Appleby helps Huskies steer clear of Pilots

SEATTLE - The 4-4 Washington Huskies, coming off a heartbreaking loss at home against Pittsburgh last Saturday, looked to establish some much-needed momentum with conference play looming just weeks away. With five of their next six games at home, and a pivotal game at LSU December 29th, the Dawgs could ill afford any more non-conference losses to keep their NCAA tournament hopes alive.

Instead, it took some late Ryan Appleby heroics to lead the Huskies to an ugly comeback victory against the Portland Pilots, 67-63.

The Pilots entered the game 3-5 on the season which included losses to Oregon and Oregon State, led by freshman Luke Sikma, son of former Sonic legend Jack Sikma, and guard Nik Raivio, brother of former Gonzaga star Derek Raivio.

This game saw Washignton Head Coach Lorenzo Romar still tinkering with his starting lineup. Ryan Appleby, coming off an 18 point outburst in his 2007 debut, and center Artem Wallace joined captains Jon Brockman and Tim Morris and Junior Joel Smith in the starting rotation.

Despite so much riding on what normally would be an insignificant game, the Dawgs started out flat, with Appleby misfiring on a couple of three pointers and Brockman unable to get things going underneath. Meanwhile, Portland point guard Taishi Ito came out firing, rattling off eight quick points to stake his team to an early lead.

"Partly we weren't running good offense, partly we shot terrible," said Appleby, regarding his team's poor offensive start. "We weren't making outside shots when guys were penetrating and we were taking a lot of quick shots."

Washington finally found their way after a flurry of lineup changes, with Quincy Pondexter and Ryan Appleby finding the mark. The Pilots were clearly not impressed though, taking advantage of Washington's lackluster energy for opportunistic buckets. With Washington unable to establish any offensive rhythm, the Pilots stretched the lead to seven points before Brockman hit a set of free throws as the Huskies closed the first half down 30-26.

Brockman was a non-factor in the first half, as the general malaise of his teammates kept him from establishing himself on the blocks. The Wooden award candidate was held scoreless until sinking a free throw with three minutes remaining in the period.

Romar talked about his teams poor offensive performance after the game.

"Up to this point, we've played some pretty good teams and we've been able to get into a pretty good offensive flow, he said. "But tonight in the first half, we just couldn't get that going."

The Dawgs finally awoke from their slumber to start the second half. More precisely, it was Appleby - who drilled three quick 3-pointers as Washington finally showed signs of life.

"Washington gets you in spurts like that," said Portland head coach Eric Reveno after the game. "With a guy like that (Appleby) you know he is going to step it up, so it's just a matter of when. It's going to happen, so you worry about the next one and try to stay with him. Then he catches it if you make a mental mistake and you pay."

Appleby finished with 18 points on 4-8 from 3-point land.

"It's big, him returning" said Senior Tim Morris regarding Appleby's return to the lineup. Appleby also led the Huskies in scoring in their previous game, a 75-74 gut-wrenching loss to Pittsburgh. "It's not just his shooting which is obviously huge. He's a senior. He knows where to go on defense and never makes mistakes."

The Pilots weren't ready to give up though, and canned several 3-pointers, edging ahead by one with 11 minutes remaining and both teams in the bonus with more than half the period to play.

The see-saw battle continued. Brockman (11 points, five boards) finally shifted into gear as the game pace picked up, and Appleby continued his torrid shooting, but with the officials apparently enamored with the sound of their own whistles, the game bogged down into a free throw shooting extravaganza. And not in a good way.

With the Dawgs unable to gain any separation, Portland didn't let up. Led by the sharpshooting Raivio - who blitzed the Dawgs for 23 points on 7 of 14 shooting - the Pilots kept to within two points with just a minute-and-a-half left in regulation play.

Moments later, Brockman was whistled for his fifth foul and he was quickly replaced by Artem Wallace. Wallace chipped in four points in 22 quality minutes. Ito quickly raced down the court, firing a quick three, missing badly and Wallace came down with the board. With the ball in Ryan Appleby's hands and only seconds remaining on the shot clock, the confident senior lobbed up a running right hander, which dropped through the net with five seconds remaining. The game ended with a missed Ito three and any plans the Pilots had of leaving the Bank with an upset were averted.

"Today was uncharacteristic of us, we just couldn't get any in any offensive flow," said Romar.

Despite the listless first half, there were positives. The Dawgs shot a pathetic 33 percent in the first half and a blistering 74 percent in the second. They also forced 17 turnovers, while nabbing six steals and holding the Pilots to 32 percent from the field for the game.

"We have been doing a lot of defensive practice and I thought we played a lot better on defense this game," said Appleby after the game.

"We're progressing real well defensively," said the co-captain Morris, who finished with 10 points and eight rebounds. "We didn't have as many lapses this game, so that was really good."

"The test of your team is even when you can't get anything to flow right offensively," explained Romar. "You're still able to have a good job defensively and I thought in the second half that's what we did."

"We kept fighting through and were able to get it done," he added. "Our guys did a nice job with that today."

Overall, on a night that had upset written all over it, the Dawgs snatched a gritty victory, while also starting to show the makings of a quality defensive team.
Points: Appleby 18, Brockman 11, Morris 10, Pondexter 7, Bryan-Amaning 6, Overton 5, Wallace 4, Smith 3, Dentmon 3
Rebounds: Morris 8, Brockman 5, Smith 3, Pondexter 3, Wallace 2, Bryan-Amaning 2, TEAM 2, Appleby 1, Overton 1, Dentmon 1
Assists: Smith 3, Appleby 2, Overton 2, Wallace 1, Morris 1
Steals: Morris 2, Bryan-Amaning 2, Smith 1, Appleby 1 Top Stories