UW Expectations Match Elevation

Georgia Tech Head Coach Paul Hewitt said Sunday that it was unfortunate the number-one seed Washington Huskies would be facing another 1-seed this coming Thursday in Albuquerque, N.M. Of course he wasn't speaking literally, but the way the Louisville Cardinals ran his Yellowjackets into the ground you couldn't help but understand the sentiment. But if the Huskies meet the same fate that befell GT, it isn't because they weren't prepared.

The fourth-seeded Cardinals are playing with a chip on their shoulder, something Washington Head Coach Lorenzo Romar knows all too well. "There are similarities," Romar said Monday just before he and his team headed out for Albuquerque. "A true Louisville team probably presses more than they have down the stretch. They aren't as big as we are, but their guards are bigger. But there are a lot of similarities, I think."

Because the Huskies are now on spring break, it allowed Romar to take his team to New Mexico a day earlier than normal, allowing them to acclimate themselves to the change in altitude that will certainly affect their breathing patterns, their energy and their style of play. Albuquerque sits over one mile high at 5314 feet.

Whether they knew it or not beforehand, the slight change in elevation from Seattle to Boise, Idaho did affect the Dawgs' energy playing their first-round game against Montana.

"Was it a concern? Yes," Romar said when asked about dealing with the change. "Is there a concern now that we're going early? No, because we're taking care of it."

"Getting there quicker is really going to help us," said senior guard Will Conroy. "We'll practice tonight and get a feel for it. And being the gym rats that we are, we'll probably ask coach if we can find a high school somewhere to get some more shots up, get some more breathing, get adjusted. All that helps you out. If they can do it, we can do it."

"After the (Montana) game I thought something was wrong because I was so tired, but that's when Jamaal (Williams) told me about the altitude," said guard Nate Robinson. "I knew it was something. Being there for four days, we got used to it, so it should be the same thing there."

Williams, a transfer from New Mexico, knows full well the advantages of playing at altitude against teams that don't deal with it every day. "He (former UNM Head Coach Fran Fraschilla) utilized it to our strength to try to make the game kind of fast to wear the other team down," he said. "That (playing in Boise) will benefit us. We got used to it. We felt a lot better against Pacific. Against Montana, guys were struggling to get that second wind."

"I think we'll be ready," added forward Bobby Jones, who used that second wind against Pacific to energize his teammates. "We didn't know about it in Boise, but now that we know about it we are more aware of it so it won't affect our game."

Jamaal hasn't talked to his teammates all that much about elevation at Albuquerque. "He told us about the tacos," said Conroy. "He said the tacos are good." Well, that's about to change.

"Get ready for that ramp, it's something else," said Williams. 'The Ramp' Williams is refering to is a steep incline at New Mexico's home floor called 'The Pit' that goes from the court up to the locker rooms. "I just remember when I first got there we would sprint up that ramp because we were used to it," Jamaal added. "At the same time, the other team would be walking or dragging up the rail, trying to climb up that ramp.

"I'm going to try to sprint up it just like I used to. We'll see how far I can make it."

Romar has done his best to educate himself on the nuances of The Pit, talking to people he knows. That list includes Williams, Fraschilla, current UNM Head Coach Ritchie McKay (a former UW assistant), Dave Bliss and former UNM players Rueben Douglas and Senque Carey. Carey, in direct contrast to Williams, left UW to attend New Mexico.

"I've talked to a lot of people about The Pit," said Romar. "It's an unbelievable atmosphere for the home team because of the fan support they have and how loud it gets, how knowledgeable the fans are and what they expect."

The Huskies are hoping they can win that knowledgeable fan base over to their style of play much in the same way they did in Boise. Most expected the undecided Boise fans to root for the underdog in Pacific, but Washington took away any momentum the Tigers might have had to win over the crowd.

"The fans in Idaho were going for the underdog in the first game, but when we played Pacific, it felt like the building became more of our building," said Conroy. "They wanted to see us win and go to the Sweet Sixteen. And more than anything, I think our style of play wows the crowd. We're exciting. We give the crowd what they want to see."

"It's a toss-up," said guard Brandon Roy. "If we play hard, hopefully people will jump on our side. At this point, I think people are just fans of good games, and if we play a good game and they play a good game, no one will really know because everyone will just be in tune with the game."

"We feel so comfortable at a neutral court, because anything can happen," added Jones. The neutral court is my best friend, I love it."


Notes:
Tre's treys get him noticed: Senior guard Tre Simmons has been invited to participate in the Final Four three-point shooting contest in St. Louis. But Simmons let it be known Monday that he'd much rather be in St. Louis with his teammates. "Coach (Romar) told me last week about it and I'm pumped up about it," he said. "But I'd rather go to the Final Four than be in a three-point contest."


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