Seniors playing for more than pride

Zane Potter remembers it well, perhaps too well. It was December 6, 2003. The Washington men's basketball team was sent to play a road game against Wyoming. They had just lost to Gonzaga by 24 at home and didn't have much of an identity. Once the game started, it was all Cowboys. Wyoming held a lead as large as 38 points before calling it a day, eventually winning 92-76. That drubbing was followed by another road loss, to Houston. The Hoop Dawgs came home wincing and wounded.

"It's come a long ways since being down 49-19 against Wyoming my first year," said Potter Tuesday, talking about the current-No. 17 Huskies (20-5, 9-5) and his time playing for the purple and gold. "People forget that was only two-and-a-half years ago. It's something I'll look upon as I get older with a sense of pride, knowing that I wasn't a large part, but still a small part of the turnaround for Husky basketball."

Potter is not necessarily being modest - his career high for points was matched Saturday night against Oregon State when he buried a three - but he embodies a spirit and a drive typical of Lorenzo Romar-coached basketball teams. Sure, they weren't winning from the get-go in 2003, but few outside of Potter and his teammates and coaches remember the beginning. They all cherish the end.

"I think the win over Arizona his sophomore year, Nate's shot over OSU, the No.1 seed, the win against (No.1) Stanford," senior guard Brandon Roy said when asked for his top memories. "Those are probably the biggest ones that come to mind quickly."

It's that game against the Cardinal that seniors Roy, Bobby Jones and Mike Jensen will draw experience from as they take on Stanford (13-10, 9-5) Thursday at 7:30 p.m. and California (16-7, 10-4) Sunday at 5 p.m. Both games are televised broadcasts via Fox Sports Northwest.

The way Roy - the current Pac-10 Player of the Week for the past two weeks - has been playing, you would think he was the highest returning scorer from that landmark win over the Cardinal, but it was Jensen's 13 points that led this year's group of seniors. Hearing him talk about that game, it certainly tops his list of games he'll keep in his back pocket forever. "Turning the program around, that's an amazing thing," he said. "There have been a lot of great memories here."

"It is something that you hate to see come to an end," Romar said about seeing the seniors play their final two home games at Hec Ed this weekend. "You hate to see it happen. Eventually, you have to see your kids move out. But, you hate to see them go. Those guys, along with last year's seniors, will go down in this program's history as very, very special basketball players, and also people. I was just messing around with some free time, and looking at some history. Over a three year period, how many teams, how many players have won as many games as these players have here? You have to go back around fifty years. The guys last year, Nate (Robinson), Hakeem (Rollins), Tre (Simmons), and Will (Conroy), obviously helped with that, in two years of that. But, these guys have played a big part in it as well. Again, you hate to see these guys leave."

Roy is not interested in getting sentimental about his time on Montlake. There is unfinished business to attend to. "I can enjoy them because I want to win them," he said of his final two home games. "The (Pac-10) championship is on the line, but more than that - I want to go out of Hec Ed a winner."

He just might leave his time at the 'Bank' as Pac-10 Player of the Year too. Since Washington's last loss, Roy has picked up the reins and carried the Huskies, averaging nearly 23 points, 7 rebounds and 6 assists per game. His nine dimes in UW's 33-point shellacking of Oregon State Saturday night put Roy ahead of frosh point guard Justin Dentmon 102-99 in assists. If Dentmon can reach the century mark, he'll join Roy as the sixth pair of UW players to reach that plateau during the same season. He is also currently four assists away from tying Eldridge Recasner's all-time assists mark at UW for a freshman, set back in 1987.

"All the teams are doubling him, so he can kick it out to somebody else and get an assist," Dentmon said with a smile Tuesday.

"He challenged me yesterday to step up and dethrone him (as Pac-10 Player of the Week)," added Williams. "We'll see what happens. If he wins it three times in a row, we'll never be able to live that down. He'll talk about that the rest of the season regardless of what happens.

"He's stepped up and answered a lot of critics' questions about him and his abilities and what they thought he wasn't capable of doing. Coming into the season, I would have questioned whether or not he was vocal enough to be a leader and take charge of this team the way Will Conroy did, and he's done that. He's done a great job of doing that. He's been a great vocal leader and leading us when we were down and making big shots when we needed him to."

Perhaps Dentmon will be the recipient of a Roy pass, as he has been feeling it from the field of late. In the five games since the admitted 'nightmare in the past' against Stanford in Palo Alto, Dentmon has been 17-33 from the field.

"Justin is a survivor," said Romar. "Justin is going to find a way to get it done. I think that since that game, he has played great basketball. Even that game against Oregon where he didn't number that much, he played great basketball down the stretch. We are really pleased with how he bounced back."

But the foul that enabled Stanford to push overtime and take away a certain UW victory has given Dentmon some perspective, and his teammates a little extra motivation - as if they needed any to begin with. "I don't really feel like I have something to prove, but as a team we've got something to prove that we can come out and beat these teams," he siad. "I think everything happens for a reason."

And Dentmon just might be right. After all, who would have believed that Cal would lose at home to Arizona State and UCLA would lose to USC, bringing both the Bears and Bruins closer to the Huskies' grasp. Now only one game separates first place from the rest of the pack.

The Huskies can smell it. There is blood in the water. "We've got our backs against the wall, and if we want to win the Pac-10 championship we have to do really well this weekend," Jensen said. "If we can handle our business this weekend, we can put ourselves in a great position."

"Yes, that was well scripted, if that is the way you want to put it," Romar added. "In terms of the Huskies, that has given us a new life in terms of maybe having a chance to finish in the top of the conference. We have zero margin for error as far as that is concerned. With our group, we mention some of these things, we talk about the big picture. But we also don't want to get carried away with the big picture, as much as we have got to have a good picture today.

"I watched the UCLA-USC game. They brought up the fact that Coach Howland asked his team before they played USC, `who would you say in the Pac-10 did us the biggest favor'? They all said Arizona State because they beat California, and he said `no, Cal did us the biggest favor, because they showed that any team is capable of beating you at any time.' He didn't say that after they lost to USC, they said it before, so you just never know, until you get into the game, what the other people are thinking. We had a successful road trip, we had a successful home stand prior to that, I bet our guys are feeling much more confident than maybe they were three weeks ago. I think that may help as much as anything."

All they have to do is look at the last picture that included the Cardinal for a quick refresher course on how things can go terribly wrong. "As far as I am concerned, and my coaching staff is concerned, the number-one goal here is for the future," said Romar. "That is what this game is about. It is not about showing that we should have won that game, that is over. If we really wanted to show we should have won it, we should have won it. We have got to be concerned with what takes place from here on out."

If Roy, Jones, Williams, Jensen, et al... have anything to do with it, the seniors will finish with a flourish. "It's nice to somewhat be in control of our destiny," said Williams. "If we take care of our business and things go our way, we can be conference champions. It's a little extra motivation to go out and play these last four games."
Notes:
Dunk you very much: Romar and the players were asked about Robinson winning the NBA Slam Dunk contest. "A tape was provided, right after the Oregon State game," said Romar. "So we popped it in. When he jumped over Spud (Webb), everyone erupted, absolutely erupted. We didn't pay attention to the controversy, his dunk was unbelievable, that was something we let everyone else be concerned about."

"If he had done every dunk on the first try, it would have been like a Vince Carter showing, but he still got them to go down, still got the trophy," added Jensen. "We were proud."


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