Home court advantage plays huge for UW

SEATTLE - The fans cheered, came up off their seats, and never sat down. ALL OF THEM. During Washington's 71-69 win Thursday night over UCLA, the Huskies' fans decided they could really make a difference. And when UW showed they were capable of clawing back from a 10-point deficit late in the game, the fans threw them a bone in the form of a thunderous noise that never backed off.

After shaking hands, UW Head Coach Lorenzo Romar pointed in all directions from right in front of media row, distributing his gratitude in generous helpings. That's about as much emotion as you'll see from Romar, who usually saves that kind of gesticulations for technical foul-inducing moments.

For his 500th career game as a head coach, he couldn't have asked for much more. Of course the Dawg Pack got the most attention; they were the ones that pleaded with the south side of Alaska Airlines Arena to stand up and be counted.

"The Dawg Pack was on tonight," Romar said.  "The place was so loud that there is no doubt that helped us.  It was just a word of encouragement that they were a huge part of the win."

It's always been an interesting dynamic, whether in Hec Edmonson Pavilion or in Husky Stadium. The north side of both venues has been the student's domain, so it's always been the raucous side, the one to catalyze the huge blasts of sound brought on by great plays and defensive stands. The south sides have always been more white collar, more staid, more pragmatic in their approach to fan involvement. They can make their fair share of hullabaloo, but it's usually because something on the field (or court) of play has provoked them. The north side usually doesn't have to have a reason.

But Thursday night, both sides came together, united when the Husky hoops team needed them most. With Tony Wroten out of the game - some of it due to the freshman battling nicks and dings from an awfully physical contest with the Bruins, some of it because Wroten just wasn't having one of his better games - Romar went old, or at least as old as he could. Two of his tri-captains were out there - Abdul Gaddy and Darnell Gant, as well as Terrence Ross, C.J. Wilcox, and Aziz N'diaye. That's one senior, two juniors and two sophomores. That's as much maturity as this UW team can muster, and they drew upon all their wisdom down 10 with 6:02 left in the game to draw ahead with 2:35 remaining.

Up to that point the Huskies had not done well in their attempts to contain former Kentwood Conqueror Joshua Smith; Smith scored a career-high 24 points using his large frame and soft hands to establish position in the post. Washington tried all their bodies on him; Aziz N'Diaye, Shawn Kemp, Jr., and Austin Seferian-Jenkins bumped into Smith, prodded him as best they could - but to no avail. Kemp came out motivated, smashing home two dunks and rejecting sophomore transfer Travis Wear with emphasis, but there was no stopping the Pauley Pavilion Doughboy on this night. This was a homecoming for Smith, and he clearly was motivated.

And when the middle was bottled up with double-teams, UCLA would kick it outside to either Jerime Anderson or Lazeric Jones. The two Bruin guards were 5-8 from three-point range. It was back-to-back bombs from Jones that pushed the visitor's lead to seven with 9:29 left. UCLA Head Coach Howland then called time out.

"Well that UCLA team is exactly what they look like on film," said Romar.  "Much better than what people think they are. You cannot write that team off. When Josh Smith is playing like he is now they can beat just about any team.  They are so efficient and they have great size so they can defend pretty much any team."

The extended UW 15-5 run after that time out, punctuated by a Gant jam off a scramble initiated by a poor Jerime Anderson pass, was as veteran a run as Washington has put together all year long, aided - of course - by the 9740 (it was really 9756, but I'll give UCLA credit for having 16 fans at AAA) lunatics wearing purple, gold, black, gray, white, and whatever other color the Huskies consider part of their palette nowadays.

It started, innocently enough with a couple of Ross free throws. The Huskies had UCLA in the bonus by that time, so it made sense to get some freebies from the stripe. Then C.J. Wilcox got into the act, scoring four-straight from the line on back-to-back UW possessions. Then Ross got into the mix with a nice jumper. Howland - known for being liberal with his use of time outs, called one with 4:38 to stem the tide a bit, but it didn't make a difference. Ross hit a three coming off a screen on Washington's next possession that brought the fans off their feet in unison and the Bruins back to the drawing board. They had given up nine-straight points in a span of roughly 210 seconds.

And the UW fans were pushing their boys home the whole way. The team never gave up, and the crowd never lost faith. "I think it showed our maturity," said Gaddy. "We were down 10 points and we fought back. We wanted to prove our maturity; we had a will to win. Down the stretch we started getting stops, and then we went to our guy, Terrence Ross."

And Smith? It's clear that the man-child from Kent would have rather been at a Krispy Kreme than down in the paint by that point in the game. His mouthpiece was hanging out, and he looked like a player who had clearly seen fresher days. It's no wonder his minutes per game have gone down by four from last year, because he was dragging. During the Bruins' final possession, it was Smith who ended up on his backside, winded and left wanting, while N'Diaye cleared out space and secured the last of his team-high 11 rebounds after a Norman Powell miss from the left baseline. Smith lay there for a little bit, not sure what to do as the buzzer sounded and the Huskies marched away victorious yet again. He may have been tired, but it's my contention the Dawg Pack took his breath away.

"I thought he was really up for the game because he was coming back home, playing in front of his mom and dad and his brothers," said UCLA Head Coach Ben Howland.  "I'm really proud of him; I'm just disappointed that his best performance of the year came in a loss."

But the Huskies were surging, driven on by the cacophony created by their home support. It's a testament to what Romarville has established in the Pac-12, which is namely the best home-court advantage in the league, without question. The White Out at Arizona was pretty; it certainly gave both teams a nice canvas in which to lay down their nationally-televised masterpiece.

But that was artistry compared to what Hec Ed can do to opponents; the 141-27 (.839) home record under Romar is just straight brutality. Howland's teams have traveled to Seattle the last eight years and have gone home with their tails between their legs. And they've lost in pretty much every way imaginable.

"They have very good teams and they've been very good every year," said Howland.  "It's a great, loud environment because it's built right on top of you.  Obviously it was a great advantage for them."

Alaska Airlines Arena had an informal nickname when the company chose to partner up with Washington: The Hanger. Well, AAA should now officially be known as Fortress Romar. I'm sure the Bruins would be in complete agreement.

Dawgman.com Top Stories