Romar: One Game at a Time

Lorenzo Romar knows all about the pitfalls of looking ahead. It's something you preach to players at all levels when you are preparing for one opponent and the spectre of a game with far-reaching implications looms in the room next door. Too tantalizing to ignore, right? Well, for the Head Coach of the Washington Huskies, he can look to last year for guidance.

But he hasn't yet. During a memorable run in 2004, the Huskies played Cal on a Thursday at home before playing the then-number-one team in the country - Stanford - that Saturday. Washington pulled off the double-dip, something they hope to duplicate this Thursday and Saturday against Arizona State and Arizona respectively. But Romar hasn't delved into that bag of tricks so far. That might be for Wednesday night's pep talk.

The 'Cats, ranked in the top-ten, are the team all the fans and media in Seattle want to talk about. The marquee matchup, a potential number-one seed in the balance for the NCAA tournament, the battle for Pac-10 supremacy. But the Huskies have to battle their inner and outer devils, literally, Thursday when Arizona State comes calling.

"Thank goodness we have a mature team that understands that you can't do that," Romar told Tuesday when asked about looking ahead. "But the temptation is always there."

And motivation shouldn't be an issue. "I think our guys have responded, but with four games left in the conference, there isn't one game you can point to and feel like it's going to be tough to get motivated to play," added Romar. "Each game is going to be a tough game."

But instead of looking forward for a second, let's look back at the week that was. After a split on the road in Oregon, Romar talked about that road trip like a golfer that hasn't played particularly well, but scored pretty well nonetheless. No one was talking about a 'slump' - even behind closed doors - but there was a chance some self-doubt might start to creep in if they stumbled on the road at Washington State.

"If we would have come back against Washington State and been horrible, you start to look a little closer at being concerned," said Romar. But that didn't happen. I thought our guys came out and played even better than when we played them at home."

Romar has never been a part of a team that went so long without slipping up. It's not to say the letdown at Oregon State was inevitable, but he understands the mental and physical stress a team goes through during an entire season. "We had to give the Alaska Shootout our best shot," he said. "I see now, as a result of winning that championship, that it's really helped us tremendously for the post-season in terms of RPI and things of that nature. To continue to try and play at that type of level is very difficult to do but I think our guys have done a terrific job of maintaining that balance."

Romar is quick to thank the Washington fans for what he calls 'taking ownership of the team'.

"You could still hear them, it was fantastic," Romar said of the efforts of the Dawgpack and Dawgsled in lending support, despite the Cougars sticking the Washington faithful in an area where they appeared closer to Seattle than Pullman. "At times they drowned out the Washington State crowd. It was great. It's a tremendous boost, a tremendous lift for your team when your fans are out there and being supportive."

And Romar and crew are expecting more of the same during this final homestand of the season. "Our fans feed off the energy and they talk to other players and recruits about how great it is to play at home," he said. "And if you look at teams across the country that have long winning streaks at home, they have great crowd support. And that's what we have. I always felt that if you won in Seattle, the fans would support us. Fans here have become more like how I think they are in the midwest when we were there. There's ownership here, and I think that's awesome."

The team and the fans have plenty to be excited about. Washington has a chance to go undefeated at home, the first time that has happened in over 20 years. In fact, the Huskies are currently riding a 20-game home winning streak, one that stretches back to the 2004 season and could move into 2006 if all the pieces fall into place as Romar hopes. "For the players to be a part of something like that would be truly special," he said.

And you'd have to go back over fifty years, but Washington is also about to break their single-season attendance record. Things are looking up on Montlake. But let's jump back to the present - Arizona State.

When you think of the Sun Devils, you think of Ike Diogu. He's been their leading scorer in eighteen of ASU's 27 games, and his 22.2 points per game average is best in the Pac-10 by three-and-a-half points. His 12 career double-doubles bests the next best in conference by five, and his streak of 86 straight games scoring in double-digits obliterates the next best (18).

Romar believes that if the Huskies can keep ASU's big man to his scoring average, it will be considered a success. "If he gets 23 points, you feel like you dodged a grenade," he said, matter-of-factly. "He's such a good offensive player. That's been their whole thrust for three years - get Ike Diogu quality shots. But there are other guys that are capable of going off - it's not just the Ike Diogu show."

But Ike is definitely the main attraction. "When you play Ike Diogu, you throw everything else out the window," added Romar. "If you don't go out and bust your tail and have maximum concentration against this guy, he'll get 40. If you let up at all, he'll get 40. So I think that in itself doesn't allow anyone to slip up at all. You've got to come prepared."

Mike Jensen, Hakeem Rollins and Bobby Jones will be the main players responsible for putting the defensive cuffs on Diogu, much like they did in Tempe earlier in the season. Ike had a double-double, but his 14 points was well below his season average. All three Huskies sacrificed their offensive games that day to really put the hammer down on Diogu, and it paid off.

Going into Thursday's game, Jensen is buoyed by a 13-point effort on the road at Washington State. It was important for the junior forward from Kent to bounce back after games at Oregon and Oregon State where he seemed to be in a bit of a funk.

"I think it's always good for Mike to have positive experiences, because it really lifts him up emotionally," Romar said. "His confidence goes up."

And even though he breaks one of his own rules, Romar knows what a sweep over the Arizona schools could lead to. A number-one seed, perhaps? Not only in the Pac-10 tournament, but the NCAA's as well? "I don't think there's room for any more slippage," he said. "I think to get one you'd have to win out, then it would be a possibility. I don't think it would be a lock."

But when talk turns to that of a relative seed in the dance, that's when Romar puts out the lights. "Now you are getting ahead of me," he said with a chuckle. "In two weeks, we'll have more of an idea."

Keys to Life: Romar has been named a finalist for the 2005 John Wooden 'Keys to Life' Award, an award given each year to a past or present college professional basketball player or coach whom best exemplifies outstanding character and leadership in the home, on the court and in the community. Coach Wooden was selected as the model for this award because his life, on and off the court, personifies the highest level of moral character, integrity, and faith. Past winners include David Robinson, Clark Kellogg, Mark Price, A.C. Green and former UW Head Coach Marv Harshman.

Besides Romar - the only college finalist - the other finalists include Grant Hill (Orlando Magic), Allan Houston (New York Knicks) and Bobby Jones (5-time NBA All-Star). "Bobby Jones, I have as much respect for him as a person as I do any athlete," Romar said. "Grant Hill and Allan Houston - those are great guys. I've been to the banquet every year and I've always enjoyed the event and what it stands for."

The award will be presented at the 9th annual 2005 Legends of the Hardwood Breakfast, on April 2, 2005 at the Millenium Hotel in St. Louis.

Lorenzo Romar Scout Profile Top Stories