Dawgs Have Quiet Confidence Before Title Shot
March 2, 2012
By Gregg Bell
LOS ANGELES - Darnell Gant went to Crenshaw High School less than four miles from the Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena.
The old oval has hosted John F. Kennedy at the 1960 Democratic National Convention, the NCAA's Final Fours in 1968 and '72, the NBA's Lakers for seven years in the `60s, the Clippers for 15 years after that, plus boxing during the 1984 Summer Olympics and the filming of Rocky movies. Even Wrestlemania 2 in '86 was there.
Lorenzo Romar grew up in Compton, 15 minutes away from the 53-year-old arena inside Exposition Park. The home of USC basketball for decades has been painted UCLA blue on the inside facades and features white, UCLA seat-back covers throughout now.
Yet Romar never got into the Sports Arena until he played for Washington in it, against USC in the 1970s. And Gant had never been inside the Sports Arena until he practiced in it Friday.
Now, they have a chance to make UW history in it.
Romar, Gant and the Huskies (21-8, 14-3 Pac-12) will clinch the program's second outright regular-season conference title since 1953 and sweep the Los Angeles schools on the road for just the third time in its 110-year history with a win Saturday against UCLA (17-13, 10-7) at the Sports Arena.
CBS is showing the 11 a.m. game to 57% of the nation. The Washington IMG College network has the radio broadcast. And we will have another exclusive chat with play by play, analysis and pictures courtside here on GoHuskies.com.
It's a regular-season game like none these Huskies have been in at UW -- except Gant. He won the outright title as a redshirt freshman in 2009.
"I'm just telling my guys to stay focused, that sharing the Pac-12 title is not that great. We want to have it outright," the Dawgs' senior captain said after a two-hour practice one day after UW beat USC to clinch at least a tie for the conference title.
"I feel like the focus is there, and it was from the beginning of the USC game. And great players step up in big games. Tony Wroten, Terrence Ross, C.J. Wilcox, I feel like they are going to step up Saturday.
"We feel like we are all going to step up, because we know what's at stake."
Romar likes where he team is right now -- literally and figuratively.
UW has won nine consecutive games in Los Angeles, including while winning the last two conference tournaments at Staples Center just up Figueroa Street from the Sports Arena.
"We have a calm, quiet confidence right now. I don't see us being real giddy, over-excited," Romar said. "If you can ever get your team to the point of - not cocky, not in an arrogant way - but where they really believe we are going to win the next game, not because of who they are but because they are going to do what's necessary, working hard and being focused ... it just seems like that's where our team is."
He says that confidence and focus have been the reasons for and products of the Huskies winning six of their last seven road games.
Those new traits may come in handy Saturday.
It took a wild Huskies comeback from being 10 points down with six minutes left on Feb. 2 to beat the Bruins in Seattle. And Thursday, UCLA, the sixth-place in the conference, showed it wasn't preoccupied with the supposed expose on a fallen program that Sports Illustrated published this week. The Bruins pounded Washington State 78-46 for their largest margin of victory in a conference game in more than three years.
Romar watched film of that rout Friday morning and said Washington State looked like UW did in getting inexplicably boat-raced at Oregon, the Huskies' only loss in their last 11 games. And UCLA looked Thursday like those Ducks did in the 82-57 win over Washington on Feb. 9.
"Who knows what's going to happen (Saturday), because if UCLA plays like they did against Washington State last night we're going to be in for a long day," Romar said with a chuckle, as he walked up a ramp back out of the Sports Arena and into the SoCal sun following practice.
The Huskies must be more assertive inside Saturday against UCLA than they were in rallying to win at home over the Bruins. Specifically they must improve their rebounding. Their 29 against UCLA Feb. 2 remain a season low.
Big Josh Smith of Kentwood High School in the Seattle suburbs played just 12 minutes for UCLA against WSU Thursday and was a minimal factor. But he was a maximum one against the Huskies last month, with 24 points and nine rebounds in 26 minutes.
Wroten was ailing with a bruised thigh for UW that night. Aziz N'Diaye was in foul trouble trying to guard Smith, late getting into good position against him near the basket. The Dawgs kept throwing the ball into the first row. And they were down by those double digits with six minutes left.
"That first game, they got to a lot more loose balls and got on the glass a lot harder," said Gant, who had 14 points and nine rebounds in 21 minutes against USC Thursday, his most productive game in six weeks. "We were also playing kind of selfishly the first half and the first 10 minutes of the second half."
But Ross scored 18 of his 22 points in the second half, and he had a steal and seven points during the decisive, 13-0 run that sent UW to a 71-69 victory. The Huskies shot 52 percent from the field, their second-highest mark of the conference season.
As for how to defend the 6-foot-10, 305-plus-pound Smith Saturday, Romar says the key is to "do your homework early" in possessions. That means 7-footer N'Diaye plus Gant and reserves Shawn Kemp Jr. and Austin Seferian-Jenkins need to beat Smith to his preferred spots on the low blocks and on the sides of the lane before the huge guy anchors there.
"Once he gets his position, it's over," Romar said.
"You can't really move him," Gant said. "We've just got to try to out-work him and try to be as physical with him as possible."
Gant also sees keeping UCLA senior guard Lazeric Jones out of the lane as another key to UW getting its outright title. Jones had 18 points on 8-of-10 shooting with five assists Thursday against WSU.
Washington has beaten UCLA four consecutive times, its longest win streak over UCLA since 1952. But the Huskies have won just eight times in 68 all-time meetings with the Bruins in Southern California.
Washington has been playing USC and UCLA in the same season down here since 1956. They have swept a road trip over the L.A. schools just three times in those 56 years.
"We know we have to come out and play one of our best games of the season. We have to have a lot of focus," said Wilcox, who dunked Thursday but was 3 for 10 overall from the field and is still not 100 percent from a stress fracture in his leg.
The sophomore sharpshooter says "we can't have any no-shows."
He and his Huskies aren't expecting any, either.
"We know if we come out and play our game," Wilcox said, "we'll be fine."
And be outright Pac-12 regular-season champions.