Wroten Becoming More Complete - So More Dangerous
Jan. 27, 2012
By Gregg Bell
TUCSON, Ariz. - Sure, people were still saying "Tony Wroten" in the same breath as "monster dunk" from him smashing a poor Arizona State Sun Devil the previous night.
"It was crazy," the 6-foot-5 scoring wonder said Friday, adding he never had a dunk quite like that before because "nobody actually has been brave enough to actually stand there and let me dunk on them."
Yet there is a more impacting and important development for the Huskies that continued Thursday night at Arizona State, one that if it continues for Washington (13-7, 6-2 Pac-12) Saturday at Arizona (14-7, 5-3) will keep the Huskies atop the conference.
The dynamic freshman continues to grow in becoming a more complete and wise player. Almost all of his nine made baskets at ASU came from the right side -- his supposedly "off" side -- as he continues to counter-act the early season scouting reports that he can only go to his left.
"I'm maturing every practice, every game," Wroten said before he and the Dawgs practiced Friday afternoon here at the McKale Center for Saturday's 4 p.m. showdown (ESPN television, espn3.com, the Washington IMG radio network and here on GoHuskies.com with the exclusive chat and insight from courtside).
"Every game is going to be harder. It's not like high school, when teams you play don't scout or don't know. They are smart and they are prepared."
No one Washington has faced yet on the road in conference will be more ready than Arizona.
The Wildcats are primed with another sold-out crowd of 13,000-plus. Signs all over town are proclaiming Saturday a whiteout and encouraging every fan to show up wearing white. ESPN's College GameDay crew including Hall-of-Famer Bobby Knight will be there.
And if it's anything like it was last season here - a classic game decided at the buzzer in as frenzied and intense an environment the Huskies have faced in years -- it will be special.
"I just can't wait for (Saturday). It will be crazy, super loud. A whiteout," said Wroten, whom Arizona recruited heavily.
"I live for moments like this."
Wroten's 22 points on 9-for-12 shooting Thursday - not to mention six rebounds and four assists - leave him averaging 17.1 points per game. That's second to Oregon State's Jared Cunningham (17.8) in the Pac-12, and third among all Division-I freshmen.
The coach who tried to get him to become a Wildcat instead of a Husky, Arizona's Sean Miller, went on Friday about how good Wroten is - and is becoming, just 20 games out of Seattle's Garfield High School.
"(He's) powerful, explosive. It's tough to call him a guard even though he is, because he's so strong in and around the basket," Miller said. "There aren't many guys who play a style that he plays. He is just a real difference maker.
"He reminds you of some of the guys who play long-tenured NBA careers, those big strong guards. Their bodies transcend that they are a guard. They just do things that guards don't do. To me, watching him, it's amazing he good he's been around the basket."
Word has been out for weeks around the Pac-12 that Wroten is left-hand dominant, and early in the season most of his made shots came on drives from the left wing, left baseline or down the left side of the lane.
But Thursday, Wroten went at Arizona State's zone defense from the center and from the right side. His slam over ASU's poor Jonathan Gilling that has wowed much of the nation came down the center of the lane, splitting two defenders at the foul line. Five of his other eight makes were on drives from the right wing or right baseline.
Wroten was again in the center high post against a zone, the place to which coach Lorenzo Romar moved him Jan. 15 while trailing by six at halftime against Washington State. WSU collapsed its zone onto Wroten in the second half. That left Terrence Ross free on the outside to score 26 of his career-high 30 points as the Huskies outscored the Cougars 50-34 after halftime with the offense revolving around Wroten in the middle.
"Like a lot of good players, he knows the scout says, `He can only go one way,'" Romar said, recalling that Hall-of-Famer Lenny Wilkins often jokes that's often because a great player can't be stopped going his favorite way, so why would he go anywhere else?
"(Thursday), he just took what the defense gave him," Romar said of Wroten. "He does make a conscious effort to go both ways, but he also is taking what the defense gives him."
Now, Wroten is been sensing - and exploiting - teams overplaying his moves to the left.
"Yeah, I don't want to be one dimensional," he said. "They are going to play me to go to my right, so it's easier to go that way.
"It's just letting the game come to me."
Wroten's paths could get more open Saturday with C.J. Wilcox expected to get more than the 10 minutes he played at Arizona State. It was the sophomore sharpshooter's first appearance in four games since the Huskies learned he had a stress fracture in his upper left leg.
Romar said his second-leading scorer was feeling "good" Friday and that Wilcox will likely play more against Arizona, though he will still be limited below his season average of 30.2 minutes.
"Man, it's so much easier (with Wilcox)," Wroten said. "With him, (defenses) can't help inside."
Wroten has been producing big since his first 20-point game as a collegian, Dec. 10 against Duke at Madison Square Garden. That breakout performance left legendary Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski telling Wroten in a hallway under the Garden "That was a HELL of a game. We can't keep you in front of us."
Wroten got his first college start in the following game, Dec. 16 against UC-Santa Barbara. He scored a career-high 27 in that game, and is averaging 19 points over the last 12 games.
And it's not just slashing and scoring that has Miller concerned about Wroten.
"He can score as a traditional post-up player. And here's the other thing: He is really a clever passer," Arizona's coach said.
"So you have a couple battles there to fight."
More battles in what is shaping up to be a wild free-for-all atop the conference Saturday, with the entire nation watching.
"Some people shy away from this," Wroten said looking around McKale, where Washington is 6-27 all time. "If you play college basketball, you've got to love this. It won't be 50-50 (like Washington's previous, high-profile tests this season, against Marquette and Duke in New York). It will be 90-10 - if 10.
"It's going to be a crazy, crazy environment. If we have a chance to get a win, it will be better than if it was a home game. Because it's way harder to get a win in a place like this."
Romar knows that his team's case to the NCAA tournament committee for a bid could get a high-profile boost here Saturday night, in primetime back East.
"This group (with five freshman and two sophomores) has not played in anything like we are going to play in," the Huskies coach said. "We'll see how we react."
QUICK SHOTS: Austin Seferian-Jenkins grabbed five rebounds in 16 minutes and again set stunning screens at Arizona State - all while still quite sick. He was breathing heavily through his mouth and has been ill all week, missing practice Tuesday. He fouled out for the second time in the two games since he joined the team from football, but shrugged that off as part of the unique physicality he brings to a UW team that needed some. "I have five fouls," the 6-6 bull said, "and I plan on using every one of them." ... A UW key Saturday will be getting out more forcefully and quickly to defend 3-point shooting than it did at ASU. Arizona has taken 51 more 3's than another team in the conference, and it made 15 of 26 while blowing out Washington State here Thursday. ... The Husky coaches and team officials will be wearing gray Nike Air Force 1 sneakers with their suits Saturday as part of the Coaches versus Cancer Suits and Sneakers weekend. The shoes are patterned after Nike's 1982 models.