Hec Ed is ready for No. 800

Lorenzo Romar is pretty frank about it. The game-day atmosphere and energy that surges through BOA nowadays like bolts of lightning? Romar never saw it when he was a player, not back in the 'dark ages' of 1979 and 1980. But he's happy to have it now, and he's happy to be playing in a place that has to be considered a bit of a throwback. In the era of 'bigger is better', smallish Hec Edmundson Pavilion stands nearly alone and clearly above it's peers when it comes to on-campus arenas.

Built in 1927, 'Hec Ed' (or now 'The 'Bank', as many refer to it), the arena has seen Washington win nearly three-quarters of their games played there (799-288 all-time). That is more wins than any other NCAA team in its current arena. It's not close and in fact the true number is even greater. The Huskies defeated the Harlem Globetrotters there in 1943, one of dozens of exhibition wins not counted in the actual number. It's seen the Huskies defeat a No. 1 team their twice (ironically enough, in Romar's first year at UW in 1979 against UCLA and two years ago against Stanford), a No. 2 team once (versus UCLA, as Marv Harshman gave John Wooden his last loss as a collegiate head coach), a No. 3 team once (an upset over the then Elvin Hayes-led Houston in 1967), and most recently over No. 6 Gonzaga, 99-95

The Palestra, home to Pennsylvania's home games since 1926, has seen 729 victories. Duke, and their venerable Cameron Indoor Stadium, is next on the list with 681 wins (opened since 1940) and then Oregon's McArthur Court with 666 wins. Ironically 'Mac' Court and Hec Ed were opened the same year, but Father Time has been just a little kinder to Washington's home floor. Plans have Oregon's basketball team moving to a brand-new facility in the near future, leaving the legacy of Mac Court behind them.

If Romar has his way, 'The Bank' will be known throughout the region for years to come as the place where the Huskies play - not where you go to haggle with tellers over how much money you don't have in your checking account. "It just wasn't that way when I was here," he said Tuesday with some mixed feelings. "We averaged 4,000 per game."

Romar admitted that he was always the guy - ever since grade school - that would go out of his way to try and put up flyers about games and do whatever he could to promote the team he was playing on. He saw first-hand during his junior year at Washington just how special an electric hoops atmosphere can do for the game. While on the road at Indiana, he recalled not being able to hear the name of the last player announced for the Hoosiers' starting lineup (it was Mike Woodson). "I just thought that was awesome," Romar said.

And now that Hec Ed is on the verge of No. 800, Romar can use his own first-hand impressions to determine the better home-court advantage. The '79 Huskies? Or the '05 version?

Not even close.

"There's no comparison," he said, matter-of-factly. "And those that played before me said it was similar to the way it is now. And back in the 50's, they say it was similar too. It definitely was not like that when I played. The brilliance of keeping the same classic look since 1927 was great. It just seems like there's tradition here. On the outside it looks like an old building; you go inside and it's sparkling. And with the fans and the way the Dawgpack has evolved, it's a great atmosphere - an atmosphere that's always eluded me."

Until now. And unlike 1979's 5-4 start through their first nine games, this year's group is undefeated and currently ranked No. 7 in the country. And for those that have criticized Washington's early non-conference schedule, those easy wins against teams like Eastern Washington and Loyola-Marymount are starting to look better and better all the time. The Eagles took Gonzaga to the brink this past weekend, and LMU did the same against USC last week.

"I don't think you can draw anything from it, because some teams match up great and for others, it's a terrible matchup," he said. "Like when we played UCLA last year, their length bothered us. But then they would go somewhere else and another team would get the best of them. But we couldn't. Oregon State has given us problems in the past with David Lucas. He was a tough matchup for us."

But the Huskies have been nothing but tough matchups for everyone they've faced so far. Don't call it the Arkansas-UAB 'Forty Minutes of Hell', but Romar's 'Forty Minutes of Being a Real Pest' certainly does the trick. It's all about ball-pressure, denying in the post and jumping all passing lanes. All of that has helped the Huskies lead the nation in scoring (95.8), scoring margin (25 ppg), assists (21.3), 6th in field goal percentage (52 %), 14th in steals (11 spg), and tied for first in the most important statistic of all - win-loss percentage.

"I think that's more of a gambling style," Romar said when asked to compare his style of defense against the 'Forty Minutes of Hell' defense originated by Nolan Richardson at Arkansas and carried on by his disciple Mike Anderson at UAB. "Ours is more conservative. We don't gamble a whole lot. We get beat from time to time, but we don't gamble. Other guys trap more. We talk about being in great position, being there and having active hands can force more turnovers than you think."

Eastern Washington Head Coach Mike Burns said it best. As he went to shake Romar's hand after the Huskies handed Burns' Eagles a 91-74 defeat last week, he had something to say to Romar. "He said that we have Gonzaga next and that we should be able to run our offense better," reiterated Romar. "Not that they would win, just that they should be able to run our offense better because they wouldn't be pressured as much.

"Every team hangs their hat on something that hopefully makes them successful, and I think that's what we hang our hat on - our defensive pressure and trying to play intense defense for 40 minutes. And we give up layups from time to time, but that's the tradeoff we make."

But there's no tradeoff when it comes to the venue, even with a fresh coat of paint and a few new amenities. Call it Hec Ed, call it 'The Bank', call it an opponent's house of horrors if you want.

Because whatever name you attach to it, that's what it is.
Injury Update: Mike Jensen is slated to play Friday against Lehigh, seeing his first action of the season. "He won't start," Romar said of the fifth-year senior from Kent. "He doesn't need to play the game for experience. He knows our system. He just needs game reps to knock the rust off." Romar also added that starting on December 28, Harvey Perry will begin rehab on his lower back. The true freshman from Las Vegas - via Brewster Academy in New Hampshire - will have up to eight weeks to get ready to try and play the rest of the season or redshirt.

Scouting the opponent: Lehigh is the second Patriot League opponent the Huskies have faced so far this season. Washington took care of American University 99-82 in their first non-conference game after winning the Black Coaches Association Classic. The Mountain Hawks' leading scorer - Jose Olivero - is also the top scorer in the Patriot League, going for around 16.4 points per game. While the Huskies outscore Lehigh by an average of 95.8 to 57.9 points per game, only UW's Brandon Roy is scoring more (17.1 per game) than Olivero. Junior center Jason Mgebroff played his high school basketball at Kentwood High School, the same school as Mike Jensen. Currently he is averaging 4.2 points and 2.5 rebounds for the Mountain Hawks.

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