Things getting defensive for Huskies

If anything, Washington has finally found their groove. It took some growing pains, with seniors adopting new or familiar roles. But one thing has remained a constant - defense. Despite being down two at Arizona State on Thursday, Lorenzo Romar wasn't thinking about ways to ignite his offense. He was thinking about ways to shut down the Sun Devils' red-hot Kevin Kruger. And then it was up to the 'Provider' to take care of the rest.

"Kruger just had his way with us with 19 first half points and Brandon did a great job on him," Romar said after Washington's 91-64 win in Tempe. Justin Dentmon and Ryan Appleby had the assignment of shutting down Kruger during the first twenty minutes, but it took Roy's lock-down play to get things settled down.

"I'm glad we've got him," added Romar of Roy. "I've never been around anyone, on the college level, that can give you so much of what you need, and it's different every night. He didn't score 20 tonight, but he played a good game, he rebounded, and he defended."

It's a testament to Roy's patience that he didn't try to force the action when ASU was clearly trying to take him out of the game offensively. "They were focused not letting him get in the paint," UW senior forward Mike Jensen said. "Trying to be really physical with him, trying not to let him catch the ball. It's a good strategy, but he's gifted (so) it's hard. It really opened things up for us because Brandon draws a couple guys and then passes to and that's what he did."

Jensen was one of Roy's main beneficiaries, finishing as the Huskies' top scorer with 14 points. In a game that saw Washington put five players in double-figures, it could just be a matter of picking your poison. Either way, Roy will be in the middle of it, doing whatever he can.

"You talk about a guy who's leading scorer in the conference, Player of the Year candidate, and now you go out and score 13 points," Romar said of Roy's night. "A lot of other guys in that position would have been frustrated trying to score. No, Brandon's playing to win. So what does he do? He just passed the ball off and guarded, and helped us pull away."

So now it's Arizona's turn to figure out what part of Roy's game they want to take away. One thing they can't control, however, is how he handles his business on the defensive end of the court. Shutting down Kruger to four second-half points is just one story in a litany of many this year where Roy has been asked to take out the other team's most dangerous player, figuratively-speaking.

He did it to Ayinde Ubaka. He did it to Jordan Farmar. And add Kruger's name to that list as well. And Saturday, when Washington (23-5, 12-5) travels to Tucson to take on Arizona (18-10, 11-6), Roy will most certainly be asked to stifle the Wildcats' top threat. But the question is, who will that be?

Could it be senior leader Hassan Adams? Frosh Player of the Year candidate Marcus Williams, from Roosevelt High in Seattle? Mustafa Shakur? Ivan Radenovic? Don't expect Roy to guard Radenovic, as that job will most likely rest on Jensen's shoulders. But don't be surprised if Roy is on Radenovic's off-shoulder, ready to take a charge on a UW double-team.

It's been a pressuring, trapping defense employed by Romar the past month that has put a new-found spark into the Huskies' defensive efforts, and the stats back that up. The first time around the league, Washington was giving up an average of 72.7 points and 32.7 rebounds per game. This last trip around? Try 66.9 points and 27.9 rebounds per game, substantial improvements.

"We started this new trapping thing that we do and I think guys like it more," said Jamaal Williams . "We get to be a little more aggressive and make things happen. The change in our defensive strategy allows us to be more aggressive. That plays in our favor."

The Huskies will need all the help they can get Saturday, as they face an Arizona team that has seen it's share of ups and downs this season. From losing budding star Jawann McClellan not once, but twice, to battling chemistry issues with senior Chris Rodgers, the 2005-2006 season just might be the most tumultuous term of Lute Olson's astonishing 23 years in Tucson.

"We face Arizona on their senior night…and they came up and beat us at ‘the Bank' in a game that could have gone either way," Jensen said of the 'Cats' 96-95 double-overtime thriller in Seattle. "We know what type of team they have so we just have to come out and be ready to go. And, we'll be playing for first (place), so we've got a lot to play for."

Thursday's game against Arizona State was remarkable in the sense that it wasn't nearly as physical and as scrappy as most home games are in Tempe. Washington doesn't expect the red carpet to be rolled out for them when they step onto the court at McKale. But the Huskies want it rough. They want to be able to determine their own fate.

"It's fun to play in games like that, games where you can get a little aggressive and not get called for it," freshman forward Jon Brockman said earlier this week. "I look forward to those types of games. That's how it was on Sunday (against California). "Guys were getting pushed, but that was fun."

"A lot of games, you sit back and watch refs call the over the back call, and others won't at all," Williams added. "In a game like that, with our past history, being aggressive in trying to get offensive rebounds should be in our favor because we will be able to attack and they won't call as many bumps. It'll help me in the long run."

For the Huskies and 'Cats, who rank No. 1 and 2 in the conference when it comes to rebounding offense, there's little back-down. In this way, they certainly emulate their respective head coaches. And in talking to the Washington players, they are hoping for a good, clean scrap. It's the way they practice.

"Usually somebody gets popped in the mouth or popped in the nose," Brockman said. "Somebody gets hurt. Every day you have to bring it and that carries over to the game."

"Let us play," added Williams. "Let us detemine what the outcome of the game is going to be. Call it if it gets blatant, but if not, we're all men out here and we can handle ourselves and play through those things. Let the players decide the game."

With possible championship implications, that's all you can hope for in a clash of titans. Who would have thought that this team would be back in the same position they were in last year?" queried Romar. "We happen to be playing on the last day for a crack at the title. Our guys have fought, weathered the storm up to this point, and now we've been able to climb out of this hole and put ourselves in a position to play for the title."

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