Romar gives WSU plenty of respect

It's been a long time since a Washington/Washington State basketball game has had so much riding on the line for both teams. The Cougars have the Pac-10 championship in their sights while the Huskies, coming off an impressive victory against the Stanford Cardinal Sunday night, need a couple more big wins to get them back into NCAA tournament consideration.

With so much riding on the game, Washington Head Coach Lorenzo Romar was careful not to give the Cougars any extra motivation before Wednesday night's game, sounding genuinely impressed with first year WSU Head Coach Tony Bennett and his veteran squad's surprising performance.

"We of all people respected them," said Romar Thursday afternoon during his weekly press conference. "Because they swept us last year, so we knew how good they were.

"I wouldn't have told you right now they would have been 10th in the county when the season started, but I would have told you that they weren't going to finish in 10th place in the Pac-10."

After facing down two of the conference's top shot blockers in Stanford's Brook and Robin Lopez Sunday night, the Dawgs now must contend with a team full of them; a team that leads the conference in scoring defense and whose identity is wrapped entirely in its defensive efficiency.

"I think that they are a mature group and they have several defensive playmakers on the floor," Romar explained. "You'd think that they aren't that big - how do they block so many shots? But Kyle Weaver comes out of nowhere. I don't know if he ever touches the floor when he plays. It seems like he's a hummingbird, hovering around the floor the entire game. He's everywhere."

Weaver, forward Ivory Clark and center Robbie Cowgill, have combined for 95 blocks this season, and the team trails only Stanford in that category, averaging nearly 5 blocks a game, while leading the conference in turnover margin at 4.6 fewer mistakes than their opponents.

"They are a WELL-COACHED defensive team," Romar stressed. "They are not winning games because a guy did a cartwheel and threw the ball up over his head. They are winning games because they are efficient. This is no fluke."

Romar summed up what it would take for his team to pull out the victory against such a well-oiled machine. "Against a team like Washington State, we're going to have to play as close to perfection as we possibly can," he said, matter-of-factly.

Star center Spencer Hawes, who dropped 18 points on the 7-foot Lopez twins, added his perspective on the importance of getting off to a good start against the Cougars. "You can't get down to WSU by a lot of points," he explained. "If you're down eight points to them, it's like being down 14 or 16 points to another team, because they play so deliberately, and with such good defense.

"Fast starts are always crucial in any game, but especially in this one."

Hawes also shared his thoughts about what the rivalry meant to the younger players on the team who aren't native to the Pacific Northwest. "I think that if they didn't learn it over in Pullman than I don't know when you would," he said. "I think that game showed everyone the intensity of the rivalry; seeing that many fans coming out for a Cougar basketball game that I think set a record. If that doesn't show to both sides what it means than I don't know what does."

Romar wasn't biting on the potential for Washington State to wilt under all of the added pressure and attention that comes with their lofty national ranking. "They're a mature group," he said. "They've been through this before."

Romar has high hopes for his young Dawgs Wednesday night, believing things will be much different than when they were flattened by the Cougars in Pullman during their first go-around, and not just because Hawes has returned to the lineup.

"We are playing more as a cohesive unit," he said, explaining the difference between the Huskies then and now. "We weren't doing that on either side of the ball when we last played WSU, and I think were playing with more confidence."

A major home court advantage doesn't hurt either.

Knowing that his team has their proverbial backs against the wall might also give the Huskies an emotional advantage. "When you are in our situation, as we have been a couple times before, you don't have a whole lot else to think about other than the next game and the next practice, because you don't have much margin for error," Romar mused.

But he stopped short of proclaiming that all was lost should they lose this next game.

"Win or lose, this game won't determine whether or not we go to the NCAA tournament. It could help our cause certainly. If we lose it just means we don't have any margin for error. Every time the stakes get higher."


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