2003-2004 Washington Huskies Season Wrap – Part I

Who is already missing hoops? I am. The Washington Huskies concluded the 2003-2004 campaign prematurely, but that shouldn't take away all that they have accomplished in the past five months. While I wish this final season recap happened at the end of March – or even the beginning of April - it is time to look back at the season that was and all the memories (good and bad) that came along with it.

Part 1: Season Recap / Analysis
Overall Record: 19-12
Conference: 12-6, 2nd in Pac-10
Home: 11-3 Away: 6-7 Neutral: 2-2
Attendance: 108,781 (modern Hec Ed record) Average: 7,770 (new record)

Year two of the Lorenzo Romar regime was a success. After a 10-17 season and missing the Pac-10 Tournament last year, Husky fans came into this season realistically hoping to make the conference tourney and squeeze out an NIT bid. Instead, they nearly won the tournament and skipped the NIT entirely, marching straight into the NCAA Tournament.

Who needs baby steps when you can take John Coltrane-sized giant steps?

The Huskies became a much better road team than last year and that was one of the key ingredients to winning. Also, one thing that many people may have not noticed was how healthy the Huskies were able to stay the entire season. Eight players played in all 31 games and routinely went nine deep in their rotation and showed tremendous balance. Five players averaged double-figure points and seven different players led the team in scoring at various points.

Attendance was at an all-time high, which proves that Husky basketball was the hottest ticket in town. "Romar Ball" brought the fans out of hiding and the bandwagon accepted more members with each game they won. Here's hoping that the off-season doesn't allow fans to step off the bandwagon and forget to come back next November.

The Non-Conference (exc. NC State)

Washington started the season 3-0 with wins over Portland State, UC-Riverside, and Eastern Washington at home. A solid start, if not an unspectacular one. That 3-0 record may have put some swagger in the Huskies' step as they got set to meet No.17 Gonzaga at home in what was to be their biggest test to date.

That test proved to be a miserable failure. Shooting enough bricks to build each Gonzaga player a new house, their cousins from Spokane came into Seattle and used a 42-10 run that spanned two halves to win 86-62 and sent the Dawgs tumbling back to Earth.

How would the Huskies recover? On the road, but success was still hard to come by. Once again, the young Huskies failed to produce ‘w's. Washington traveled to Wyoming and Houston for their next two games and was blown out both times. When the Huskies were still struggling with the whole RPI issue later in the season, these two losses had a lot to do with it. They did manage to muster out their first road win at San Diego State the next game and returned home to blow out Columbia before they got ready for Pac-10 play.

Washington was 5-3, but they could have been 7-1.

When will they win?

That was the question everybody was asking as the Dawgs began conference play. Washington started out the season by getting swept in the Bay Area by California and Stanford. When they returned home, it seemed that they were enamored too with Lodrick and Rodrick Stewart's homecoming and lost to USC. They hung with UCLA, but once again found themselves coming up short. Washington was in the Pac-10 basement and their next opponent (and their fans) had every intention of hammering that point home.

Nothing pleases an Oregon Duck more than to kick a Dawg while he's down. The Ducks defeated Washington in Eugene 84-74, much to the delight of the Eugene faithful. Nothing was going right. Fans began to call for Romar's job. They questioned whether or not the struggling Nate Robinson should have given up football. They said the Huskies had no heart and another losing season was imminent.

As the 0-5 Huskies made their way to their locker rooms, they were showered with chants of "Pac-10 Doormats" by the Duck fans. The Huskies heard all of it, soaked it in, and knew it was time to change.

The shot that saved the season and the aftermath

In Corvallis, the Oregon State fans picked up on Oregon's chants in an attempt to get the Huskies off track. With 6:13 left in the game and Washington down by 16, it looked like 0-6 and another week as the Pac-10 cellar-dwellers.

Stop right there. In the shot that will forever be known as the season's turning point, Robinson nailed a three-pointer as time expired to send the game into overtime. Suddenly, the Huskies are thinking, ‘Hey, we can win this game.' And they did. Led by Robinson's 25 points, the Huskies pulled out a 103-99 victory over the Beavers.

The first win is always the hardest to get, especially when it feels like you haven't tasted victory in ages. Fueled by their dramatic triumph, the Husky team bus pulled into Pullman next and pulled out of town with a 75-62 win over Washington State. Two wins in a row was positive, but two road wins in a row? The Huskies have improved, but they weren't good enough to knock off a top-10 team.

Were they?

It didn't take long for that question to be answered, shocking then-number 9 Arizona. Led by Robinson's 31 points, including what has to be one of college basketball's best dunks of the year, Washington wowed the Wildcats and the nation with their 96-83 victory. With all the confidence in the world, they went off to knock off each Pac-10 opponent one by one. (with the exception of UCLA, but that will happen later)

The Final Stretch

After sweeping the Oregon schools and Washington State at home during their next home stand, the Huskies stared at a schedule that put them up against the number 13, number 17 and number-one team in the nation in three out of their final five games. By this time, an NIT invitation was seen as an abject failure, especially with a shot at March Madness staring them in the face.

East coast ‘analysts' had their doubts, but the Huskies knew they would have to put on an impressive showing during this final stretch to have a chance to dance.

Their first opponent was North Carolina State. The Wolfpack was sitting in second place in the ACC and even knocked off number-one Duke the week before. But the Huskies were up to the challenge. While they were not able to get the victory, Washington made a statement and gained a load of confidence by hanging with one of the best teams in the country to the final minute.

Then came the dreaded "desert road trip." Not many Pac-10 teams make it out of the desert with a clean sweep. The Huskies hadn't since 1984. But 20 years later, they did just that by shocking Arizona again in Tucson and blowing the Sun Devils out of their own arena in Tempe.

By that time, fans in Seattle had started to take notice. Tickets to the final two Husky home games were at a premium. Tickets for Washington's game against top-ranked Stanford had been sold out for weeks, so everybody gobbled up the last Cal tickets available.

The hoop dawgs gave the sold-out crowd much to cheer about with a dominating win over the Golden Bears, 76-58. Still, the NCAA Tournament wasn't in the leather by any means, but nothing grabs the attention of the selection committee more than being the first ones to beat the top-ranked (and undefeated) team in the season finale.

Number-one Stanford was attempting to become the first Pac-10 team in history to finish their conference record (18-0) without a blemish. Not even the legendary UCLA teams led by John Wooden were able to accomplish such a feat. With 10,086 screaming fans in attendance, the Huskies pulled off what would be one of the greatest wins in school history, a 75-62 win over the Cardinal. But were their post-season aspirations now a formality?

The Post Season

Washington drew the number-two seed for the Pac-10 Tournament where they met UCLA, the only conference team that they were not able to defeat during regular conference play. Many were saying that should they win at least one game in Los Angeles, their tickets to the Big Dance were as good as booked.

Check that. The Huskies got their win, forcing a third game with the Arizona Wildcats.

Beat Arizona three times in one season? Impossible. But then again, the Huskies at this point knew that all things were possible and defeated the Wildcats yet again. But could they beat Stanford again? The third time around, the Cardinal was much too powerful for the Huskies. Washington would have to settle for second place in the tournament. Not too shabby for a team that finished ninth last year and were picked to do the same during the preseason prognostications.

As it turned out, the Huskies didn't have to sweat out an NCAA tournament berth for long. Washington was named the number-eight seed in the St. Louis Region and met number-nine University of Alabama-Birmingham in Columbus, Ohio.

The Huskies' magic bus ran out of gas in the Midwest, even though you couldn't help but be amazed by the gas milage. In one o0f the most exciting games of the season and arguably the tournament's most explosive, the Blazers knocked off the Huskies 102-100 to send the hoop dawgs back home after just one dance.

Numbers and Analysis

Looking back, there's no question about it. The Huskies won because they played team basketball and they didn't rely on just one player to carry the team. Washington passed the ball around much more effectively this season. Their 501 assists was their most since the 1986 season and they had a 1.06 ratio to show for it. On the other side of it, they coughed up the ball 472 times, the most in the conference.

The distribution of points allowed this year's Huskies to finish as one of the highest scoring units in team history. They averaged 82.0 points per game, good for second place in the conference behind Arizona and it was the second highest average in school history, trailing the 1972 team's 84.8 average. Both Nate Robinson and Brandon Roy turned in 30-point games and Will Conroy had a 29-point effort.

Washington scored so much because they had to. Opponents scored 78.9 points per game, which was the most allowed in the conference. Opponents were also able to hit shots at a 46.5 percent clip, which again was last in the conference.

The Huskies became a better rebounding team. Averaging 35.5 rebounds per contest, their opponents averaged 36.8 rebounds per game, good for sixth and eighth in the conference respectively.

Washington spent a lot of time at the free throw line. With 799 shots taken from the charity stripe, they connected on 562 of their shots for a 70.3 percentage. If the Huskies make their freebies in crucial situations they will take the close games (like UAB!) next season.

But what they must also do is improve their defense. Washington forced a lot of turnovers (526, first overall in conference) but they balanced it out with miscues of their own. Opponents found holes in the Huskies' defensive schemes to make big shots and rack up the points. Opponents scored over 80 points 17 times this season, and over 90 points four times.

But in the final analysis, as long as the Huskies keep on making steady improvement, they will be regulars in the NCAA Tournament. With Curtis Allen being the only player to graduate, Washington returns an astounding 94 percent of their scoring load next season. But do not be fooled. Losing Allen will have a bigger impact than most think. Allen's leadership will sorely be missed as well as his locker room presence. Remember, many of the players wanted to win it all for Curtis.

Washington's roster could expand by as many as four new faces by the time next season tips off. Juniors Jamaal Williams and Matt Fletcher will be eligible and vying for playing time. Williams is a scoring and rebounding threat that will add depth to the frontcourt. Fletcher is another big body (6-7 220) that may get some playing time. Incoming freshmen Joel Smith is a talented player in the Brandon Roy-mold that will have the benefit of learning from an older group of Husky backcourt players. Zach Johnson is another frontcourt player that may red-shirt next season due to his knees. A year of from game-play should allow him to be in shape to contribute the following year.


Coming Next: Individual Player Analysis

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