Unleashed: Suddenly, They've Become BullDawgs
Jan. 11, 2012
By Gregg Bell - UW Director of Writing
SEATTLE - The Huskies may end up looking back on last Thursday night as their reckoning in the Rockies, the point after which they righted their uneven season.
I stayed back at the Coors Events Center last week for an extra hour following Washington's ugly loss at Colorado to wait on a Buffaloes assistant who was kindly processing scout-film DVDs for the Huskies. I was going to take the disks to Denver for the team, which was busing down ahead of me for our early Friday morning flight to Utah.
The CU assistant marveled at the talent on Washington's roster. He then said something that crystallized the Huskies' biggest challenge the rest of this season.
"We knew we only had to guard for 10, 15 seconds on each possession before they would throw up a shot," the Buffs' guy said, defining `The Book' on Washington. "That's what we told our guys before the game. And that's what happened."
While the Huskies scrambled and huffed in the thin Rocky Mountain air for most of the 35 seconds on the shot clock each time CU had the ball, the Buffaloes barely broke a sweat on defense. The Huskies ran when there was no place to run. They had many possessions of zero, one or at most two passes. And they lost big amid a flurry of rushed shots to the new conference upstart.
It was the same formula that had doomed UW in losses at Saint Louis and Nevada earlier this season.
"We have to be a mentally and physically tougher team," Huskies coach Lorenzo Romar said that disappointing night in Boulder.
Junior point guard Abdul Gaddy, Romar's coach on the floor, put it best that night: "We have to figure out we need to grind out wins. Right now, we don't know how to grind out games."
The two bruising games later, these young Dawgs are proving to be quick learners.
You see a 57-53 win at Utah and the 91-83 slugfest against Seattle University and may conclude: Uh-oh, alarmingly close wins over presumably inferior foes.
I see two, season-changing statements that these fleet and flashy Huskies are finding other ways to win. Someone else's, rough-neck ways -- on the road as well as at Alaska Airlines Arena.
I see two, season-changing statements that these fleet and flashy Huskies are finding other ways to win.
I don't know what will happen with this unpredictable team in March. But I do know the foundation they've been seeking for months, the toughness and versatility that has led Romar's teams to six NCAA tournaments and three conference titles in nine seasons, is starting to form.
Saturday at Utah, the highest-scoring team in Pac-12 pushed through a slowdown slog and won away from Seattle for the first time this season. It was because C.J. Wilcox and Shawn Kemp Jr. denied dribble penetrations on the same possession. Because Terrence Ross sprawled head first to create a Utah turnover 30 feet from the basket.
And because Desmond Simmons, since rewarded for his winning plays with a spot in the starting lineup, made the coveted extra pass as the shot clock was expiring. His alert feed to Ross created what essentially was the game-winning 3 pointer from Ross with 2 minutes remaining.
"We have to realize we have to make teams guard," Romar said.
"It's something we've talked about since day one but I don't know if our guys have really understood it: We have to be good defensively; and we have to be able to take care of the basketball, especially on the road where you don't shoot the ball well, things aren't going your way, teams are slowing it down, you are not getting transition.
"Most will look at our score against Utah and say, `Wow, they are really struggling.' I don't think anyone understands the progress that we made. I don't care what the score is. We made unbelievable progress. We committed eight turnovers. Three of those turnovers were setting screens, moving screens."
After demanding following the Colorado loss that his Huskies make extra passes to tax opposing defenses, the coach studied each possession against Utah , the Pac-12's leading defensive team in terms of points allowed per game.
"In the past, we had been shooting the ball at 35 to 27 seconds (on the shot clock)," Romar said Monday. "(The Utah) game we were getting below 27 a lot more. And it was interesting, we shot 61 percent in the second half doing that.
"That was huge progress. That's something we can draw from and take that into other games - especially when we get back on the road again."
Then Tuesday night, his greyhounds became BullDawgs.
Former UW assistant Cameron Dollar sent just about every Seattle U. guy short of Elgin Baylor at the Huskies to bang, swipe at and basically bully them. And Washington - the same, run-and-gun team with five freshmen and two sophomores that its coach had said five days earlier needed to be tougher -- barked back.
"We were pretty physical tonight," Romar said after officials called 61 total fouls in the 40 minutes of bludgeoning. "We made improvement."
Tony Wroten got a technical for getting in the face of T.J. Diop, after the Redhawk had pushed Ross in the chest with two hands at the rim for a flagrant foul. Then Diop slammed Wroten to the floor on another UW fast break, leaving the freshman scoring leader with a banged elbow and lower back that needed a doctor's attention on Wednesday.
But now it's January and the Pac-12 season. Games become grudge matches, especially on the road.
Even the ultra-cool Gaddy, perhaps the last Husky you'd expect to scrap, slammed Seattle U.'s Jarrell Flora for his own, rare flagrant foul 2 minutes after Ross got whacked.
The Huskies' home crowd roared and booed and hissed like they were ringside at a UFC brawl.
"You have to stay composed," Wilcox said after he did just that to score a career-high 25 points against Seattle U.'s physicality. "Usually, when games are like that we kind of fall apart. But we were able to stick together as a team and grind out this win."
Grind. That's what Washington is suddenly learning to do -when it absolutely has to.
Oh, they'd rather be greyhounds, racing up and down the floor with Wroten and Gaddy's dazzling passes, Ross' array of moves, Wilcox's spot up shooting on the break and Aziz N'Diaye's finishing inside.
But now it's January and the Pac-12 season. Games become grudge matches, especially on the road. Possessions are often limited and fierce.
It's why the 6-foot-7 Simmons started Tuesday. He's a redshirt freshman that makes the key, heads-up hustle plays - the winning plays - of a senior.
"Desmond is our second leading rebounder (behind N'Diaye, UW's seven-foot center)," Romar said. "He has great toughness. When he is on the floor our team tends to play a little better."
And Monday, Romar welcomed tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins onto his team, with the blessings of football coach Steve Sarkisian. Romar emphasized how the 6-6, 258-pound Seferian-Jenkins, who played on the Gig Harbor High School varsity basketball team beginning as a freshman, oozes physicality.
Think Simmons and Seferian-Jenkins - not to mention the entire team's newfound grit -- might help in the taut, grinding games at Arizona State and Arizona that will end January? Or at the zany atmospheres at the Oregon schools and at Washington State next month? Or in the Pac-12 tournament in March - and perhaps beyond?
So do I.
About Gregg Bell Gregg Bell is an award-winning sports writer who joined the University of Washington's staff in September 2010 as the Director of Writing. Previously, Bell served as the senior national sports writer in Seattle for The Associated Press. The native of Steubenville, Ohio, is a 1993 graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y. He received a master's degree in journalism from the University of California, Berkeley in 2000.
Gregg Bell Unleashed can be found on GoHuskies.com each Wednesday.