Storylines abound as Dawgs head south

Lorenzo Romar wasn't sure how it was going to work, but he was sure that the plan in place met his criteria. He was talking about Washington's 2005-2006 basketball schedule. Any thoughts that it somehow wasn't strong enough would be thrown out once people saw the home game they had scheduled with North Carolina and the top-ranked opponent they were certainly bound to play when they agreed to play in the Wooden Classic.

Well, as it turned out, neither happened, but life has a funny way of working out anyways.

"They approached us last year," Romar said, referring to the promoters putting on the esteemed two-game showcase at the Arrowhead Pond in Anaheim, Calif. Washington (7-0) will be playing New Mexico (4-2) in the first game, while No. 17 Nevada and No. 16 UCLA square off in the afternoon session. It's the third time participating in the Wooden Classic for Romar as a coach, and he'd do it just for the honor of being associated with Wooden. "I get goosebumps every time," he said. "It's a privilege and an honor.

"You bring up John Wooden, you run the risk of me going off on a tangent." What ensues is a five-minute vignette about Wooden visiting a Pepperdine practice and offering his post-workout words of wisdom to an eager Romar.

They were running a 3-on-2 conditioning drill, something Romar had been doing since his basketball playing days as early as junior high. He spiced it up with some scoring an a couple of other things that clearly piqued Wooden's interest. When Romar asked for his criticisms, Wooden noted that he liked the twists Romar had added to the traditional drill. "When I first invented that drill...," started Wooden.

Invented? "He would walk into a room and he would immediately make you feel like the King of 'Why didn't I do that?'," said Romar. That was his quick-capsule lesson in reverence for the man they call the 'Wizard of Westwood'.

But what Romar was looking for ideally after accepting a spot in the Wooden Classic wasn't another lesson in humility. He was searching for that big matchup, that game that helps the Huskies' RPI in much the same way their 99-95 win over then-No. 6 Gonzaga gave their rating a hefty boost. "It's going to help us get in the NCAA tournament," Romar said of the victory. "It's going to help us that way. It also helps our team understand that we have a chance to do well this year."

With a strength of schedule ranking of 209 (only Pittsburgh at 238 is lower in Sportsline's list of the country's top 65 RPI teams), it could be very easy to conclude that Romar might not have been particularly happy with the way the schedule went suddenly south after UNC's Marvin Williams turned pro.

Not so.

"We hadn't been tested and maybe deep down our guys weren't sure," he said. "In a big game like that (Gonzaga), it gives our group a little more confidence knowing we can have a good season this year. Maybe those other wins aren't fool's gold."

With the Huskies off to their best start since 1969, they now have a chance to get within two games of the best start of any UW hoops team in school history. The mark of ten games was set during the 1950-1951 year. But they will have to do it on the road. But it's not exactly a road game. Romar is unconcerned. He is currently starting two true freshmen - Jon Brockman and Justin Dentmon - and both have shown a knack for raising the level of their games when it counts the most.

"We saw that those guys can step up on a big stage," said Romar. "Ryan Appleby can step up on a big stage. He played in the SEC, so he's played in big games before. Bobby (Roy), Jamaal (Williams) and Brandon (Roy) have played in a ton of road games. They've played in the NCAA tournament. They've played in Pac-10 championship games two years in a row. But I'm looking forward to seeing how we'll do in the same way I was looking forward to see how we would do in the last game because it was a big stage against a tough team.

"But I'm not concerned. Just interested."

What's also going to be interested is how Williams, who led the Huskies in scoring against Gonzaga, fares against New Mexico, his old team. Jamaal played in Albuquerque in 2002 and 2003 before transferring to Washington. In 2003, Williams was the Lobos' No. 2 scorer. Don't expect Romar to be too concerned about Jamaal being too amped against the Lobos.

"A motivated Jamaal Williams is always a good thing," he said, matter-of-factly.

As the positive feelings are flowing from the Hec Ed rafters, Romar is quick to note that Washington's current No. 13 ranking could go just as quickly as it came. "It's flattering," he said of the Huskies' meteoric rise. "The rankings are fleeting, as you know."

One facet of the game Romar is not too thrilled about is the Huskies' lack of rotation on the backside, leading to too many offensive rebounds. Gonzaga's Larry Gurganious had five offensive rebounds in just 13 minutes of work this past Sunday.

"When you have a guy like Jon Brockman, you're going to be a good rebounding team," said Romar. "But as a group, we need to get much better. We are not nearly as good as we need to be."

So what will Washington face when they meet up with the Lobos? They happen to be coached by a man that also has ties to the Washington program - Ritchie McKay. McKay was a graduate assistant under Andy Russo at UW and came back to coach as an assistant under Bob Bender from 1993-95.

"They spread you, they like to take the three," Romar said of the Lobos. "They are very solid, very fundamentally solid."

They also look like a team that doesn't want to get into a drag race. They are averaging a modest 67.7 points a game, while giving up only 57.3 per contest.

With nearly six players in double-figures, Washington is averaging an obscene 98.6 points per game, over seven points more than the next-highest seven-game span in Husky history.

Something is going to have to give.

And like the Huskies, the Lobos are looking for their first win in a place not called 'The Pit' or 'Bank of America Arena'. And ironically enough, the best player for New Mexico is a player the Huskies won't face. Kansas transfer J.R. Giddens will not become eligible until the 2006-2007 season.

They are led by two seniors, combo guard Mark Walters and forward David Chiotti, and a sophomore guard - Tony Dandridge. The three of them account for well over half of the Lobos' scoring punch.

Any way you slice it, this wasn't the 'marquee' matchup Romar had in mind. But with a younger team feeling good about themselves, he's happy to see how a game on a neutral court affects any chemistry already built up through the first seven games of the season.

"You have to credit our guys for stepping up and making great plays," he said.

But will they be able to walk on water? Only a game at the 'Pond' will answer that question. Maybe they'll get a little bit of help from the Wizard while he's there.
Notes:
Injury update: Romar said that Mike Jensen would be back for the Lehigh game 'for sure, if everything goes well'. He also said that Brockman suffered a little bit from cramps in his knees during the Gonzaga game, nothing serious. There was also no new news on Harvey Perry or Zach Johnson. Both are on their schedules, with no new timetables.

Watching Nate: Romar spent Tuesday night watching former Husky Nate Robinson play for the New York Knicks in their only game in Seattle against the Sonics. The Knicks won 104-101. Robinson had 10 points as a starter, but it was another Rainier Beach grad - Jamal Crawford - that ate the Sonics up for dinner. Crawford had 30 points, including 4-4 from 3-point land. "He's doing fine," Romar said of Robinson. "He's living out his dream."

Watching the Pac: When asked about his take, Romar talked a little bit about the early slides by a couple of pre-season Pac-10 favorites - Stanford and Arizona. "I'm surprised a little bit with Stanford," he said. "Arizona has lost a couple of games, but I'm not concerned about them. They'll be good. If we had the same schedule, we might be playing the same way. The schedule for us this year fits our team. It just happened to work out well."

Never said it!: Romar reiterated his leanings toward extending the Washington-Gonzaga rivalry. "I never said we were going to stop the series or even leaning toward stopping the series," he said.


Dawgman.com Top Stories