Wroten, Ross Keep UW Alone Atop Pac-12
Feb. 4, 2012
By Gregg Bell
SEATTLE - Forget the points.
Forget Tony Wroten had 13 of them. Never mind USC had a grand total of 41, the fewest Washington had allowed in a conference game in 16 years.
The biggest indicator that these surging Huskies are far more prepared to travel the road for five of their final seven regular season games? Wroten, the freshman scoring whiz, had a season-high eight assists with six rebounds and just one turnover in 33 minutes Saturday night.
"If this would have been reversed, if we would have had five out of seven on the road early, our record would be far different because we weren't ready for that. But now I think we're a little more prepared to handle what we're about to face," coach Lorenzo Romar said, after Wroten and his Huskies remained alone atop the Pac-12 with a 69-41 mauling of outmanned USC at somewhat sleepy Alaska Airlines Arena.
"I'm not making any predictions. I just think we're a little more prepared to handle it."
The next test for the Huskies (16-7, 9-2 Pac-12) comes Thursday at 8 p.m. against Oregon (16-7, 7-4) in Eugene. The Ducks fell out of second place when they lost on a free throw after time expired Saturday at Colorado (16-7, 8-3).
The Buffaloes are tied with California for second in the league, one game behind Washington.
Next Sunday, Washington plays at Oregon State (15-8, 5-8).
"Trust me, it's in the back of our minds that we're in the driver's seat," said Wroten, who excelled despite a bruised thigh that had him in extended treatment sessions Friday and Saturday. "But when you are in the driver's seat everyone comes at you harder."
Romar had been wondering all week how his Huskies would handle their success.
They did just fine against USC. And, frankly, they should have.
Five season-ending injuries have left the Trojans with just six healthy scholarship players. That's after losses to graduation and to the NBA off an NCAA tournament team last season.
The points allowed by the Huskies were their fewest in a conference game since Oregon State scored just 40 on Feb. 10, 1996. Current radio color analyst Jason Hamilton was the Dawgs' co-captain then.
Aziz N'Diaye scored nine points with five rebounds against the smaller Trojans, and Shawn Kemp came alive inside with aggression for the second consecutive game. Kemp, getting more minutes behind N'Diaye and providing some balance to UW's guard-dominated offense, dunked twice early as Washington won for the 11th time in 13 games.
"It's big," senior captain Darnell Gant said of beating USC (6-18, 1-10), after he had eight points and seven rebounds. "It shows what our character is. It shows that we're looking at the big picture and we can't overlook USC because they're at the bottom of the Pac-12 right now.
"We had to take this game just like we played UCLA and take it as we played Arizona. Take them as they're a team that could potentially knock us off. And we don't want that."
After falling behind 7-4, the Huskies ultimately emptied their bench. Walk-ons Alex Wegner and Brendan Sherrer joined football player Austin Seferian-Jenkins, recently mothballed Martin Breunig and Hikeem Stewart on the floor for the end. Seferian-Jenkins' consecutive scores inside got the lead to 66-36, UW's largest.
The breather was rare. UW's previous three games had been decided by six points or fewer.
Yet it wasn't easy for all 40 minutes. And it certainly wasn't pretty.
"Well, we made it through," Romar said fittingly, given how USC mucks up games -- by necessity.
The Trojans were largely inept, shooting 29 percent overall, making just one of 16 tries from 3-point range and getting out-rebounded by the Huskies 52-23.
Yet Romar liked how his Dawgs defended.
"I thought we closed out and contested quite a few of their shots," Romar said, mentioning what has been a problem area for UW at times this season.
The Huskies were sluggish yet again at the beginning, but USC was ill-equipped to seize control. With the crowd murmuring over the home team being down 7-4, Kemp's two early slams plus a layup and a 3-pointer from Gant sent Washington on a 15-2 run that essentially ended all doubt.
Wroten got a bonus with the late, 8 p.m. tipoff. It allowed for an extra, almost-full day more of ultrasound treatment and ice to treat his bruised quadriceps - and thus allowed the conference's second-leading scorer at 16.9 points per game to start for the 15th consecutive time.
"It didn't hurt that much. Just a little sore," he said after his stat-sheet-stuffing night.
Wroten got hit high in the leg going in for a layup 2 ½ minutes into Thursday night's 71-69 rally past UCLA. He stayed hobbled the rest of the game yet played 27 minutes, scoring 13 points mostly on willpower.
Then midway through Thursday's second half Wroten got accidentally kicked in the shin by one of UCLA's Ware twins, adding to his pained night. He didn't play the final eight minutes, and UW rallied from 10 down to win without him.
Yet more proof these Huskies are better equipped for February and March than they were for December and January.
They head to the Oregon schools this week having won three consecutive road games, after starting 0-5 away from Seattle.
"(Now) it's just more that we got to be mentally ready," Gant said. "It's always tough when we go down to Corvallis and Eugene.
"We just want to have our heads on straight ... and go down there and get a sweep."