All bark, all bite

You don't see it often. Sure, you'll see the jacket come off like a matador's cape as Washington's Lorenzo Romar tries his best to snare the snarling beast that is the referee. But tonight, for only the third time since he began coaching at Montlake, we saw the referee bite back.

The first technical Romar got was against Eastern Washington in his first year. The second came against Arizona State last year, but this T - coming as the Huskies had preserved a 7-9 point lead from the first five minutes of the game - came with 13:14 left against cross-state hoopsters Gonzaga. Washington guard Brandon Roy had just been penciled with his fourth foul.

Off came the jacket. Romar thought at least once about throwing it to the floor, but that would have been a sure T. Instead he flailed it around for a few seconds, just long enough to catch the eye of the referee with sideline responsibility. Out came the whistle. The sign was made.

And then many in the stands made their own signs at the referee.

From Romar's seat - and he has a pretty decent one - all the hubub started the play before.

"Where I was standing, I thought Adam Morrison grabbed us (Ryan Appleby)," he said after Washington pulled out a 99-95 slugfest over No. 6 Gonzaga in Seattle Sunday. "To the point where he came over to us and said, 'Coach, I wasn't trying to play dirty'. I was probably more upset at that being called, and then Brandon gets called for his fourth foul. When the dust settles and the emotion clears, I'm usually wrong about those calls after seeing the replay, but I want to see that one."

Make no mistake, Romar was thinking about giving that coat the serious heave-ho. Only one problem.

"I wasn't going to throw it. It's brand-new," he said.

From that moment on, the basketball game - one that had largely been played in Washington's favor and at Washington's tempo - began to slide a little bit for the guys from Spokane. Adam Morrison, who went for only 43 on the night, went for his final after the technical had been given. And that nine-point lead the Huskies had? It shriveled up into nothing like last week's 'Arctic Blast 2005'.

Meanwhile, on the far end of the floor, Mark Few had his own little puzzle to figure out. You see, those referees that didn't know the meaning of swallowing their whistles, directed much of their huffing and puffing the Bulldogs' way. Few threw a lot of defensive looks at the Huskies - trap, zone, man - but it wasn't to confuse Washington.

"We were in horrific foul trouble, so that's what we were trying to solve. We went very, very deep into the bench, deeper than we have in some time. We did a poor job of communicating, which is inexperience. Some plays we'd have two guys in one defense and three guys in another."

It didn't help the Zags' woes that Derek Raivio, already catapulted into a sea of emotional turmoil over the death of one of his best friends the week before, came up gimpy with a lower back problem. It sidelined the guard to 11 minutes the first half and no minutes the second half.

"They x-rayed his back and his whole lower body tightened up and he couldn't push off his leg," Few said of Raivio. "He tried to give it a go warming up in the second half but it couldn't go. I don't know medically what it was."

"We battled through tournament adversity, but Washington hit a lot of big shots. We dug our way back with a hodge-podge lineup there. They battled, but we just didn't make one more play at the end to get us over the hump."

Romar had a plan for Raivio. "We wanted to put a bigger guy (Bobby Jones) so he wouldn't get free. I thought last year we let him get free way too many times, and you can't do that with him because he's one of the best shooters in the country."

In the end, it was nearly five against one in favor of the Huskies. Other than the odd bounce that went Gonzaga's way down low for easy putbacks, the offensive thrust of the game was all-Morrison, all the time. He finished 18-29 from the field, putting down shots from everywhere and every angle.

"If the ball is in Adam's hands, that's where we want it to be," Few said of Morrison. "He makes tough shots all the time."

Romar was more than happy to throw around every conceivable plaudit in the book for Morrison. "I'm going to help you understand something - Adam Morrison is very good," he said. "That was the best performance of anyone I've seen sitting on the other bench as an assistant or head coach. As crazy as it sounds, I thought our guys covered him pretty good. As tough as the defense was, the higher level he played at."

And with Brandon Roy heading out of the game with 2:20 left and the game within three, it could have been a time where the Huskies - suffering a little bit from clutch-game experience and having to lean on two new faces, Appleby and Justin Dentmon, could have caved in.

Instead, they rose above it - especially the true frosh Dentmon, who finished with 17 points six assists and only one turnover in 30 minutes of play. "He's made big shots all his life. He's a gamer," Romar said of Dentmon. "Against Air Force, who stepped up in the second half? It was Justin Dentmon. He has a flair for the dramatic."

And with Spencer Hawes, Adrian Oliver and Phil Nelson in attendance, this game further signaled just how far the Huskies have come. And as far as Romar is concerned, this game was one for the ages.

"You could tell that there was a lot of excitement in the air, but when it was about to start it was like one of those heavyweight prize fights," he said. "It just had that air about it, and both teams lifted their play to match the environment. It was a heck of a game.

"That's probably about as high a level of college basketball game as you're gonna get. And our guys responded. I'm really proud of our guys."


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