Huskies looking to break tie

It seems almost inconceivable, but there it is, in black and white. 140 basketball games between California and Washington. 70 wins for the Golden Bears, 70 wins for the Huskies. So when the two clash Thursday at Haas Pavilion in Berkeley, both teams have an opportunity to put 64 years of hoops behind them and once again have the series record in their favor - albeit by the smallest of margins.

"The Bay Area is one of, if not the most difficult road trip, for us out there," Washington Head Coach Lorenzo Romar said Tuesday. The Huskies have not swept the Bay Area road swing since 1985. "I've never as a player, assistant at UCLA or head coach remembered having too much success at Stanford or Cal. Those places are not only tough to play, but they put out some good basketball teams. Both places are very, very though."

But before Washington (16-2, 5-2), currently ranked No. 9 by the coaches and No. 10 by the AP, gets a chance to cut into the Cardinal's all-time 65-57 series advantage on Sunday, they head to the East Bay to take on California (10-6, 4-3), a team that has rolled with a lot of punches since their season started. True, they did get their leader - Leon Powe - back, but even his return hasn't been a totally smooth one. He missed four early games because of a stress fracture in his foot, but now he's back to a climate he's more accustomed to - double-doubles. Since his 2005-06 debut against San Jose State, he's averaged 19.8 ppg and 10.2 rpg.

Romar knows that success at Cal doesn't mean stopping Powe and resting on your laurels. "I guarantee that the coaches went into the season, not just us but coaches around the league, knowing what Cal is capable of doing," Romar said. "Not only is Powe back, but other guys are healthy this year. People might mention that Ayinde (Ubaka) has improved, and he really has, but he was one of the top point guards in the country coming out of high school. I also felt like going into the year that a guy like Omar Wilkes, who is not a main scorer, but is a team guy, has made them a better team. He is all about team."

The Huskies' leader in double-doubles isn't their leader Brandon Roy. It's freshman forward Jon Brockman, the bruiser from Snohomish. "He slowed a bit, and now he is back again, in terms of his development," Romar said of Brockman. "He is still doing the things for us that we recruited him to do. He plays at a higher level of intensity, he rebounds the ball and he is good enough to score points down low on the block. We were hoping that he could average somewhere around double figures and grab seven or eight rebounds a game, and that is what he is doing. You look across the country, and you look at the McDonald's All-American's from last year, and you look at their numbers you will see that Jon is in the top five of those McDonald's All-American's, in terms of their numbers and productivity. A lot of guys who went to that McDonald's game are not having near the year that Jon Brockman is having, we are definitely pleased."

"He has been strong for them, really solid," Cal Head Coach Ben Braun said of Brockman. "He is physical, has a lot of confidence and I have been impressed with him. He has played well for them and been a real plus for their team. That gives them another dimension, another burly guy to bang, and he is tough. He has set some pretty good screens. We are going to have to talk about our challenge to defend and then rebound because this team goes after you on the offensive glass pretty tough."

Perhaps the biggest surprise for the Golden Bears has been the play of Ubaka, who has gone from averaging six points per game in his first two seasons under Braun, to over 15 points per game. Conversely, senior guard Richard Midgley's production has gone down. Not a problem, believes Braun, knowing that Midgley is still No. 2 on Cal's all-time list for three-pointers and is capable of scoring in bunches, like his career-high 28 against Fairleigh Dickinson in 2004.

"It seems every time he hits one of those streaks, he just bounces back," Braun said of Midgley. "I think it is just a matter of our team doing a better job of getting the ball to Richard in a scoring position and being patient. If we can get some easy baskets inside, that is going to open Richard up. When we get good ball movement and our post game established, I think Richard will score. We have got to get the ball moving a little better. Richard has been good in spotting up in transition, whether it's on the break, at the wing or just getting the ball back from the wing when you kick it ahead. But we haven't had a lot of those baskets because we have given up a number of offensive rebounds. We haven't had the kind of numbers we would like to get on our break, and I think we can do a better job of that."

Midgley is more than capable of running the point, so don't be surprised to see Ubaka, normally at the 1, to spread out and become Cal's shooting guard at times. "We did it against ASU, which we thought was a good match-up," Braun said. "It makes teams have to sprint out to the wing. It gives us some angles to the basket. Ayinde has got good vision from the wing. It helped us. We are not by any means demoting Ayinde or promoting Richard, or vice versa."

Romar can't be thrilled with Ubaka's new-found scoring attitude, especially knowing Midgley can light it up too. "It is always a challenge when you have guys that are capable of scoring a lot," he said. "If you look back on Cal's history with coach Braun, they always have two or three guys that do most of the scoring, and they do it very, very well. So defensively, you have to contend with those guys, but you can't fall asleep on the others."

If you listen to Braun, however, you'd get the feeling that the Golden Bears are going to play like their backs are against the wall. This is not surprising, considering what happened between these two team at Haas last season. Ironically enough, the Huskies were also ranked No. 10 at the same time. On March 3, 2005, Washington his 16 three-pointers en route to a 106-73 whitewashing of Cal. And even more irony - with all the bombs that were busted out that night, it wasn't one of the big trio of senior guards (Nate Robinson, Tre Simmons or Will Conroy) that led the Huskies in scoring. It was junior forward Bobby Jones. Even Jamaal Williams, who only played 16 minutes in that game, came up with 12 points and five boards.

"We always thought those guys made key plays for their team," Braun said of Jones and Williams. "They were in the shadows of Tre Simmons and Nate Robinson, but you take Nate and Tre away, and these guys were every bit a part of their success a year ago and they are proving it. These guys were icing on the cake for that team. These guys were awfully good players last year, and they are improved players from last year. I am really impressed with Washington."

So how does Braun attack Washington's offense - one that is leading the country in scoring? "We know that we are going to be caught out around the perimeter having to defend a quick guy, or we might be posted up with a big guy on us," he said. "We know that is coming, and we have to defend them. We were struggling in last year's game. We would try to pressure the ball, and they would drive us. When we backed up to play the passing lanes, they were shooting their season-high three-pointers on us. This is a hard match-up for us. This team gives us - and the league - some problems. Apparently, they are giving the country some problems because they lead the country in scoring. I don't know if anyone has figured it out yet."

One of the things Braun talked about Tuesday is putting a body on the Washington players, giving them more of a physical challenge - something UW has had issues with, especially in games against USC, Washington State and Oregon State. "We have to maintain our aggressiveness," he said. "We have to maintain our block-outs a little longer. We have got to make better physical contact. A lot of times, we are playing out of rotation now, and that hurts sometimes. We are going to have to be tougher against Washington because they are the toughest team in the league at what they do."

The Bears may also be able to attack Washington's guards, a combo that is still trying to find their niche in Romar's system. Like Ubaka and Midgley, Justin Dentmon and Ryan Appleby can float between the 1 and 2 with minimal drop-off in play. Dentmon was playing like a seasoned veteran earlier in the season, and in the Huskies' last game against Oregon, Dentmon had six assists.

But he also had six turnovers. It's a recent development that Romar isn't overly concerned about.

"Teams are so familiar with what we do, lanes may appear to be open, that aren't open, games are a lot closer now, and a lot more intense on both ends," Romar said. "He (Dentmon) is still distributing the ball, his assist numbers are not down, in fact his assist numbers are up since we started conference. It is just that he is not putting the ball in the basket as much, and he is not taking care of it as much. But we are petty confident that he will get better. Last year's freshman of the year and definite future NBA player Jordan Farmar turned the ball over quite a bit. He had to make some adjustments."

Romar also feels like Washington hasn't seen the best of Appleby, not by a long shot. "People tend to forget about Ryan that he redshirted last year and he didn't play much at Florida," Romar said. "You guys that know me, I have always felt that Junior College players as well as transfers, really start to pick it up in the second half of conference play. I would think that not only next year, but this year as he progresses we will start to see Ryan Appleby's best basketball."

This game is compelling as a matchup of bigs (Powe and DeVon Hardin) against players that can do it all (Jones, Williams and Brandon Roy). The backcourts are very similar, boasting scoring guards (Ubaka and Roy) and sharp-shooters (Midgley and Appleby). So what will be the difference?

For the Huskies to be as successful as they were on their last road trip (to USC and UCLA), they don't want to be reminded of what happens when they lost their focus. "I don't think there are any new concerns," Romar said. "Our situation is fairly simple, just a constant reminder to put forth our best effort and not get distracted."


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