Huskies to make history?

There are 19 teams Lorenzo Romar has not beaten in his ten-year tenure as a college basketball coach. They range from Kansas and Syracuse to Siena and Wisconsin-Green Bay. He has never faced Connecticut, Washington's Sweet 16 opponent Friday in Washington D.C, but Washington has. Back in 1998, as a matter of fact. A Richard Hamilton buzzer-beater kept that UW team from making history. This group of Huskies look to take that goosegg off of Washington's permanent record.

Before Romar was hired to guide the Washington men's basketball program in 2003, he remembers the last time the Huskies got a taste of the Sweet 16, and found it to be oh-so bittersweet. "I was at Pepperdine ticked," Romar recalled. "This was the Washington Huskies and I was pulling for them. It was a great shot by Rip Hamilton, but I kept thinking, 'Wow, we had a chance. We had a chance to move on at that point, maybe move on to the Final Four.'"

And the team to rip the Huskies' hearts out that year? Of course - Connecticut. It's the only way the hoop gods would have it.

The 2004-2005 Huskies - led by Nate Robinson, Will Conroy and Tre Simmons - nailed down a No. 1 seed after defeating Arizona to win the Pac-10 tournament. It was the culmination of an amazing uphill climb out of the cellar for the Huskies, but their run was brought to an abrupt halt by the Louisville Cardinals in the round of 16. Once again, UW had been denied.

"Human nature plays a big part in sports and you have to guard against that," Romar said. "We hadn't been at the tournament at all, so the first year we barely lost and maybe subconsciously, we were content in the back of our minds, of getting to the tournament. We didn't want that to happen last year. We also made sure we won the Pac-10 tournament because we missed it by one game the year before. Last year we were in the Sweet 16. Our guys know what that felt like. They also remember how great it was going into that week, all the hype surrounding that game and then all of a sudden it's midnight and you're back a pumpkin. It's over. And you never anticipate it being over. You don't play thinking it's going to be over, and our guys remember that feeling and I think when they look at it that way they'll look at this game as, 'We don't want to sense that. We want to go as far as we can go.'"

Now the Northwest Huskies find themselves in the Cardinals' shoes, having to take on their bracket's No.1 team - Connecticut. The Northeast Huskies are considered the odds-on favorite to win the whole tournament, and why not? They've got literally a half-dozen players capable to taking their game to the next level and they are led by a Hall-of-Fame coach with two national titles already under his belt. To Romar, Connecticut just provides the Huskies' next challenge - albeit arguably their toughest speedbump toward tournament gold.

"We don't stress who is No. 1 and who is beatable and who is not," he said. "If we hadn't come to play, Utah State would have beaten us. And Illinois certainly would have beaten us if we would have not played at a very high level for a majority of that game. Whoever we play, as far as we're concerned, is a team that can beat us if we don't come to play. One thing we've always emphasized is that if we come and play, we can be competitive with anyone."

Along with that mantra has come the idea that defense is the catalyst that brings the UW offensive machine to life. It was what kept the Huskies in their second-round game against a very tough Illinois team while down 11 with 12 minutes left in the game. "Anytime we have any type of success, it's because of our defense," Romar said. "That's what gets us going. We get into trouble when we stop making shots and we put our head down because our shots aren't going in. When we shot 38 percent and won against Illinois, that's what we should be about."

That, and some timely advice from an assistant from time to time can always help a team catch their second wind to close out a game. "Coach (Jim) Shaw made a suggestion," Romar said. "There was 4:13 left in the game, call a timeout now, get two-and-a-half minutes rest and then 13 seconds from now we'll get two-and-a-half more minutes because of the TV timeout. And down the stretch I thought we were pretty strong, so I think that helped.

"For the last 11 games, with the exception of about two of them, we've been pretty much a defensive-minded team."

The facts back that up. Since February 9th, Washington has gone 10-1. In those 11 games, they've only allowed more than 70 points three times, one of those game was the 84-73 loss to Oregon in the first round of the Pac-10 tournament. Up to that time, UW had allowed 70 points or more 12 times in 21 games.

The last time Connecticut was held to under 70 points? A 13-point win at South Florida - 66-53 - On March 1st. In fact, in 32 games played, the Huskies have only been held to under 70 points six times. Despite having a higher scoring average (81.7 to 81.2), Washington has been held under 70 points a more often (7 times in 32 games). Romar knows the left-coast Dawgs have their work cut out for them.

"Marcus Williams is obviously a big key to what they are doing," Romar said, rolling down their roster, rich with talent. "He's brilliant with the basketball. He not only distributes it very well, but he can also score. He reminds me of Mark Jackson when he was at St. John's - not the quickest guy on the floor, but he gets in the same places that the quickest guy on the floor gets to. He has a strong upper body and he's real important (to them). (Rashad) Anderson has to be one of the best shooters in the country. He's got good size so he can get his shot off. He's got good lift. We know how talented Rudy Gay is. They've got six potential pros on their team, so I could go on and on."

A tough match for any team, and if Washington was able to travel to the nation's capital and take down the best the Big East has to offer, it could be a program-defining moment. Not just because it erases 22 years of failure to advance to the Elite 8, but it would galvanize a serious run to the title for a team hungry to make their mark in the land of 11 banners and all that (west coast).


Dawgman.com Top Stories