.
This time, the Huskies continually out-hustled the Buffaloes to loose balls and long rebounds during the second half to maintain possessions - and the sizable lead. A steal by Jernard Jarreau, who earned Romar's and Gaddy's praise for hustle, led to this: Wilcox crossing over a dazed Buff into the lane for a smooth pull-up swish, the kind of shot that makes NBA scouts drool. That allowed UW to equaled its largest lead of 10 with 7:21 left.
But as he's proving more with each game, there is so much more to C.J. than offense.
Wilcox had shut down Cal's leading scorer Allen Crabbe last Wednesday then had 27 points with a career-best nine rebounds and another throttling on defense of Stanford's Chasson Randle last weekend in a 65-60 win that ended UW's first road sweep of the Bay Area schools since 1985.
Wednesday, he, Suggs, Gaddy and Andrew Andrews held CU's potent guard tandem of Askia Booker and Spencer Dinwiddie to a combined 8-for-25 shooting (32 percent).
"We always knew we could play good defense, and we came into the season saying that is what we needed to do," said Wilcox, who at 6-5 is a nightmare defender on smaller guards. "It just took some time to get it through our heads that this is what we needed to do. We're starting to learn that, and getting better game by game."
Getting better is pretty darn good right now.
Dating to the 2011 Pac-10 tournament - which they won on Isaiah Thomas' "cold-blooded" shot at the buzzer that beat Arizona - the Huskies are now 21-5 against conference teams.
The Huskies raced to an 11-4 lead and rocked the loudest crowd by far so far this season at ol' Hec Edmundson Pavilion. The Huskies made four of their first six shots, then missed 13 of their next 16. But in-their-shirts defense and N'Diaye leaping after just about every shot on or near Montlake Boulevard kept UW from ever trailing in the opening half.
Wilcox had 11 points in the first period, including the final bucket of the half that gave Washington a 28-20 lead to match its largest edge. That tied last week at Cal for the fewest points allowed by UW in a half this season.
And it the beat -- and beatings -- go on for the Huskies.
"Before the season we talked about how this group probably was the most coachable one we've had here, and had the most team chemistry," Romar said. "That's the reason (for the defense). We don't have guys sulking that they aren't getting their shots on offense."