Huskies Hope to Take Belated Bite out of NIT

SEATTLE - Better late than never for the Washington Huskies. Having been snubbed from consideration during last season's NIT selection process, the Huskies get a chance to right a couple of wrongs starting Tuesday night at Bank of America Arena when the New Jersey Tech Highlanders come calling in the first round of the NIT Season Tip-Off West Regional.

The winner of the UW-NJIT game will play the winner of High Point-Utah in Wednesday's Championship game.

"Obviously this is a great opportunity to be invited to an event like the NIT," NJIT Head Coach Jim Casiano said, noting that NJIT is currently in their second year in Division-1 for basketball. "I'm not quite sure we're ready for this opportunity, but we're going to embrace it. We're stepping into a whole new arena for us."

In fact, Casiano just decided to take a personal leave of absence, so NJIT Athletic Director Lenny Kaplan announced Sunday night that the interim Head Coach would be current NJIT assistant Wendell Alexis.

Not that Casiano could have been utilized as a player-coach, because even with six players on the court the Highlanders would be at a severe mismatch against a Washington team ready to partake in a little NIT payback.

Of course UW Head Coach Lorenzo Romar isn't talking that way

"When the ball is thrown up next Tuesday, we'll know all we need to know about New Jersey Tech," he said, noting that he wants his team to set an intermediate goal of getting to New York City for the Nov. 21-23 semifinals and finals of the NIT Season Tip-Off.

To do that they'll have to win these next two games at the Bank.

"We're hoping we're in New York for Thanksgiving," remarked junior forward Jon Brockman, who played in Madison Square Garden during the Jordan Classic the summer before his freshman year. "That place is awesome. There have been so many great teams and players that have played there. It is THE place to play. I can't describe it."

"Being from the East, I've grown up with the NIT," Casiano said. "It's huge in terms of the tradition, which goes back many, many years."

To get to the Big Apple, the Huskies need to take a big bite out of the weaknesses they showed in a nine-point exhibition win over Seattle Pacific last week. "That wasn't Husky Basketball," Romar said of their win over the Falcons. "We're not as far along as I thought. I need to do a better job. We've done it before. We are not where we need to be in terms of our defensive mindset. And that's the key word - mindset. But we'll get there."

"We're a lot better than what we showed," Brockman added. "We have our principles, we do it in practice. On the defensive end, we control our own destiny."

Just by being on the same court Tuesday night, the Huskies should have some defensive success. NJIT got whipped by Manhattan, 70-28 - a far cry from the Highlanders' 56-55 shocker over the Jaspers to start last season.

"Hopefully you'll see a team that is disciplined, who takes care of the basketball and makes good decisions," Casciano said of his team. "Defensively, you'll see a diverse team that plays multiple defenses - some full-court, some half-court matchup. We'll play a lot of people - probably nine or 10. Hopefully we'll play with some poise, because we'll need that in the environment that we're going to get in to. I'd like to think that young kids will rise to the occasion and we'll play well."

For the Huskies, they have an opportunity to build some confidence - and that could help usher in a new group of youngsters that plan on seeing plenty of playing time this season. "We're a fastbreak, physical, fast-tempo defense team," junior guard Justin Dentmon said. "And when we came back (from a summer trip to Greece) to work with the freshmen, they are long - so they can come out and help guard people."

The Hoop Dawgs ran, ran and ran some more in their 86-77 win over SPU - but had trouble slowing it down and picking their spots when the Falcons would catch up to them. "Sometimes when you play fast, you don't shift gears," Romar said. "But with the makeup of this team, those are issues that will be resolved. We know we're going to have some turnovers, just based on how we play. It's the unforced, careless ones we need to cut down. It's been an issue in practice, so we have to get it under control."

"We all have goosebumps thinking about the next game," Dentmon said.

Hopefully the newer Huskies - even like veteran Tim Morris, who is finally eligible to play for Washington after sitting out his transfer season from Stanford - will get settled in sooner, rather than later. "Coach (Romar) told me it looked like I was trying to get my year back in the first two minutes," Morris joked.

The Huskies just hope that the Highlanders don't get the last laugh.

"To get to New York, if we ever did that I just might have to retire, because I doubt it would get much better than that," Casiano said.

Don't bet on Brockman letting the Highlanders past the consolation bracket. "When you step on the court, you're protecting a lot more than just our name," he said. And when you think of all the Atlantic Sun Conference teams like Belmont, Gardner-Webb and Mercer beating up on the likes of Cincinnati, Kentucky and USC - you know the Huskies aren't looking ahead.

At least not until they get to the Big Apple. That should be motivation enough.
Notes:
Overton impresses: Freshman point guard Venoy Overton made a strong UW debut, scoring 16 points and playing more minutes than anyone else on the team. "He made some mistakes, but they weren't due to a lack of effort," Romar said of Overton's game. "And with that energy, I want him out there on the floor."

Romar was exceptionally happy with the way Overton has come into the season, ready to be coached up and with a strong, positive approach. "You don't mind putting guys on the floor like that," he said. "It's a pleasure to watch someone with that kind of attitude."

Dentmon on the move: Justin Dentmon is looking to improve one big area in his game, and the rest will fall into place. "The only thing that hurt me last year was turnovers," he said. "I could have turned a bad year into a good one. I need to stop thinking. I need to stop picking up my dribble."

Chairman of the Boards: Even though the Huskies out-rebounded Seattle Pacific 42-34, Jon Brockman was not happy. "We need to do a better job of rebounding," he said. "With our length and athleticism, we should be out-rebounding everybody."


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