UW Gets Its Road Grind On Again, Wins 60-54 at ASU
Jan. 26, 2012
By Gregg Bell
TEMPE, Ariz. - Though only a college freshman, Tony Wroten has done plenty in his basketball life.
He was the nation's top-ranked high school player - as a freshman. He is already tied with Quincy Pondexter for fifth all-time among UW's highest-scoring freshmen. His passing skills have made UW coach Lorenzo Romar compare him to Magic Johnson. And after he dropped 23 points on Duke in Madison Square Garden last month, Mike Krzyzewski, college basketball's winningest coach ever, gushed to him: "We couldn't keep you in front of us."
Yet Wroten had never done what he pulled on Arizona State at half-empty but wowed Wells Fargo Arena Thursday night.
He soared down the lane and immortalized an unwitting Sun Devil as a hapless victim by dunking on top of him with one, majestic left hand. The electrifying play ended the home team's momentum and was a for-the-ages highlight of his 22 points as Washington otherwise grinded out a 60-54 victory to gain a tie for the Pac-12 lead.
"Man, that might have been the best dunk I've ever had ... I want to go see the highlight," Wroten said, shaking his head at his best play so far among many as a Husky. "Hopefully, it can make ESPN's top plays."
Even Romar was awed.
"I wish I was in the stands watching instead of thinking what defense we should get back into," the veteran coach said.
The game wasn't pretty. They often aren't on the road.
But like Wroten's dunk, the result was plenty beautiful for the Huskies.
C.J. Wilcox returned after a three-game absence and hit four key free throws late, his only points in 10 refreshing minutes. Wroten added six rebounds and four assists, including a couple fantastic ones in the lane. And Terrence Ross had 12 points and seven rebounds for the Huskies (13-7, 6-2 Pac-12), who rode down Interstate 10 after the game for Saturday's at Arizona while in a four-way tie with Oregon, Colorado and idle California atop the conference.
It was the second consecutive, rugged road win for the Dawgs, who would prefer to run like greyhounds rather than scrap like bulldogs. Their two lowest-scoring games this season have been the last two away from home. But both have been wins, at Utah and on Thursday.
Washington was 0 for 5 away from Seattle before learning this new grind.
"It's not frustrating at all," Romar said of the low-scoring night and close margin against the struggling, depleted Sun Devils (6-14, 2-6), who used a matchup zone to pester the Huskies and made open 3-pointers to stay in the game. "If you are fortunate enough to make the NCAA tournament you are going to face teams that grind it out.
"Sometimes you can't impose your will as far as temp on the road - and you have to do what we did tonight."
The same Huskies that fired up ill-advised shots early in possessions to fuel home-team runs in previous road losses worked the ball around both sides of the court Thursday. They often waited until the 35-second shot clock was in the teens or below before shooting, maintaining a poised, controlled feel even when ASU took a two-point lead into the half.
"It's been a maturation process. I think we are getting it," Romar said. "We are entering the second half of conference (play). This is about the time you have to get things going."
And this is exactly when the Huskies have gotten it going en route to Romar's six NCAA tournament appearances and three conference titles in his first nine seasons at Washington.
Austin Seferian-Jenkins scored four points and had five more rebounds in 16 minutes while making his first two baskets since joining the team off the football field three weeks ago. But he was more excited talking about Wroten's dunk than his second, needed physical game in five days.
Asked if he was "ooh-ing and ahh-ing" over Wroten's slam, the football tight end flashed an incredulous look and deadpanned, "I mean, yeah.
"I think you oooh-ed and ahhh-ed, too," Seferian-Jenkins said. "If I don't see that on ESPN's top plays, I am going to call ESPN."
As for scoring his first bucket, in the first half on a great pass inside by Wroten, ASJ shook his head and said "I should have dunked it."
Wroten told him the same thing on the floor immediately after the play.
Arizona State (6-14, 2-6) hung in without Trent Lockett. Its leader in scoring, rebounding, assists, steals, and minutes played was out with a sprained ankle. Gilling kept ASU in it by making 5 3-pointers. But the Huskies were as much to blame for those. They were late closing out on him defensively, lost him through screens they didn't call out to each other - or, once, inexcusably left him while he had the ball in the deep corner.
The Sun Devils got within 43-39 on a drive by Chris Colvin with 5:55 left. Then came Wroten's scintillating moment.
Ross went from inside out to the wing, taking two defenders with him. That left the lane as wide open as the 520 bridge at 3 a.m. -- as wide as it had been all night with ASU staying in its zone.
Wroten's eyes got huge.
"I knew when I got the ball I was driving," he said. "Then when I got the ball, it was all she wrote."
Wroten took the ball near the foul line. He drove down the lane. He soared over Gilling, the ball held high in his favored, left hand. He slammed the ball through violently, and then crashed down onto the poor, late-arriving and poster-ized freshman.
The Huskies' bench players went bonkers, falling over themselves. Scott Suggs, the senior who is redshirting, exchanged exclamations with a fan seated behind him. Wroten just stuck an index finger toward the ceiling and stomped to the foul line. He made the ensuing free throw for a 3-point play that put Washington up 46-39 with 5:35 left.
"That's why I showed so much emotion. They were coming back," said Wroten, after his eighth 20-point game this season. "That was a momentum breaker.
"Plus, I made the free throw!" the 55-percent free-throw shooter said with a huge grin.
Yet ASU got back within 50-46 with 1:45 left. Then Wroten hustled to track down his own miss, attacked the rim yet again from his right, off side and scored while fouled. He made that free throw, too, and Washington was back up by seven.
Wroten finished 4 for 8 from the line.
Romar then alertly subbed in Wilcox twice for specifically for offensive possessions in the final minute. Abdul Gaddy and Ross ensured the ball got into their sharpshooter's hands each time, even though Wilcox said, "Their coaches were yelling at them, `Don't let him catch the ball!'
"But I did anyway," Washington's second-leading scorer said, smiling.
The 86-percent foul shooter made all four of his foul shots in the final 27 seconds to ensure UW's first two-game road winning streak in the conference during the regular season since Dec. 29 and 31, 2010's wins at USC and UCLA.
Wilcox passed a weight-bearing test on the stress fracture in his upper left leg hours before tipoff. Romar had expected him to play about 10 minutes.
Wilcox feels he can now do much more Saturday at Arizona in a big, national-showcase game on the same ESPN the Huskies were all rushing into their Tucson hotel to view late Thursday night, to see Wroten's dunk.
"It's been a while. I hadn't gone full speed in three weeks," Wilcox said. "I wasn't used to the speed of the game at first.
"This game helped me get my bearings. Saturday, I will be back to my old self."
Just in time for the toughest conference road test so far.