Beach's Bits

The Washington Huskies completed a rare sweep of the Arizona schools Saturday afternoon in Tucson Ariz. for just the fifth time in the program's history. Washington also broke a five-game losing streak at the McKale Center and captured some badly needed momentum heading into the second half of conference play. Can they keep it going?

This wasn't your average UW/Arizona high scoring affair either; not in a series where scoring for both teams routinely reaches into the 80's and 90's. In fact, it was the first time either team failed to reach 70 points in the Lorenzo Romar era. The series between 'Cats and Dawgs has become the most entertaining rivalry on the west coast over the last five years, and Saturday's prime-time, nationally televised game didn't disappoint.

"The last time we were here we had the same feeling they have because it was at the buzzer again," said UW head Coach Lorenzo Romar after the game. "It's unbelievable the last three games were won in the last five seconds. They guarded us and they play hard. We got a lot of respect for their program here and their staff. I couldn't be more proud of our guys as they say they just manned up and gave a physical brand of basketball and what it took to win on the road in a high ceilings-environment in our face."

The Huskies are suddenly surging behind a reinvigorated defense and a rapidly maturing roster - as well as some heroic play by some of those same youngsters.

"We grew up a lot," said sophomore Terrence Ross after his 16-point, 7-rebound performance - one that also included three blocks and three steals. "The last couple months have been a real chance to find what works for us and how we're supposed to play."

The Huskies improvement hasn't centered around one player but rather a roster-wide event. That includes the front court, where center Aziz N'diaye carried the Huskies on his massive shoulders during the opening minutes of the game.

"Early on (Aziz) got us off to a good start," Romar shared. "We wanted to take advantage of that if we could early on. Aziz did a nice job of finishing at the beginning of the game. Solomon Hill is really good, I'm stating the obvious, but it's hard to defend him."

No player on the roster has expanded his contributions more than N'Diaye, who is starting to make his presence felt on the offensive end of the floor. He doesn't have the dazzling array of moves that Matthew Bryan-Amaning possessed, but unlike MBA - who is now playing in Europe - Aziz' s shots tend to drop, even if they aren't always pretty.

The Huskies rode the 7-footer out of the gate as he confidently established his position in the paint against the 6-foot-6 Hill. The Wildcats had no answer for the big man from Senegal at either end of the floor.

While N'Daiye set the tone for the game, it was Washington's trio of youngsters that ultimately picked the 'Cats carcass clean.

Tony Wroten is not-so-quietly emerging as a legitimate conference player of the year frontrunner. While he didn't have his best shooting performance, his game-saving block as time expired punctuated one of the most complete games of his first year at Montlake. Like N'Diaye, the former Garfield star is blossoming before our eyes, and his rapidly expanding defensive contributions are a key reason the Dawgs are surging.

"I didn't get to see exactly how he came off, but that was a heck of a play in crunch time," Romar said of Romar's block against Josiah Turner to preserve Washington's win. "He's starting to get a better understanding of what we want in our team defense so he's putting himself in a position to make those type of plays. Earlier in the year he may not have been there to make that play."

"He didn't see me coming and I just got the block," added Wroten when asked about the frenetic final play of the game. "I was thinking we can't go to overtime because they got the momentum. I was thinking, 'What can I do to help my team win?' I ran from the top of the key. At that time I wasn't thinking. Five seconds left, I had to stop them from scoring so I was trying to get a block.

"I've never won a game with a game winning block. Most of my game-winners are on offense. This is definitely special, I'll remember it forever."

Two seasons ago, Derrick Williams' last-second swat of a Darnell Gant hook shot (or uncalled goal-tend if we're remembering correctly) won the game for the Wildcats. The irony of that finish wasn't lost on Washington.

"Funny how it works out how we got the block," summed up sophomore C.J. Wilcox, whose return from injury was another key reason the Huskies won the game.

Wilcox's three-game absence due to a stress fracture of his femur left the Huskies glaringly short-handed on the wing. During the Arizona swing, Wilcox added a stabilizing presence to the rotation beyond his immense shooting talents, and his ability to attack the basket against Arizona gave the Huskies a dazzling 1-2-3 scoring punch that few teams can counter. His skill allowed him to force Josiah Turner into committing a blocking foul off the inbounds pass during UW's final offensive possession. Getting the ball into the hands of the Pac-12's best free throw shooter with the game on the line was just another example of how the Huskies have matured.

"I was trying to attack his hip and it worked," said Wilcox when describing the play. "I was trying to get the ball up the court as fast as I could and he cut me off and I got the call. I assumed it was going to be a block, but you never know. I assumed I was going to hit those free throws.

"I just think we're maturing a lot especially on the road," he added. "We know we have to grind out wins, we're not going to blow teams out on their home floor. Tony has matured and gotten better every game so it's good when (Abdul) Gaddy goes out we have somebody to come in and make good plays."

Despite the team's early struggles this season, their maturation shouldn't come as a surprise to Husky fans who have followed Romar and what he's been able to do over the last decade. Most teams improve over the course of the year, but Washington's growth curve tends to be more dramatic than most - and they almost always start to click around this point in conference play.

"This game would have been a 15-20 point loss earlier in the year," acknowledged Romar. "But the team has grown up. A lot of people didn't want to give us credit for our other road victories at Utah and Arizona State, but I think if you remember there's something different about our team now on the road. And then Stanford we played better you could just kind of see it coming. This was a real test to come out and do this on the road."

Washington now heads back home to face an improving 5-4 UCLA squad Thursday night at Alaska Airlines Arena. The Huskies have had their way with the Bruins in recent years, but UCLA's front court is every bit as big, deep and talented as Washington's.

The Hoop Dawgs shouldn't need any added motivation to get up for a big weekend against the southern California schools, not with the Huskies tied at the top of the Pac-12. The conference title is theirs for the taking if they continue to improve.

For Dawg fans still on the fence about this year's team, its time to get off the sidelines. They've finally shown they are for real, and it is time for the Dawg Pack and Husky Nation to do what the purple and gold faithful do better than any fanbase in the country - rise up and support their team. Top Stories