They Are Having Fun Now: Ross' Career Night Leads UW
March 16, 2012
By Gregg Bell
SEATTLE - A few days ago, the Huskies' season was at rock bottom.
The outright regular-season champions of the Pac-12 had become the first major conference winner to be left out of the NCAA tournament. They were stunned. And, yes, bummed.
As for their consolation prize?
"I didn't even know where the NIT was, until Coach told us that you could play in New York," Huskies shooter C.J. Wilcox said Friday night.
How much does this National Invitation Tournament mean to these Huskies now?
Enough that electric Terrence Ross sizzled for a career-high 32 points in the second round. Enough that a focused Wilcox poured in 20 more. Enough that leading scorer Tony Wroten was sharing instead of scoring, with seven assists, eight rebounds and two points while orchestrating the Dawgs' best ball movement of the season.
And enough that coach Lorenzo Romar took the courtside public-address microphone for only the second time in his 10 seasons leading UW, immediately after Washington's rollicking, 76-55 race past shell-shocked Northwestern Friday night.
"We think you guys are some of the greatest fans in America!" Romar yelled over the roaring crowd of 5,761 at Alaska Airlines Arena. "We're still trying to win a championship. We'd love for you to pack this place Tuesday night - and help us get to New York!"
That's where the top-seeded Huskies will head for the NIT semifinals if it wins their next game. Washington will host the quarterfinals Tuesday at 6 p.m. at Alaska Airlines Arena against the winner of Sunday's game between seventh-seeded Iowa (18-16) and third-seeded Oregon (23-9) in Eugene.
Asked if he wanted Oregon as his next opponent, junior point guard Abdul Gaddy thought of UW's 82-57 loss in Eugene last month, nodded and said flatly: "Yeah."
Romar, seated to Gaddy's left, jabbed his co-captain with an elbow and playfully shushed him.
And by now even Wilcox knows that the winner of Tuesday's quarterfinal goes to the NIT semifinals inside Madison Square Garden March 27.
"We as a team are playing with a chip on our shoulder," Gaddy said. "We want to prove that we should have been in the NCAA tournament, so we're trying to win the whole NIT."
The only other time Romar had spoken to the fans over the arena's public-address system immediately after a game was in the spring of 2006, Brandon Roy's Senior Day. That day the coach invited seniors in the Dawg Pack student section to come down and join their classmate, the Pac-10's player of that year, on the floor to celebrate that season's home finale.
Any wonder why the dean of Pac-12 coaches is so respected?
"It was spontaneous," Romar said of Friday's chat with fans. "I'm proud of how supportive they are for this NIT. I just wanted to let them know we appreciate them - and that the season's not over. And that it would be great if they would come out big on Tuesday.
"They came out and they didn't have to come out. I just wanted to make sure that they understood that we weren't completely happy with how things turned out (as far as the NCAA tournament) and we wanted to show our appreciation that they came out. We also wanted to show that we still have the chance to do something special and we are going to need their support."
If they keep getting the kind of support they got Friday from Ross, they should be A OK.
Ross made 10 of 21 shots, including 6 of 14 from 3-point range, ransacking Northwestern's 1-3-1 zone defense that offered inviting gaps in the corners and just off either side of the top of the 3-point arc.
Asked how he might have coached against him Friday if he had to, Romar joked: "I probably would have low-bridged him."
Ross tied his career high with six made 3's by sinking another from near the top of the arc on a perimeter pass from Gaddy. That gave UW a 52-33 lead - and gave Ross 11 points in the first 4½ minutes after halftime.
Two of those 11 were on a soaring, monster slam off an alley-oop pass from Wroten that got the crowd rockin'.
"Wroten...whoa!" Northwestern coach Bill Carmody said, calling the Pac-12's freshman of the year a "superb" passer.
Wroten called it another step in his evolution.
"(Just) trying to become more of a point guard. That's why I only took five shots," he said. "We have a great scorer in Terrence and C.J. There's no need for me to take that many shots when we're playing that good."
Ross set his career best with two free throws with 3:59 left. Romar then removed him from the game for good, so Ross could bask in more thunderous cheering.
"At first the 3 was open -- they were giving that to us," Ross said. "We started hitting some shots and that opened up the court. Once we started penetrating they started to collapse, and we were able to kick it back out to shooters. "When you have to defend us in that many ways, it's hard."
Ross' career night came three days after the sophomore sustained a hip-flexor injury in UW's 82-72, first-round win over Texas-Arlington. What pain?
The poor Wildcats (19-14) didn't know what hit them.
The Huskies played as fine a half overall as they had in weeks over Friday's first 20 minutes. They led 39-32 despite shooting just 35 percent and making just 5 of 21 shots from 3-point range.
That's what defense, hustle and rebounding can do. Washington forced 11 turnovers, had a whopping 11-2 edge in offensive rebounding and an 8-0 advantage in second-chance points in the first half.
In the second half, a Northwestern team full of 40-percent shooters from 3-point range this season running the Princeton offense with back-door cuts and with Big Ten leading scorer John Shurna missed 12 of 16 3-pointers.They clanked 25 of 32 shots overall after the break.
It was validation of Romar's constant mantra that defense and rebounding will carry you through when your shooting goes cold.
It also showed UW's focus was throughout most of Friday's game, NIT or not.
"We held them to 22 percent in the second half. That's hard to do against a team like that," Romar said. "I thought our guys were focused and disciplined ... I think they back-doored us only once."
Now it's the Huskies trying to barge through the front door of that "other" tournament.
"I know for me (immediately after UW didn't get into the NCAAs), I didn't even want to be out there," Wilcox said.
"Now, every day I am getting more into this tournament."