Huskies go big, get nasty

Washington debuted a beefy new lineup last Saturday afternoon against the Stanford Cardinal. With C.J. Wilcox sidelined with a stress fracture and Washington's offense stuck in the muck, UW Head Coach Lorenzo Romar made one of his boldest mid-season moves in memory. The Huskies went big. And not just big, but 6-foot-6, 260 pounds of knotted future NFL muscle big.

After sitting on the sidelines during his first two games with the Husky basketball team, Austin Seferian-Jenkins finally got the chance to make his mark on the hardwood – and boy did he ever. He played 16 crucial minutes and grabbed seven rebounds while flexing his considerable muscle. At one point, the Huskies' new rotation featured forwards Darnell Gant, Desmond Simmons and ASJ at the same time.

Crazy thing is, it actually worked. It wasn't just a change for change's sake.

  With Wilcox injured and Scott Suggs out for the season, Washington's once-touted guard depth has evaporated. Abdul Gaddy, Tony Wroten and Terrence Ross are all Washington has, and they're logging some big minutes. Freshman guard Hikeem Stewart can be counted on to play defense and hold onto the ball, but that's it - so his minutes are going to be very limited, especially on the road.

Rather than running his guards into the ground, Romar chose to plot a new course with Saferian-Jenkins showing the way. The UW freshman football star added a physical element that the Huskies have badly needed, especially when Aziz N'diaye is on the bench. It was effective, even if it wasn't pretty.

  Seferian-Jenkins wasn't a factor with the ball in his hand – that wasn't his role. During his 16 hard-earned minutes, he put his five fouls to good use delivering gridiron-worthy screens while making the Cardinal post players earn every inch of position in the paint.  

"He didn't score a point, but with what he does, I think he can be effective in most games," explained Romar after the win. "He's an energy guy who's strong and physical. As he learns more and more about what we're doing I think you'll see him go to the foul line a lot more. Usually physical, aggressive guys do that."  

The Cardinal are a tall team - led by 6-foot-8 forwards Josh Owens and Andrew Zimmerman, while rotating talented 6-foot-9 forward Dwight Powell, 6-foot-11 Stefan Nastic and 6-foot-7 sophomore Josh Huestis - but they aren't especially physical. N'Diaye, with considerable help from Gant, Simmons and ASJ, brutalized Stanford under the basket. They didn't out-execute them; they just beat them up – or gave them a beat down, depending on how you want to look at it.

The added physical energy brought by Seferian-Jenkins seemed to permeate the entire lineup. While no single post player dominated the box score for Washington, they all contributed heavily in the win.  

"The thing we did differently was we played Desmond (Simmons) more on the perimeter to attempt to give (other wing players) more rest," Romar said. "We got to rest Tony (Wroten) a little more, just a minute or two here or there. And Desmond on the perimeter allowed us to do that and with Austin, Desmond didn't get worn down. I think where Austin really helped was when Aziz got in foul trouble. Stanford is a tall, very good rebounding team but when Aziz got in foul trouble, Austin was able to come in a spell him and we didn't regress at all.  

"I pray we keep doing it, but its not just me being more physical," added Seferian-Jenkins. "Guys like Aziz and the rest of the team are getting really physical. Its all of us making an effort to get more physical in practice."  

Seferian-Jenkins' fifth foul came with 7:06 left in the game.  In a span of 50 feet he chased down Cardinal point guard Aaron Bright, who started the break with a three-stride head start, sprinted past, and was whistled for a phantom pushing call as he avoided collision as he turned to face Bright.  

"We feel like every time he is in the game that he is going to get every rebound," shared point guard Abdul Gaddy about his new teammate. "He is a big spark for us on defense, and on offense he can score in the post as well."  

In reality, it was a total team effort contributing to Saturdays win, and they're going to need more of the same when the team heads south to Arizona this week. Without Wroten's undefendable one-on-one penetration, the outcome of the game could have been entirely different. Same goes for slow starting sophomore Terrence Ross, who has turned ice cold shooting first halves and white hot second half scoring outbursts into his stock and trade recently. Abdul Gaddy was aggressive early, scoring all nine of his points in the first half, while managing the game effectively. The Huskies are at their best when Gaddy is firing on all cylinders.  When he's aggressive, he keeps defenders on their heels.  He just doesn't do it consistently.  He did in the first half though.  

Washington has long prided itself on their physicality.  Against Stanford, you could see the effect that identity had on the Cardinal. And with the addition of Sefarian-Jenkins, who is unabashed about his rough and tumble approach, the Huskies may be on the verge of taking things to the next level.  

"That it is a big staple of our team," added Gaddy after the quality outing. "I think that Austin (Seferian-Jenkins), Aziz (N'Diaye), Desmond (Simmons), and Darnell (Gant) give us that presence. We want to be the tougher team no matter who we play."  

The renewed emphasis on being consistently physical could pay big dividends on the road against the Arizona schools. Both ASU and Arizona are young teams with weak front courts, vulnerable to being socked in the mouth. As unbelievable as it may have seemed a couple of months ago, the Huskies' biggest advantage over the Arizona schools may be in the front court. Neither team has an answer for N'Diaye.

The Wildcats will probably turn to seldom used center Kyryl Natyazkho to counter N'Daiye. Arizona's Jesse Perry is a more polished version of Desmond Simmons at 6-foot-7 and 220 pounds, but he's hardly an intimidating front court presence - and he's pretty much all Arizona has up front besides swingman Solomon Hill.  

One of the joys of college basketball is that pre-season predictions rarely reflect the reality on the floor by the end of the season. Most prognosticators pinned Washington's high hopes this year on their depth and talent in the back court. Due to injuries, youth and some bad luck, that prediction has been blown apart.

The Huskies have had trouble getting traction due to their inconsistencies, but they looked good against Stanford. Suddenly their front court is beginning to show signs of emerging as a team strength. N'Diaye is starting to gain confidence offensively and Gant is playing tougher despite an off night shooting against Cal.  

The Huskies have a golden opportunity to earn a rare sweep against the Arizona schools - both of whom are reeling at the moment. Washington is a half a game out of the conference lead, and with Wilcox questionable their depth issues are still navigable if Romar can come up with solid solutions like the one he drew up Sunday.

But the bigger issue is that of the 800-pound gorilla that is UW's road woes. The Sun Devils however, may provide the perfect tonic for what ails them, mainly because they're really, really, bad. ASU is pretty similar to Utah really, where the Huskies narrowly dodged a bullet a couple weeks ago, and the Utes just beat up the Sun Devils by 21 at home. 

The true test comes Saturday in Tucson. Not only will the Huskies be playing Arizona, but they'll be doing it in front of an ESPN national audience, and the Game Day crew will be in the house.

This week we find what the 2012 Husky basketball team is made of. Will they use their newfound strengths to move forward, or will the road swallow them up again?


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