Familiarity a plus for UW

WASHINGTON D.C. - It might not seem like much, but when it comes to scouting the Connecticut Huskies, those Huskies on the left coast feel like they've got an edge. While Washington has to deal with the stresses and strains of moving their routine clear across the contiguous 48, they'll do so knowing they've seen a lot more of the enemy than vise-versa. They may not have played Connecticut, but the left-coasters feel like they know the other Huskies inside and out.

"I watched them in the Maui (Invitational), I saw them play Pepperdine, I watched them against Villanova a couple of times," Washington guard Brandon Roy said Monday before the Huskies took off the next day for their trip back east. "It's really no secret to how they play. They take shots, crash the glass and get a lot of putbacks. They lead the nation in blocked shots and rebounds, so they take pride in banging you inside. They're going to come out the same way against us, the same as they've done all season long.

"We watch them so much and dissecting them all the time - we get to see them play some bad games too. They're human. When you don't see a team and they are always ranked No. 1, it's like, 'Wow, they're just monsters, they are all 7-feet tall'. When you see guys in person, it's like, 'We can beat this team'. That definitely helps that we've had the advantage of watching them all season."

And how many games has Connecticut seen of the other Huskies? "Maybe half-a-game, maybe some highlights. He's probably never even seen me before. I guess that's to our advantage. We've been watching them all season long. I know their starting five, I know their guys off the bench."

With that knowledge in hand, at least a couple of Washington players opined as to how to stop the bracket's No.1 seed. "Watching them play Villanova, dribble-penetration and smaller lineups might be their weakness. Villanova was really kind of cutting them up a lot, and I'm not going to say we have the same guards Villanova has, but we feel like we can penetrate them a little bit, have their big guys collapse and kick it out to shooter. They don't have a lot of weaknesses, but they are beatable."

"We have to guard them, but they have to guard us too," added Jamaal Williams. "Hopefully we can get them into some kind of foul trouble, so they have to get into their bench. Even if we don't, we have to play every possession hard, attack them and keep them from getting rebounds. If we can do that, we'll be in good shape. Defensively, we need to get in lanes, make it difficult for them to run plays, keep the paint packed and don't let them spread us out. On offense, we need to move the ball, stay spaced and find the lanes to attack and drive. With me, Mike and Jon with the ability to step up, we can catch on the perimeter, make them come out and play defense. If they don't, we can either knock down a shot, or put the ball on the floor and create a shot for somebody else."

"Anytime you play a team with tall timber and they are in there blocking shots and getting rebounds, anytime you can get them out of the paint and open it up for your guards, it's going to make it a lot easier for us offensively," added Jensen. "If I can make a couple of early shots, it'll go a long ways toward helping us win.

Jensen had a couple of key threes, including one right on top of a Dee Brown triple that helped the Huskies claw back from an 11-point second-half deficit against the Illini.

But most of Washington's plans offensively and defensively revolve around Roy. A first-team All-American, Roy's contributions in the Huskies' first two tournament games proved invaluable. While everyone talks about his versatility, the fact that he's probably the premier all-around player in the country, it's not what's on the court he talks about when it comes to his game. It's what's in his mind.

"It's our coaches' personality, it's mine," he said. "I've always felt I could play with anybody in the country. It just rubs off on guys. Justin Dentmon, he feels like he's as good as anybody else in the country, Bobby Jones does, Jamaal Williams...we take that attitude and use it as a team. As a team, we feel like we can beat anyone in the country. Early in the season, when you beat a team like Gonzaga - who has been on a national level and has proven that they can beat anyone in the country - it gives you confidence. Playing in the Pac-10 and accomplishing some of the things we have, it made us believers and our hard work has paid off. When we played Illinois, it was like, 'We can beat Illinois, let's not just be happy that we're playing them. We can win this game.' And I think everyone has become believers. We feel that we can beat Connecticut. If we didn't think we could beat them, we wouldn't throw the ball up. We wouldn't play the game. There's always a chance we can win, so we're going to take that attitude and try and get a win.

"Jim Harrick always used to say, 'Great players take their teams to great heights,' and obviously it's a team game, but when you have someone that is as talented as Brandon is, can go out and assess the game and see where there is a weakness or what his team needs and then go out and give it - that's a winner," said UW Head Coach Lorenzo Romar.

And with everything that's already on the line - an unprecedented trip to the Elite 8, unprecedented television exposure on the east coast, a dramatic bump in credibility as a west coast basketball power - these Huskies can also bury the demons of hoops games past with a win over the other Huskies. Back in 1998, Richard Hamilton hit a dramatic shot in the paint as time expired to dash Washington's hopes of moving to the Elite 8. It's a painful memory Roy and others would like to erase.

"I remember watching a lot of the game," said Roy. "I was rooting for Washington. They were so close to beating a good team. They were an 11-seed and UCONN was a two. I can't remember it very clearly, but I definitely remember the last play."

"I watching the game at home, thinking that the Huskies were going to pull it off again right at the end of the game," Jensen added. "I went to get a drink and see the shot go in. The whole city of Seattle gasped at the same time, I think. It's March Madness. Anything can happen."

Anything can happen, including a win over the No. 2 team in the country on Friday. What a story that would be.

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