Olson, 'Cats get their wish

Jon Brockman got a 3 a.m. wake-up call Friday morning. 'Just to make sure I was still alive and breathing,' he joked. The reason? A nasty blow to the cheek against Arizona State that briefly caused the freshman forward from Washington to black out. And yet, he was back on the court, practicing the next morning like nothing had happened. And apparently his teammates felt the same way.

"I got hit twice this morning, I'm not sure why," Brockman said. "Got hit in the other cheek and the nose. I'm just going to keep going after it. I know I'm going to get hit again. It's the way I've always played. Injuries heal. When you get hurt the worst is when you're hesitant."

When Brandon Roy heard Brockman's comments, he had to stifle a laugh. "It's our coach," he said when asked to explain why the Huskies have a tendency to beat up their own. "We have to get after it. You can't come to practice bringing it light. Mike (Jensen) is coming back from his shoulder surgery, he's been back two days and he has a broken nose and a black eye. And Jon gets whacked, he comes back to practice and gets whacked again. That's our team. We're tough guys.

"No matter how hard you hit us, we keep coming back."

Hopefully the Huskies won't have to live by that motto too many times this year, and especially on Saturday, when they face one of their chief Pac-10 rivals in Arizona. They'll need all the healthy bodies they can get.

"We've got a lot of respect for Arizona's program," Huskies Head Coach Lorenzo Romar said. "We look forward to the challenge."

And listening to Lute Olson talk about it, Arizona would much rather play the Huskies than the cross-state Washington State Cougars any day. The 'Cats took care of WSU 70-52 on Thursday, but Olson equated the game to pulling teeth.

"That's like going to the dentist for a root canal," he said, matter-of-factly. "They (Washington State) are a hard team to play. What we'll see tomorrow, that's what we face in practice every day. And I'm sure Lorenzo feels the same way. There's so much emotion all the time in this game. It's not a hard game to prepare for because the styles are so similar."

"They have a system that works and they make adjustments based on their personnel," added Romar. "But there aren't a whole lot of new surprises. If they weren't very good, that would be a surprise."

And it's the personnel that makes this series so compelling. On Washington's side, you have Brandon Roy - he of the career-high 35 point effort against Arizona's in-state rivals, Arizona State. Roy has history with Olson, as Brandon was nearly signed, sealed and delivered to Tucson before signing a letter of intent to play for the Huskies.

"I told Brandon that I was glad he got his great shooting night out of the way," Olson said. "If he hits 50 percent for the weekend from three, I think that would be pretty good.

"There was never any question from the first time I saw him that he was going to be a good player. I think the thing that Lorenzo has done with him is getting him to play hard all the time. I thought that was his weakness in high school. He's a guy that will be the key guy for them every night out, and he's got the experience now to do that."

Just because Olson wasn't able to lasso Roy in the final moments ala Jason Terry, he certainly landed a prize Seattle recruit in Marcus Williams. "He's a good basketball player," Romar said of Williams, the one that got away from the Emerald City. "He's a gym rat. He loves to play and has a passion to be good. He understands what he needs to do to be better. He was one of the ones that we wanted. If he didn't come to Washington, he made a good choice in going to Arizona."

Brockman and Williams have had some good scraps of their own in the past, the most noteable coming during the AAU season, where Marcus was a leader of the Seattle Rotary squad, while Brockman was one of many all-stars that recently played for Jim Marsh's Seattle Friends of Hoop team.

"We've played against each other since elementary school," Brockman said of his friendship with Williams. "That'll be fun."

The 6-foot-5 former Roosevelt standout started against Washington State, scoring 15 points and grabbing 5 rebounds. He's averaged 14.2 points the last six games for UA, shooting 61.4 percent from the field. "I thought it was a joke a year ago that three players were picked from this area for the McDonald's All-American game (Brockman, Martell Webster and Micah Downs) and he wasn't," added Olson. "And I think in the end, he can still be the best player out of here. He's a natural perimeter guy, extremely coachable. He's like a sponge, he really wants to learn.

"Last night, he was our most-alert player. He did a great job on the boards and defensively for us. We'll take anyone out of here that's rated fourth in the future."

If you ask Roy, he'll take one of those McDonald's All-Americans - Brockman - against Williams and the 'Cats without any regrets. And add to that mix a couple of other players Olson hasn't seen personally yet - Justin Dentmon and Ryan Appleby - and he thinks it just might be the mix that gets the Huskies another precious 'W'.

"Jon is a bruiser, and Arizona State had some bruisers that kind of neutralized him a little bit," said Roy. "Arizona, we don't think they are that tough inside. We feel like Jon is going to have a big performance. Eventually I think he can wear on 'em. And Justin, he just needs to keep being tough, being scrappy. They will keep coming at you, we know that's what they will do. It's important that me, Bobby (Jones) and Jamaal (Williams) be leaders and get back on defense, slow them down in transition and do things we know can limit them from scoring."

But Olson counters that the Huskies have not played against a defense like the kind the 'Cats will employ on Saturday. Will Dentmon, Appleby and Roy be able to withstand the heat?

"The strength of our team has been our defense," said Olson. "Playing against good, solid competition, we've been able to force around 23 turnovers a game and had 12 steals last night. For us or Washington, if you get that you're going to have a lot of open-court opportunities. For them to only turn the ball over three times last night, that is amazing. They've been doing a really good job.

"The freshman guard (Dentmon) has done a good job, both the new guards have done an excellent job and a key for us will be whether or not we can disrupt their play. We know (Jon) Brockman well, know he's a great competitor. And with Brandon Roy and Jamaal (Williams), we know what they are capable of doing."

But has Arizona been up against a team that just refuses to lose? Roy wonders. Jon (Brockman) saw how physical it was," he said. "They don't care how highly-touted you are, they are going to come after you. And Justin (Dentmon) made a few mistakes, but the way he keeps coming back - he's relentless. That's the one thing coach was concerned about - how would they respond when things got tough. They just keep answering the bell. If they keep doing that we can be really good. I think they did good and they'll continue to get better."

"To us, Arizona is undefeated," added Brockman. "They are as good as anyone. Last year North Carolina lost to Santa Clara. So we approach it like Arizona is the number-one team in the country."

Whichever way Saturday's game turns out, expect both Washington and Arizona to be in the hunt for the conference championship, one that has eluded the Huskies for twenty years. "I don't think league is going to be determined until the last week of play," said Olson.

Roy doesn't care when it happens - as long as it happens.

I think winning the regular-season Pac-10 championship is at the top of my list," he said. "We want it bad."

The Huskies will have to take it from last year's champs. That team is Arizona.

"Last time I looked I still think we have that championship trophy, and someone is going to have to take it away from us," Olson said. "At the start we were everyone's favorite, but we made a mistake and didn't play the sisters of the poor and some of the others instead of Connecticut, Michigan State and Kansas.

"In the end, we have as good a shot as anybody."

But against a team that has won 32 straight games at home? "We love playing in this building," Olson said of Hec Ed. "We love playing in buildings that are packed and are enthusiastic. We frankly don't care who is yelling for whom, as long as they are yelling. Our guys love that and have traditionally loved playing in places like this.

"Wherever you play, you're going to get that team's 'A' game, and we like that. We'd much rather play in a full house."

And the two teams the Wildcats have faced that Olson noted closely resemble what they expect from Washington - Connecticut and Houston - ended up in Arizona losses.

Either way, Olson and the 'Cats are going to get their wish when they step out on the court to meet some scrappy Dawgs on Saturday.

Dawgman.com Top Stories