Huskies convinced it can be done

Spencer Hawes talked Monday about his experiences playing AAU ball, in one of the vaunted summer 'shoe tournaments', like the Reebok Big Time, or Adidas Super 64, or Nike Main Event - games where you would play up to six games in one day. Talk about taking the legs from under you!

For Hawes, there's little comparison to what he'll face with his Washington teammates Wednesday as they confront their biggest obstacle of the year.

What lies ahead for the Hoop Dawgs? Four games in four days - if they can last that long - and at the end of that marathon will be the ultimate prize. The golden ticket. A trip to 'The Dance'. A chance for seniors Hans Gasser and Brandon Burmeister to do something no other players have ever done in UW basketball history. The list of things that come with a Pac-10 tournament title - which starts Wednesday evening at the Staples Center in Los Angeles - continues to grow, and the Huskies are eager to own the whole chocolate factory.

But will Lorenzo Romar get the opportunity to play Willy Wonka and grant them all their wishes? He's done it once before - at Saint Louis. Coming in as a ninth seed in the 2000 Conference-USA Tournament - Romar's first as head man for the Billikens - they defeated all comers, including then No. 1 Cincinnati, and puched their ticket to the dance.

"It wasn't like going to the movies and seeing 'Remember the Titans'," Romar said Monday. "We lived it."

This time around, it's Washington (18-12, 8-10), a team that comes in with some momentum and high hopes, but not with a wealth of experience. It was that same experience that helped the Billikens get over the hump. It was also that same experience that helped the Huskies overcome a first-round debacle in the Pac-10 Tournament last year to propel them to an eventual memorable Sweet 16 matchup with Connecticut.

Ironically enough, the team that beat the Huskies like a drum last year at Staples - Oregon - almost achieved the same feat the Huskies will attempt Wednesday. They were within a Ayinde Ubaka jumper with .02 left of defeating California in the third round of the 2006 Pac-10 Tournament, with a chance to play then No. 1 seed UCLA Bruins. But Ubaka nailed the shot, took the Ducks to overtime, and eventually won a 91-87 thiller in two extra sessions.

And what will the Huskies most likely find if they are able to bob and weave their way through Arizona State, Washington State and the USC/Stanford winner? That's right - those pesky Bruins. But a valuable lesson was learned in the Huskies 10-point triumph over the Westwood Warriors Saturday in Seattle.

"It showed us that it can be done," UW sophomore captain Jon Brockman said. "To beat the No. 1 team in the league, it means we can beat anyone in the league. It can be done. It's not a long shot. It's not a pipe dream at all."

Identities that were hoping to be forged mid-way through the conference docket are now coming to the fore. The Huskies are not going to run clubs out of the gym like they used to. Frankly told, they don't have that experienced finisher like they've had in the past with guys like Brandon Roy, Nate Robinson, Will Conroy, Jamaal Williams and Bobby Jones.

"Last year we were in the position of having Brandon (Roy), who could just go out and make plays," Brockman said. "He could just create for himself or get someone else open. A lot of success was because of that. Brandon would just take over. But this year, we don't have a senior lottery pick - not many teams do - so it's been a much different philosophy. All five of us have had to work to create our own shots. We've had to work a lot harder to get the points."

"It gives us so many more opportunities to control the ball, that helped us out a lot," said Spencer Hawes. "And by not having as many turnovers, we limit the other teams' transition game."

"Sometimes they've been unsure (in transition), so instead of taking a bad shot or a turnover, we've pulled it back out," Romar added. "We will not come down the floor and have an empty possession. We've definitely talked about it more - it's something that coach (Cameron) Dollar has definitely stressed - when in transition, make the right decision."

And that also means going to their strengths - literally. Brockman and freshman center Hawes are as close to a 'Beauty and the Beast' combo in the paint as you will find in the league. Hawes scores from everywhere, and with either hand. His moves are graceful, flowing and thrilling to watch. Brockman brings his lunchpail to the court for every game, and camps under the glass like every rebound is a right given to him from birth. Whether he's one of the more feared players in the league is unknown; what isn't is the respect he's earned from his peers. He was named to the Pac-10 first-team on Monday, one of four sophomores to be honored.

"It's definitely well-deserved. It's a no-brainer, as far as I'm concerned," Romar said of Brockman's honor. "The fact that he's averaging close to a double-double, and helped us to be the No. 2 rebounding team in the country ... I thought those things would happen. If he had played 30 minutes a game last year, we would have seen more of this, but that wasn't going to happen with the way the makeup of the team was."

"I've never been worried about personal stats, so it was a little surprising," Brockman said. "I was excited. It was a huge honor."

He'd trade it to the junkman in a Los Angeles second if it meant the Huskies could make it to the NCAA Tournament. "Each game is going to possess it's own challenges," Romar said of the idea of winning four games in four days. "But when you are feeling good about yourselves and the adrenaline starts kicking in..."

The Arizona State Sun Devils are going to say something about Washington's possible date with destiny. "They play with a chip on their shoulder," Romar said of the Sun Devils. "They are a together group. The better they defend, the better they play."

They didn't defend well the first half of the UW-ASU game in Tempe, as the Huskies rolled to a 23-point lead, only to see the Sun Devils storm back to be only down three with 1:14 left in the game. The Huskies hung on to win 66-61, and that game left an indelible mark on just how dangerous ASU can be if you give them an opening.

"If they awarded the Motivator of the Year, it would go to Herb Sendek," Romar said, referencing the Sun Devils' first-year head coach. "Never once have I seen them with their heads down. They have zero quit in them. The fact that they are consistently intense is dangerous."

"We have to take it one game at a time, we have to approach this like the UCLA game," Brockman added.

But how about four games in four days?

"I'm packing four suits," Romar said. "That's not a prediction ... it's just optimism."
Notes:
Hawes also honored: Besides Brockman, Spencer Hawes was named to the Pac-10 All-Freshman team. It was a little short of his ultimate goal, but he was happy about it nonetheless. "It's a big-time honor," he said. "It feels good to be on the list. The way the season went, it's nice to still get that award. My goal was to be the league Player of the Year and to be on the first team, but you have to set a high bar. If you don't make it, it's not the end of the world."

"We can all learn from Spencer," Brockman said. "He's such a complete player. He's a stat-sheet stuffer. The guards can learn from his court sense and his passing, and the big guys can learn from how he rebounds and creates angles for himself. Everyone can take a little piece from him and learn."

Up all night: One of the unique aspects of the Pac-10 tournament are late games. On Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, there will be games that start at approximately 8:50 p.m. PST - nearly two hours later than most normal start times. UW's first game - against ASU - starts at 8:42 p.m. PST. Are there things the coaches do to pass the time? "You try to do something every couple of hours to keep them going, whether it's meetings, snack time, or whatever," he said. "You don't want them just hanging out for six hours at a time. But we don't have Nate (Robinson) around anymore, so it may not be as much of a problem." Nate was known for initiating freeze-tag games while killing time on the road.


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