Huskies peaking at right time....Again

Lorenzo Romar has an uncanny ability to bring out the best in his team at the end of the season. This is nothing new for the Huskies, to go on a hot streak at the end of the long campaign, and a somewhat short-handed Washington squad just finished running the table.

Why is that?

I think part of it is that Romar is excellent at adjusting his defenses. He takes in what he's seen from opponents in the earlier contests, he looks at what Washington did the last time the two teams faced, and then goes from there.

Washington's film study is extremely efficient. Romar, along with Jim Shaw, Paul Fortier, and Rafael Chilious, are always ready during the game. It is a joy to watch them during time outs. Romar will signal for a T.O., and then when his team hits the bench, Romar will walk away from the huddle and his coaching cadre will join him. There, Romar listens to the input from the three men, considers what he's heard, and then will impart his thoughts, confirm with the coaching staff, and then will head back to the team huddle to go in and explain what it is he wants done.

The team, when they jog off the floor and head to the bench, all take a seat. They rest for a few seconds and then chat a little bit about what they are seeing and communicate where the mismatches or breakdowns might be occurring. Then when Romar reenters the huddle, everyone is all ears. This team listens, believes, and firmly follows what this coach is bringing to them to execute.

This is in stark contrast to the UCLA and Arizona huddles. When UCLA got down against Oregon, their team huddle looked extremely disinterested. Ben Howland would implore his troops to fight, but by the body language and lack of eye contact on the bench, it isn't hard to see that he loses them when things go bad. The only guy I saw that still wanted to fight was Reeves Nelson. Tyler Honeycutt looked like he could care less.

The Arizona kids, on two occasions, looked like they were going to break into a fight with each other. On one turnover, just before a time-out, Solomon Hill let a rebound slip through his hands and it fell out of bounds to Washington. Jamelle Horn barked at him to hang onto the ball and then came over and put his arms around Hill. Hill tried to shove him away. Horn got back into his face. Hill once again chicken-winged him away and the two exchanged angrily all the way back to their huddle.

You don't seed that with this Husky team. They have good chemistry and when their coach is talking, all eyes are on him.

"Coach gives us all of the weapons and he trusts us to get it done. I just try to do whatever he tells me, and whatever I can do to help us win," said Isaiah Thomas outside the Husky locker room after defeating Oregon.

Terrence Ross, who could've been angry or sulked after being benched at USC, was far from that.

"Sure, I was disappointed (about not playing), but the coaches are just trying to do what they can to give us the best shot at winning," said the freshman from Portland. "I got over it very quickly and wanted to make sure I was ready for the next game. You can't worry about stuff like that. You just have to play your game and be ready when coach calls your number."

Ross turned out to be more than ready, as he was inserted into the starting line up in place of Aziz N'Daiye in an effort to score a few more points and to play a little quicker. Ross was given the nod by Romar over Suggs because of the freshman's ability to grab rebounds in traffic.

Both Ross and coach were rewarded by the change, as Ross was able to go for 16 points and grab huge rebounds in the championship game against Arizona. Ross' play was very consistent and of high caliber. His inclusion to the all-tournament team was well deserved.

The biggest reason why Washington won last night? Effort. The way the Huskies rotated on defense for the past two games better than they have most of the season. It was a disciplined purple stopping unit for the most part, that didn't get too out of control.

Arizona, on the other hand, allowed the Husky shooters to come open at the worst possible times. The Wildcats also over-pursued at times, which meant if the Huskies missed, they were vulnerable to the offensive rebound.

Washington out-rebounded Arizona 37-27 and just killed them on the offensive boards, beating them by a 13-7 margin. That is about 90% effort and 10% coaching. The Huskies were in better positions to corral the missed shots while Arizona players were scurrying back into position after missing defensive rotations.

The Husky whose effort impressed me the most? Darnell Gant. He had 10 rebounds against Oregon and 8 more last night against Arizona. Those aren't quite Jon Brockman type of numbers, but they are impressive nonetheless. Gant played like a man possessed under the rim, and his hustle was rewarded. He is one of the more animated players on the bench and during the starting lineups. This is a kid that is thrilled to be a Husky and is all about the team.

"I can't tell you how good this feels," said Gant out on the floor following the post-game trophy ceremony. He was holding his basketball that was given to all of the players and wearing his Pac-10 champions shirt and hat and grinning from ear to ear.

"I'm on cloud nine right now. I can't wait to find out where we play, because we're on a roll right now. I know we can play even better at the NCAA tourney. I can't wait."

C.J. Wilcox kept looking down at his "Pac-10 Champions" tee shirt and smiling, sometimes shaking his head. Wilcox is the ultimate shooter and brings that gunslinger mentality to his game. In the championship game, he was 0-4 from three-point range as the game drifted into the final minute. So was he nervous when Thomas got him the ball about 23 feet from the hoop?

"No. I was calm. I didn't think about anything. I just shot the ball," said the freshman. "You can't do anything different at that point. If you are a shooter, you shoot the ball right there."

Swish.
One final anecdote that seems funny now but could definitely have been a disaster happened when we were trying to get out of Staples and to LAX……once the game went into overtime, we knew that we were going to miss our flight out of LA. So Grinolds rebooked us on an 8:30 flight that connected in San Francisco.

He arranged for a shuttle to pick us up at the Staples loading dock at 6:30. Without getting into minutiae detail, suffice it to say that the shuttle was a bit late and we were scrambling to get the heck out of there. Once we finally climbed aboard the correct shuttle (which took more than one try), the driver was reminded that we were beyond late. The driver promised to do his best, and pulled the van backwards.

"Hey! You almost ran me over!" someone said to our left and just behind us. We look out the window and there's Darnell Gant standing there, still in his Pac-10 Champions shirt.

Then he smiled and flashed the "W's" at us with his fingers. We were somewhat expecting a different finger coming at us.

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