Huskies Hardened After OSU win?

CORVALLIS - Ugly, but effective: That seems to sum up how Washington has handled their road travails so far this season, and their 75-72 win over Oregon State Sunday definitely fit right in with all the ones that looked pretty rough on the outside, but were oh-so satisfying in the win column.

Abdul Gaddy stepped up and ran the show for the Huskies (17-8, 10-3), only scoring eight points, but lead the team with timely passing, scads of patience when it was required, and a dash of veteran play down the stretch when OSU turned the game into a free-throw shooting contest. And his three-pointer with 5:01 remaining in the game gave UW the slice of breathing room it needed to keep the Black Bandits from Benton County at bay.

Washington scored their last eight points via the stripe in 12 attempts, as well as five out of six from Desmond Simmons, Terrence Ross and C.J. Wilcox when the game got really tight. It's a new wrinkle to the Huskies' winning road formula. You wouldn't think it, given they shoot a paltry 61 percent from the line, but this team has taken their lumps away from Alaska Airlines Arena and are now starting to give them back when the game is on the line. And most importantly, these tight tests will only make them tougher to crack come tournament time.

That's speaking of the Pac-12 tournament, because they haven't locked up an NCAA berth by any stretch of the imagination. But after getting crushed by 25 Thursday in Eugene, Lorenzo Romar would have taken a one-point victory at Gill Coliseum, walked on the bus and maintained a mile-wide grin all the way back to Seattle.

As it turned out, his guys gave him two more points than he was looking for. It's not like Romar's asked for much either; the other three road wins for UW this year have been by four, six, and two points respectively. The moral of the story is - close is good enough, as long as you're on the right side of close.

"Thursday's one of those games where you go five years from now and you win five national championships - but what about what happened Thursday at Oregon? It was just poor, and they were very good - and that's hard to get that out of your mind," Romar said. "But yeah - big picture, we're tied for first place going back home for two more games. Big picture? I'd rather prefer that than the alternative."

And now, with two home games left on the schedule before finishing the Pac-12 regular season with three more road contests, Washington finds themselves at 4-2 away from the friendly confines of Hec Ed. It's been mini-feast or major famine when it comes to the Road Dawgs; they either grind away wins and find ways to prevail, or they get blown out of the gym. That could be due to youth, poor play, great play by the other team, or more likely a combination of all of the above.

"Sometimes with younger teams, you do little things, like leave the door open in the middle of the day when you go to school or something; you don't know what could happen if you do that because you're young and you don't understand," said Romar. "When you get older you realize that you better lock this down every time, and sometimes players just feel like everything is going to be alright. I thought today we were much more dialed in."

When UW is playing well, the always out-rebound the other team. Generally-speaking, boards has always been a good indicator as to whether or not the Huskies are hustling and out-scrapping their opponents. On Sunday, Washington out-physicalled Oregon State in rebounds and knockdowns (two Jared Cunningham drops to one on Terrence Ross). Heck, Darnell Gant fouled out in only 10 minutes, and he hasn't fouled out of another Pac-12 game all year long!

Sixty-two fouls and 61 free throws later, it was the Huskies - whose percentage from the stripe in league play was nearly 100 points lower than OSU's going into Sunday (.690 to .591) who turned the tables on the home team, out-scoring the Beavers by eight at the line and shooting .686 for the night (24-35).

"Free throws are key," said Terrence Ross, who had his sixth double-double of the season with 21 points and 13 rebounds. "We capitalized on them in practice, and it showed in the game."

Grabbing boards, taking care of the ball, and making your shots at the stripe when the game is on the line - that's how you win games on the road in the Pac-12. Frankly, it's probably how you'd win no matter what conference you're in. Washington out-rebounded OSU 47-41, won the turnover battle (9-12) and were 7-8 from the line the final 30 seconds. They made sure their top foul shooters - Ross and C.J. Wilcox - got the ball, and when they weren't able to find them, Desmond Simmons cooly put two in the bank to help secure the win.

Those were two foul shots coming from a redshirt freshman with a career FT percentage of .590 until Saturday. Against Oregon State? A solid 4-4. Add nine rebounds and a steal, and Simmons had quite the night.

"There aren't a lot of heroes in the Thursday game," Romar said. "I thought our team was focused and ready to play; Terrence went out and got 13 more rebounds, Shawn Kemp came in off the bench and gave us good minutes, and Desmond Simmons hit two big free throws. There were a lot of heroes on our team."

And while the Washington Huskies are looking for that dominant presence to step up and take control of the team when it really matters on a consistent basis - like Isaiah Thomas did last year and Quincy Pondexter the year before - they'll manage quite nicely in the meantime with a roster full of heroes-in-waiting that find their roles in the critical moments and execute the scout the way it was drawn up.

At least that's the way it's going to have to be if they have plans on staying at the top of the Pac-12 standings, because one more game in the 'L' column could spell curtains. The conference definitely has a playoff vibe to it right now; if UW or California slip, there are teams more than capable of picking up the slack and taking over.

It's that time when seasons are made or broken; it's not just crunch time - it's snap, crackle and pop time. It's that point where every possession seemingly has the weight of 10,000 fans right on top of it. Washington is 4-2 on the road right now, and they have three more road games to be played. Who knows if they'll have to win all three in order to secure at least a share of a Pac-12 regular season title; the mathematics are still to be determined.

But just the simple fact that the Huskies could have gone from first to fourth Sunday with a loss tells me all I need to know about how precarious their fate is teetering on the knife-edge. If ugly is how games are won on the road in the Pac-12, UW definitely knows ugly. And they'll take three more ugly road wins, thank you very much.

Last time I checked, California didn't get an extra half-game in the standings because of their double-digit win at UCLA. And I don't believe Colorado earned style points for their waxing of Arizona State. CU's 24-point blowout in Tempe counted exactly the same as Washington's three-point triumph at Gill Coliseum.

So these next few weeks in the Pac-12 will be full of many Maalox Moments, to steal a phrase from Dick Vitale. For the Washington Huskies, they must be thinking these three little words: BRING IT ON. These tough road wins have hopefully hardened their resolve and tested their will to win beyond reason to the point where nothing should faze them now. They should be impervious to the whims of away crowds and spilt ice cream.

At least that's what we thought going into Thursday's game - and that's what keeps Washington fans going back to their Tums. Top Stories