Feb. 7, 2013
|WASHINGTON AT UCLA
Thursday, Feb. 7 | 6:00 pm (PT) | Pauley Pavilion
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By Gregg Bell
UW Director of Writing
LOS ANGELES - Lorenzo Romar walked into new Pauley Pavilion Thursday morning for the first time since the historic arena had been renovated.
A long-time UCLA staffer greeted the Huskies coach who won an NCAA championship here as a Bruins assistant in 1995 and earnestly said to Romar: "You are one of the most special people."
The Huskies think they may have at least a few more Thursday night.
Shawn Kemp Jr. is emerging inside with 7-footer Aziz N'Diaye at an sublime time for the Huskies.
Specifically, that time is tonight at 6 p.m. when Washington (13-9, 5-4 Pac-12) attempts to keep pace with the top teams in the conference when it plays at UCLA (16-6, 6-3).
Kemp missed the first month of the season while sitting out completely with a torn patella tendon. He then spent weeks trying to find both his conditioning and a role. Now, though, the 6-foot-9 power forward is coming off a career-best, 18-point, six-rebound awakening last weekend in the Huskies' 96-92 win over previously white-hot Arizona State.
It was Kemp's second consecutive start since Romar decided he would give his dangerous but until-now delayed, low-post threat maximum opportunities to produce.
Kemp, who has lost 15 pounds from last season, to about 250 pounds, said after Saturday's win over ASU he is so much more confident than he was even a week ago, before his debut as a starter against Arizona. Until then he had bit roles of 5 minutes of here, 3 minutes there. He had played more than 18 minutes in a game just twice in two seasons as a Husky before entering the starting lineup.
As a starter he's been so confident he stepped back during the second half against the Sun Devils and swished a 17 footer from near the top of the key, part of his 9-for-14 night in 24 minutes.
"Oh, yeah, I definitely feel more confident. ... Coming off the bench, there's not a lot of time to show what you can do," Kemp said Tuesday.
Romar thinks Kemp wasn't stepping up because he wasn't getting enough of a sustained chance to grow during Pac-12 games.
"You have to make the decision sometimes, which guy is going to benefit the most and benefit the team the most if he plays more? And we felt with Shawn that he has a lot of potential. We need to throw him in there and see how he does," Romar said. "Because if he begins to play with confidence and begins to figure it out, he can be a big, big piece in what we are trying to do.
"We thought he had the most room for improvement."
Kemp's third career start will come Thursday inside renovated Pauley Pavilion. The Bruins team are athletic and quick. But no one will ever mistake this season's version for previous UCLA teams anchored in the middle by legendary centers such as Lew Alcindor or Bill Walton, the latter of whom will be calling the game for ESPN.
"They are a good team. They have a lot of offensive firepower. Obviously they don't have a big center, but they are athletic," said N'Diaye, himself coming off a career night with 16 points, 10 rebounds, the preserving blocked shot in the final seconds - and, oh yeah, three stitches above his left eye - against Arizona State.
Now that big - and we mean big -- center Joshua Smith has transferred to Georgetown, UCLA's tallest players are more sleek, 6-10 twins Travis and David Wear. They are far from back-to-the-basket posts. Together they weigh only a bit more than Smith did as a Bruins, and they roam more through the lane and along the baseline to create opportunities.
Kemp's emergence gives UW the potential for a decided edge in low-post production Thursday night, which could come in handy while the Huskies and Bruins guards chase each other all over Pauley. UCLA is likely to follow recent teams' approaches of sticking a hounding defender onto Huskies scoring leader C.J. Wilcox and face guarding him all night.
Kemp had committed to both Auburn and Alabama out of Cherokee High School in Canton, Ga., then missed a full season because of NCAA academic qualifying issues. Whether he continues to progress as rapidly as he has in just one week as a college starter may largely determine if Washington can win for the fourth time in six league road games.
"We missed his scoring," Romar said of Kemp in November and into December. "People were like, `His scoring? He averaged two points, three points a game last season.' But we saw what he was doing. We saw how he played on our foreign tour (last summer). We saw what he was doing in the preseason. We knew what he was capable of doing.
"And then he gets hurt," Romar said, slapping the table he was sitting behind with his hand. "That was something we were missing. So now he's in the starting lineup, and I believe he is playing with more confidence.
"He is playing now like we thought he could."
Of course, UCLA is watching tape this week of Kemp from the ASU game. They - specifically the Wares -- will be paying for more attention to him than Kemp is used to seeing.
What's his adjustment to teams scouting him more intently?
"Just play harder," he says. "I go up on their scout (report), they are going to come at me harder. So I've got to play harder."
Defenses playing Kemp harder should, in theory, mean more space for N'Diaye to continue what has been a sterling senior season inside.
And the added attention shouldn't frustrate Kemp. He claims he wasn't even chafed at being an insignificant bit player last season as a freshman, or at having to sit out those all those weeks from the knee injury this fall.
"I wasn't really frustrated because I know everyone has their time," he said. "It wasn't my time (then).
"It's my time now."
INSIDE THE DAWGS: This is only the sixth time in 11 years under Romar that UW has finished the first half of conference play above .500. Four other occasions ended with NCAA tournament berths. The lone exception was last season, when the Huskies went 14-4 to win the Pac-12 - then became the first regular-season champion from a major, so-called BCS conference not selected to the big dance. ... N'Diaye said the swelling has subsided from the cut over his left eye, the result of a Sun Devil's inadvertent knee Saturday. The wound has closed and he is unlikely to wear a bandage at UCLA. ... Thanks to N'Diaye's Pac-12-best 3.5 offensive rebounds per game, UW leads the league in that category at 12.8 per night. ... This is the first pair of league road games when the Huskies will not fly home between games. After tonight's game the team will move to a more downtown hotel in Los Angeles. It will practice Friday and Saturday at USC before its game there Sunday at 7 p.m. The Dawgs will fly home after the USC game and are scheduled to arrive on campus around 1:30 a.m. Monday. They will also stay in Arizona Feb. 19 through 23, while playing at U of A on a Wednesday and at ASU Saturday.