Romar, Krystkowiak talk NCAA matchup

Someone asked Lorenzo Romar Monday if it was true that he didn't want to face Montana in the first-round of the NCAA Tournament game this coming Thursday in Boise, Idaho. Romar quizzically looked around, not sure what to say. It was the same kind of stunned silence that greeted the Washington Head Coach Sunday when the rest of Husky nation erupted around him after the Dawgs had been named a number-1 seed for the Tournament.

"If I did say that, I was temporarily insane or something," Romar said, a bit at a loss for words. "I don't remember saying that."

It's not the only time in the past 24 hours that he's been at a loss to describe what's happened to his team. Within 14 months, Washington basketball has gone from being winless in their first five games of the 2004 conference season to an improbable 1-seed. It's akin to a professional golfer have his first win be the Masters after missing every cut in the majors the year before.

"My palms were sweaty," he said when asked about his reaction to the Sunday announcement at Hed Ed. "I was more nervous for that than for a game, because you just don't know what to expect. They flashed Illinois and we knew that was going to happen. Then North Carolina - no surprises. Then Duke came up and they were the third name, so now I'm thinking maybe we really didn't have a chance. But then all of a sudden when they showed Washington...I saw a picture later of me pointing to the screen, like 'Hey, that's us.' The guys jumped up like they were expecting it, but it was a different feeling.

"We won the conference tournament the night before, and before I went to shake Coach Olson's hand was look to see if our guys were out there celebrating. Then afterward, putting on the hats, going in the stands to see their families ... that was a fantastic feeling. But at that point, you're still wrapping up the war.

"But the next day, all the work had been done, so all you could do was sit back. And it was if it was an unexpected bonus. It was a weird feeling, one I've never experienced before. It's hard to explain. But it's probably as great a memory as I'll ever have."

So now come the Griz, winners of their last six games and the Big Sky championship over Weber State. "They play a deliberate style with a lot of players," Romar said of the Huskies' first-round opponent. "They have a stud in Kamarr Davis. He's a wide-body that's strong. They stick with their stuff, they are a disciplined team. When you play a team like that, you're going to have to do everything right to come out on top."

Davis, a 6-foot-7 senior from Milwaukee, Wisconsin - by way of Sheridan (WY) Junior College - leads the Griz in scoring (14.8 ppg) and rebounding (5.9 rpg). Junior guard Kevin Criswell chips in 12.4 points per game and three others - F Matt Dlouhy, G Matt Martin and F Andrew Strait, from Yakima (Wash.) West Valley - all average close to double-digits.

"We expect a competitive game," added Romar. "They are a cerebral team that is going to fight us to the finish. We have to be on top of our game."

"I believe that we can make a ballgame out of it," added Montana coach Larry Krystkowiak. "It's the culmination of everything we've worked for. The one sure-fire way to feel good about yourselves - win or lose - is if you lay it all out on the line and you focus and play as hard as you can. We've come too far to not go out with a really strong effort."

Although neither coach share a kinship with one another, they do share one bond in common - they went back to their alma maters to renew sagging programs. "There's a lot of excitement," Krystkowiak said about the buzz in Missoula generated by his hoops squad going 18-12 in his first season has head coach. "There's been a bit of a downswing the past few years, coupled with the tremendous success of the football program under Bobby Hauck. It's hard for a program like ours for fans to be really supportive of more than one sport, but I think we've got some fans back in the mix and excited about what we're doing. We're trying to use this as a stepping stone to get us to the next level."

"It's been great attending this University and playing for this University," said Romar. "Before I came here I remember asking Lute Olson about how he turned around their program at Arizona. I was expecting to hear about some fancy system they had implimented on offense and defense, but he told me that they were fortunate to have recruited a few good players and they instilled some discipline.

"Here, along with having a great staff, we inherited some guys that had winning in them, and they were begging to be a part of something like that. We also added a few pieces to that puzzle and allowed them to come together. We put some structure in place that pointed all toward team and doing things the right way. That's the core of what we see today and why we've been able to move toward success."

They also share a player, or rather used to. John Seyfert, a 6-10, 245-pound junior center from Stevensville, Montana. Romar recruited Seyfert to Saint Louis from New Mexico, where Seyfert was living with his father at the time.

"(Current St. Mary's Head Coach) Randy Bennett saw him play and thought that he could be a guy for us that could come in and rebound and defend and had a big upside," Romar said of Seyfert. "I went and watched him play and we offered him a scholarship."

Romar again offered Seyfert a chance to jump ship and join him at Washington, but John took it as a sign to head back closer to home. "We stayed in contact with people in the (St. Louis) program and we had heard that he was seriously thinking about leaving at that point," said Romar. "It was hard for him to leave Montana and come to Saint Louis in the first place, but we had felt like he had made it through the toughest part.

"When we left I think it really forced him to think about staying away from home. And I remember him saying, 'I know it's the Pac-10 and I know it's a great conference, but I think I want to be home'. I think it was tough on him being away. John was a delight to coach, but once the ball is thrown up, we'll go to war and I know he will too. I hope that we could win the game and he'll do well, because he's a good guy and a hard worker."

"It's just another little interesting chapter in the whole story," added Krystkowiak. "(It) makes an interesting story with him coming back and playing against Lorenzo as well. It kind of ties this whole thing together a little bit."

Krystkowiak was thrilled to get the Washington matchup in the first-round, for many reasons. "We knew it was going to be an elite-type program," he said of the Griz' seeding. "They (UW) certainly played great down the stretch and earned that position. The biggest thing for us was trying to stay out west. It's nice to know we won't have to travel too far. For me personally and our staff, we've seen a lot of Washington games on Fox Sports Northwest over the course of the year. Some of our guys have played with Washington guys in the summer."

Krystkowiak also knows that he can potentially capitalize on the recruiting momentum generated in the Northwest with a Montana-Washington matchup. He's already started to make in-roads into the greater-Seattle area, landing Lake Washington guard Ryan Staudacher for next season. Staudacher was also a member of Friends of Hoop, an AAU club that also included future Huskies Jon Brockman and Martell Webster.

"I'm not sure Seattle didn't have the best group of high school seniors in the country, and I just like the idea that kids growing up in the Northwest are excited about baskteball," he said. "When the Northwest colleges do well, that trickles down into Grizzly basketball. It's our recruting zone too, and only so many kids go to the Pac-10. You'd like to think it helps improve your chances."

But for now, Krystkowiak and the Griz have nothing but U-Dub on the brain. "Where do you start?" he said when asked about what he expects to see on Thursday in Boise. "They are an explosive team, extremely athletic and strong - all the superlatives you would use in an up-tempo team. It's a little different animal than we are used to seeing. A lot of guys can step up on any given night."

"We take it as a great opportunity to go out and do what you're designed to do when you get a number-one seed - which is to advance deep into the tournament," said Romar. He was then asked who might represent some serious problems for his team in the Albuquerque region. His answer? Montana.

"To go any further than that doesn't make any sense for me," he said. "I can't afford to be on the outside looking in, because if I do that then I really will be on the outside looking in."

Message received, loud and clear.

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