4 Wins in 4 Days To NCAAs? Romar's Done It Before
March 12, 2013
LAS VEGAS - In the city of snake eyes and 21s, the Huskies are seeking a less conventional number.
Four victories in four days here is the only way that the Huskies can make it into the NCAA tournament. That would be with the conference's automatic bid that comes with winning the Pac-12 tournament that begins for sixth-seeded Washington (17-14, 9-9 Pac-12) Wednesday night against 11th-seeded Washington State (13-18, 4-14) at the MGM Grand Arena.
The 277th meeting of archrivals, only the third in a league tournament, is on Pac-12 Networks television (with the always unpredictable Bill Walton on the call), the Washington IMG College radio network -- and here on GoHuskies.com with another exclusive game chat from press row at an arena that normally hosts mega, world-championship boxing matches.
Four has been good to UW in this league lately, and especially good to Lorenzo Romar. He is seeking his fourth conference tournament title in 11 seasons as UW's coach. That would tie retired Arizona icon Lute Olson for most in the league's history. And Romar's Huskies have won four consecutive regular-season or league tournament titles.
Their goal this week is as clear as the warm, sunny desert morning that greeted the Huskies' arrival here Tuesday.
"Win the tournament," said Desmond Simmons, the rugged defender who will be integral to Washington's first step against WSU. "It has to be one game at a time for us, but overall our goal is to win the tournament."
Though four wins in four days is an undeniably tall task, Romar has been up to it before. Doing it helped him get the UW job.
In 2000, his Saint Louis Billikens entered the Conference USA tournament in Memphis, Tenn., much like his Huskies arrived here on The Strip: A 14-loss team that had been beaten by the league's regular-season champion only days before.
Saint Louis lost to eventual national player of the year Kenyon Martin and Cincinnati, the No. 1 team in the country, by 43 in its regular-season finale in March 2000. Four days later, as the ninth seed of the Conference USA tournament, SLU regrouped and beat eighth-seeded Southern Mississippi 59-51.
A day later, Saint Louis faced Cincinnati again as a 17½-point underdog. Martin broke his leg 3 minutes into the game, and SLU shocked the No. 1 Bearcats 68-58. In the semifinals, the Billikens beat fourth-seeded Tulane 64-48. Romar's fourth win in four days, 56-49 over No. 3 DePaul, stole C-USA's automatic bid to the NCAA tournament and made Romar a national name as a rising coach.
"WE CAN GET IT DONE"
So how do you pull this four-in-four off?
"You have to win the first one," Romar said this week. "And you have to defend.
"Games like that, especially as the tournament wears on, guys' legs start to get weary, if you really defend you give yourself a chance."
His Billikens held Southern Miss to 38-percent shooting in the first round. Cincinnati shot just 39 percent. Tulane shot just 32 percent against the SLU in the semifinals. Then Saint Louis won the championship game by holding DePaul to 34 percent from the field.
Those Billikens had just one player named among the top 15 on the all-league teams that season - just like this season's Huskies. The Pac-12 announced C.J. Wilcox as second team all-conference on Monday. It was the first time since 2003 UW didn't have a player on the league's 10-man first team.
Romar didn't have the luxury of blowout wins to rest regulars during Saint Louis' four-day C-USA run; he said the Tulane game only go lopsided at the end.
He will find other, subtle ways to try to rest Wilcox, who is playing through a potentially troublesome foot injury, and other key Huskies. Just in case.
Romar notes the media timeouts for these national televised tournament games are longer.
"That helps," he said. "We tend to try to save our timeouts until the second half. This may be a situation where we call one or two more in the first half than you normally would to try to preserve your legs.
"You have to play your game. You can't say you are going to save anything and wait for the next one. Can't do that; there may not be a next one. ... But I think you can strategically use timeouts a little better to get just a little more rest."
Four wins in four days isn't unprecedented - or even a forgotten feat -- in the Pac-12 tournament. Last season Colorado was what UW is now, the sixth seed playing in the last, way-late game on the tournament's opening night. CU then became the first team in the 15 seasons this conference has had a tourney to win four games in four days for the title.
No need to remind the Huskies of that: The Buffaloes' surprising stampede through Staples Center in Los Angeles last March effectively stole the NCAA bid that Washington thought it would get as last year's Pac-12 regular-season champion.
The Huskies view their home loss to regular-season league champion UCLA on Saturday, a game they led with 6 minutes left, as a "minor setback," to use the words of leading scorer C.J. Wilcox. The Dawgs' confidence from a three-game winning streak during the previous two weeks sounds like it came with them to Tuesday night's shootaround at the MGM Grand Arena.
"I do. I believe we can (win it)," Simmons said. "We've shown we can play at a high level. We know that we can compete with the top teams in the league. I have all the confidence in the world that we can get it done."
He will be key to whether they do.
Simmons will get overlooked here by those that haven't seen UW play much this season. The 6-foot-7 sophomore averages less than five points per game. Heck, he won't even start Wednesday night; Romar is staying with the same, recent starting five of Wilcox, surging Scott Suggs, point guard Abdul Gaddy, plus Aziz N'Diaye with Shawn Kemp Jr. inside.
But Simmons will enter early against WSU - and is likely to get the key minutes. He personifies what Romar says is the key to winning four games in four days: defense.
Simmons' two most valuable games for the Huskies this season have come against the Cougars, specifically while guarding all-conference scorer Brock Motum. In the league opener Jan. 5 in Pullman Simmons scrapped through and around single and double screens and stayed in Motum's jersey all night. Only 11 points late allowed Motum to finish with 15, four points below his average. The Aussie had just two put-back baskets in the first 21 minutes, as Washington raced to a 17-point lead in the eventual 68-63 win.
Afterward, Simmons was the first player Romar recognized in front of the team in the locker room at Beasley Coliseum. Then his thankful teammates mobbed him.
"We wouldn't have won with him," Wilcox said that night.
March 3 at Alaska Airlines Arena, Kemp started instead of Simmons. Then Motum scored five points in the first 40 seconds. Romar immediately summoned his stopper off the bench, and Simmons kept Motum from even touching the ball, let alone scoring, for most of the next 30 minutes.
Motum ended up with 18 points, most of them late, but made just four field goals over the final 39 minutes while playing the entire game. UW won 72-68 for its first two-game winning streak since the one Simmons help start in January.
"I feel like the first time I was pretty successful with what the coaches wanted us to do," Simmons said. "The second time, I did a fair job. He still got some easy buckets he didn't get the first time I matched up with him.
"Just don't let him catch the ball. I mean, that's the object. That's the way to make it hard for him, to make it uncomfortable. He's a great offensive player. As you can see (last week when WSU stunned UCLA and USC in consecutive games) he can go for 30. The key is to let him get going."
Simmons' key for Wednesday actually came on Monday. That's when the Huskies received their scouting report for WSU.
"I like to key in on their tendencies. I try to pay attention to the detail, on which way to force him. What do they like to do? Little details I try to key on," he said. "Then when we do scout in practice that's when I try to put my method to work."
Asked how well Simmons has put his method to work defensively, Romar said: "Against Washington State he's been close to flawless following the scout."
Every season, on such a cue that his veteran players joke they can tell the story for him, Romar relates to his Huskies a tale about one of his former NBA teammates from the 1980s.
Sidney Moncrief was the league's defensive player of the year in 1983-84, the season Romar played with Moncrief on the Milwaukee Bucks.
"They asked him what made him such a great defender, and he said, `I don't know if I am as good a defender' - which he was - `as I'm good at following the scout. I go over preparation. I watch film. If I have a decent idea of what my opponent is going to do then I am a lot more confident in how I am going to defend,'" Romar recalls.
The lesson for these Huskies: "We tell them ... `How many possessions can you concentrate at a high level?'" Romar said.
If they concentrate on enough of them these next four days, the payoff in Vegas will be mammoth.
"This is a complete start over," Romar said. "This is an exciting time of the year.
"The only thing you can predict is the unpredictable."