Ripe for Fall or Learning to Fly?

With all of the NCAA and Pac-10 talk of sanctions and the dreaded "Lack of Institutional Control", it's enough to make some Husky fans go running for the exits and declare it to be 1993 all over again. Well, it's not 1993.

First of all, let me remind you that all of the things that the University of Washington is about to be slapped for occurred within the administration, not the athletic programs themselves. The transgressions of "failure to monitor" didn't come about to gain competitive advantage, but rather were the results of poor interpretations and decisions. That is a huge difference from the situation a decade ago, and I expect this to have an impact on the penalization of the institution.

Yes, expect there to be penalties, and probably probation of some sort, but I would wager a guess that it could be similar to the probation Cal is currently under, not the purgatory the Huskies suffered in the early to mid 1990s. I'm just guessing here, but I'm not that worried about it. You really can't be, you just let things unfold and learn from them.

With that out of the way, let's focus on what Lorenzo Romar is doing with the Hoop Dawgs.

This coach's team had nearly given up on him. When they opened the season 0-5 and finger pointing began to escalate, it seemed all too familiar to Husky basketball fans. A season that began with promise was going down faster than a Keith Moon drum riff, and there didn't appear to be much that the coach could do about it.

Enter Marv Harshman's favorite pupil and former point guard, Lorenzo Romar.

Romar made changes, moving Nate Robinson to the off-guard position, sitting Tre Simmons on the bench, increasing Bobby Jones' minutes, and putting Will Conroy firmly in charge of the point-guard job.

It didn't seem like it was working to perfection, but the Huskies remained competitive with Oregon State on the road. Still, it seemed that an 0-6 beginning to the season was a done deal when Washington was down three and there were barely four ticks on the clock remaining. Nate Robinson pulled up and drained a long three as time expired to send the game into overtime.

The overtime session was a breeze and the Huskies finally broke their drought. It turns out they did more than just break it, they turned it upside down. Lorenzo's lads have now gone 7-1 since that miraculous come-from-behind win in Corvallis.

The biggest turnaround has obviously been that this team believes in themselves and in what their coaches are telling them.

It would've been easy for Tre Simmons to sulk about being benched. Instead he has now found that feathery touch he had at Green River CC that was missing and has become the Huskies instant offense from the perimeter. He looked lost and bewildered in earlier contests, but has now found a comfort zone in the new role Romar has defined for him.

Just as big has been senior Curtis Allen's attitude about coming off the bench for Conroy. Allen has delivered big three-balls when needed, and has a calming influence on this young team then the frenetic meter is going out of control. Even when Allen's shot isn't falling, he's getting steals and taking charges at critical times on defense.

Mike Jensen, the guy with the prettiest shot on the team, now looks more confident than ever before. He isn't crashing the boards with reckless abandon yet, but he's much more aggressive than at any time in his career, and his three-point shooting has been money when it's been needed this year. He's hit 50% of his treys, tops in the league to this point in the season.

The results have been nothing short of astounding. Washington now finds themselves 12-9, 7-6 in the Pac-10. The last time they had a winning record this deep into the season was 1999, the last season they qualified for the NCAA tournament.

This team's athleticism is unquestioned. Washington has athletes that other schools cannot match up with, but it needed a coach to be able to harness those athletes into playing basketball and scoring.

Husky teams over the past three seasons have gone on eight to nine minute droughts between scoring field goals. Those days appear over, as the Huskies average over 82 points per game, second most in the conference behind Arizona. Washington also shoots .471 from the field, fourth in the conference, and has connected on over 71% of their free throw attempts.

The other major problem early in the season was turnovers. Washington turned it over 29 times in a terrible home loss to USC, the low point of the season. Washington now ranks 2nd in the conference in steals (8.2 per game) and 3rd in turnover differential (+2.15 per game), and the Huskies have cut their turnovers per game number down to 15.5, still a bit high but a huge improvement.

So now, where does this team go? How good are they? Certainly they feel much better about themselves after digging themselves out of a six-foot hole that the rest of the conference was about to start throwing dirt in. But they almost slipped against Oregon State, blowing a 13-point lead late in the game. Was that the wake up call?

If so, Washington is lucky. Most teams require a sound and unforeseen defeat to bring them back down to earth. Romar is a calm but demanding figure on the sidelines, and I think he'll be able to show his guys that they are only as good as their last game. And last game, they were exactly one point better than the Oregon State Beavers.

Now Washington State comes to town with their "Bennett Ball" slow-down plodding style of game that can frustrate a more athletic team like Washington to no end. The Huskies played well in Pullman in their last meeting, but perhaps it's more important to point out that WSU played terribly. Washington didn't even get anything close to the Cougars' best shot. They should expect that to come Thursday in Bank of America Arena.

Washington State is number one in scoring defense, and Marcus Moore can be the best player in the Pac-10 when he's on. The Cougars are never caught napping on defense, so the Huskies will need to shoot well, rebound well, and not get lulled into a half-court stare down with the well-coached team from the Palouse.

And the Huskies have won the last nine in a row against their cross-town rivals in Seattle. The law of large numbers should make Washington fans a little nervous at that.

If the Huskies can take care of business and up their record to 8-6 in the Pac-10, they'll hit the road to take on North Carolina State in an "ACC Sunday Night Hoops" televised game that they'll have nothing to lose. They can let it all hang out if they arrive in Raleigh with 13 wins under their belt.

Are they ready to fly yet or are they ripe for the pickin' by a hungry WSU team? We'll know on Thursday.

Washington must beat WSU in a game that they should win. Sometimes winning the game you're supposed to win is more difficult than playing loose and upsetting an Arizona. It is games like these that tell you just how far the program has come.

However you slice it, the future looks very bright for this team. They have learned how to score in crunch time, how to take care of the ball, and how to play street ball under control. When you look at the roster and realize that there is only one senior on the roster (Allen) , and that the best low post scorer won't even be eligible until next season (Jamaal Williams), the potential for this team to be something special is very real.
Husky Howls…..Washington has had stability, opening their past seven games with the same starting lineup. It features four sophomores (Mike Jensen, Bobby Jones, Nate Robinson, Brandon Roy) and one junior (Will Conroy). Roy and Jensen have started all 21 games this season….Nate Robinson has been everything to this team. The 5-9 guard leads UW with a 15.8-point scoring average in conference games and tallied double-figure points in 11 of 13 Pac-10 games. He ranks fourth among Pac-10 players in steals (37), fifth in free throw percentage (84.6%), 10th in 3-point percentage (37.5%) and 19th in scoring (12.6)…..One guy that probably doesn't get the credit he deserves is sophomore Bobby Jones. He ranks eighth in the conference with a field goal accuracy of 54.5 percent. Jones ranks third among UW players with 27 steals and has gone into double figures in 13 games this season. His average of 10.7 points per game this year is double what it was last season…..Brandon Roy is quickly becoming the player that everyone thought he would be at Washington. He leads the team in points (13.6) and rebounds (5.5), 12th and 16th among Pac-10 players. He ranks second on UW in both assists (68) and steals (30), amassed a career-high 30 points in 29 minutes at UCLA, registered 22 points against UC Riverside (Nov. 24), and at Houston Roy became the first player in UW history to lead the team in the five major statistics during a single game. Roy amassed 19 points, 12 rebounds, 5 assists, 2 steals and 1 blocked shot…..Will Conroy's impact on this team just continues to grow. The most improved player in the Pac-10 last season was point guard Will Conroy, now a junior at Washington. His 12.7-point sophomore scoring average was 10.2 better than his freshman average of 2.5 points, the largest improvement by any Pac-10 player in 2003. Conroy currently ranks second among all Husky scorers with 12.7 points per game, and is UW's top playmaker. He has distributed 96 assists, an average of 4.6 per game that ranks seventh among Pac-10 players.

Likely Husky starting lineup:

G Will Conroy 6-2 junior (12.7 ppg, 4.6 apg)
G Nate Robinson 5-8 sophomore (12.6 ppg, 3.6 rpg)
F Brandon Roy 6-6 sophomore (13.6 ppg, 5.5 rpg)
F Bobby Jones 6-6 sophomore (10.7 ppg, 4.8 rpg)
C Mike Jensen 6-8 sophomore (7.6 ppg, 4.6 rpg)


Significant bench players:

G Tre Simmons 6-6 junior (9.2 ppg)
G Curtis Allen 6-0 senior (5.5 ppg)
C/F Anthony Washington 6-8 sophomore (3.8 ppg, 2.3 rpg)
F Hakeem Rollins 6-6 junior (25 shot blocks, 3.9 rpg)

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