Scheduling a winner

Lorenzo Romar must be a fan of the old switcheroo. Think you've got the Washington Huskies figured out? Haha! Try again. Take away Washington's biggest scoring threat? Welcome the next guy in double-figures that'll torch you. And just when you think the Huskies are going to emulate the Gonzaga Bulldogs and take all comers - like they did in the 2004-2005 season - Romar puts on the brakes.

He may not come out and flat say Washington's hoop schedule was built for a young team, but there's no question the Huskies' non-conference roster was tailor-made to gently push UW into conference play. "It just kind of worked out that way," Romar said Tuesday. "But then again, when you have the longest home-winning streak in the country and you're playing all your games at home, you're kind of expected to win your home games.

"Every year you need to go on the road so that your team can experience the road," he added when asked about how he would like to ideally put a schedule together. "You need to do that in your non-conference schedule. It's good for the younger players, but it's also a way for the fans to see high-profile teams. We want to reward players and the fans. But at the same time we want to balance that with games where, if we play the way we're supposed to play - we win those games. But the most important thing is that a non-conference schedule is supposed to prepare you for conference play and the Pac-10 tournament."

And last weekend's Wooden Classic - expect Romar to try to find more of those unique situations where a younger team gets to have a tournament experience before the important games are played. "It's great because it's a lot like post-season play," he said. "It's at a neutral court and it's set up just like what they would see at the NCAA tournament, with back-to-back games on the same day."

The Huskies - now ranked either at No. 10 or 11 depending on what poll you take stock in - are one of twenty-two teams that can claim no losses so far in their season. "It's great for recruiting, credibility and the perception that we're good," Romar said of the ranking. "But if being in the top-10 could somehow guarantee you a No. 1 seed, they'd matter a whole lot more."

He then points to a time when he was an assistant at UCLA. One year the Bruins started 14-0 and were ranked as the top team in the land, but finished losing to Tulsa by 30 in the first round of the NCAA tournament after going 7-7 in their final 14 games.

"It can create unrealistic ideas about your team," Romar said. But don't get the idea Lorenzo thinks the Huskies aren't worthy. And don't thnk that Romar or the team will discount any of the rest of their non-conference opponents - especially this Friday's matchup against Eastern Washington.

The Eagles defeated the Huskies in Romar's first year, and Romar is well aware of what some of their players can do, especially their leading scorer - Rodney Stuckey. The frosh from Kentwood sat out last year getting eligible, and apparently it was worth the wait. He's been averaging over 20 points a game in his first year in Cheney, and nearly 25 a game during the Eagles' current three-game winning streak.

"We really wanted him, but grades got in the way," Romar said of the 6-foot-4 Stuckey, also adding that they are also well aware of other area players currently playing for the Eagles, including Jake Beitinger (South Kitsap), Kellen Williams (Franklin), Nick Livi (Eastlake) and Brandon Moore (Bethel).

But almost as importantly for Romar and staff, their early schedule allowed for a starting stretch where a number of games were played, followed by three games in three weeks to see where they were and focus on their weaknesses during practices.

"It's like taking the tire and putting it in water to see where the holes are," Romar said. So before Romar and team go from Lake Placid to the River Wild, what 'holes' have they been working on? "We need to get better with our defensive rotations and on offense we need to have better spacing and work on screening better," he added. "With rebounding and boxing out, that's something we worked hard on last week."

Apparently one 'bubble' - working on their half-court offense - was filled with positive play against New Mexico Saturday. "We did a better job of that against New Mexico," Romar said. "We didn't play very well, but if you reverse the halves, now people would have a better feeling about how we played. We just didn't do a good job defending. But give New Mexico credit. They cut the game in half."

So with going on the road being a staple of Romar's scheduling blueprint, this past weekend's trip to Anaheim to play the Lobos was as close as the Huskies are going to get to a 'road experience' before they take on USC and UCLA in January. Sure he wanted to see how his young players - Justin Dentmon, Jon Brockman and Artem Wallace - would play.

"I didn't know if it was going to be a struggle or not," Romar said when asked about his frosh. "To be honest, it never really even entered my mind. I thought Justin Dentmon played a good game. And Jon Brockman, it wasn't his best game, but he still had six rebounds and I thought he handled (David) Chiotti."

And while last year's team would have used the experience and savvy of Nate Robinson, Tre Simmons and Will Conroy to play all comers, this year's Huskies have a little different take on what works for them. It's something Romar sees as 'different', not necessarily better or worse.

"It's part of our philosophy," he said, using the New Mexico as an example of a team having to pick their poison against the Husky hoops democracy. "They decide who they want to try and take away and the next guy steps up."

"We're averaging 20 assists a game, so we're sharing the ball. We're averaging 96 points a game and no one is averaging more than 16 points a game, so we're sharing the ball."

Case in point: Ryan Appleby and Jamaal Williams. "New Mexico decided that they were not going to give him (Appleby) any open looks, so that just meant that Jamaal Williams was going to have his way," Romar said. "And if you decide to double Jamaal, now he doesn't have as many shots, but now Appleby scores 20."

Williams has always had a low post presence. Now he's mixing in some jumpers to make him one of Washington's primary offensive threats. "Jamaal could have done this last year, but he was only playing 17 minutes (a game)," Romar said of the senior from Corona, Calif. "Now he can go for 35 a game because he's in much better condition. And we still have Bobby Jones and Brandon Roy, who can get to the block and score too."

It's that idea of equal threats inside and out that gives this year's Husky squad just a little different look from the guard-oriented play that was the hallmark of last year's team. "It definitely is what makes this team different," Romar said. "Not better or worse, just different."
Injury update: There is no change to the injury status of either Mike Jensen or Harvey Perry. Jensen is supposed to be available as early as the December 23rd game against Lehigh, while Perry could be available in January, but it all depends on how his injured lower back responds to rest and treatment. Bobby Jones will sit out at least Tuesday's practice and maybe Wednesday's too with a sore ankle. "In terms of playing in the game, he'll be fine," Romar said of Jones' availability against Eastern Washington. Romar also added that he had no idea how rotations would be affected once Jensen returns to the lineup. Top Stories