UW Hoops - First Quarter Report Card

Washington Head Coach Lorenzo Romar has talked a lot about "progress" during the opening weeks of the 2008-2009 season, and it's easy to read too much into games like their 36-point blowout over Texas Southern. The Tigers are terrible, and anything less than UW's performance would have been a major disappointment.

That said, the Dawgs did exactly what they were supposed to do, which was dominate: Fairly encouraging since the teams of the last two seasons would have let Texas Southern stick around until midway through the second half before putting them away. Washington put it on cruise control after they got up by 15, but they didn't let their focus slip even when their energy level on defense diminished once they gained a comfortable lead.

A couple things that stood out to me.

This team understands the importance of unselfish basketball. So much so that they often passed up quality shot opportunities to make an extra pass. The interior passing was an example of some of most unselfish efforts I've seen from a Husky team in some time.

"I like the fact that we're catching on in terms of sharing the basketball and taking better shots," Romar said.

Quincy Pondexter, in particular, was an entirely different player. His eight assists against Texas Southern demonstrated that he's become less concerned with lighting up the box score, while buying into the team concept. He showed us a facet of his game that I didn't even know existed, and it was impressive; especially in light of the fact that Washington is probably going to see a lot of zone this season. Pondexter may not be the scoring machine that he was expected to be coming out of Fresno, but his game is becoming very well-rounded regardless. Though it was only one game, Pondexter's athletic versatility is potentially Washington's biggest weapon, and games like their last one demonstrate why Romar has continued to play him despite his inconsistencies. Pondexter's connection with Matthew Bryan-Amaning down low was particularly impressive, and Bryan-Amaning did his best to return the favor.

Team defense has been another bright spot since the debacle against Kansas. The Huskies are quickly reestablishing the defensive identity that has been missing since 2005. While still not the defensive presence on the perimeter of years' past, the interior defense appears better than it has ever been. Much of that originates from senior forward Jon Brockman, but Washington hasn't had a player as versatile as Darnell Gant before.

"I also like the fact that we're showing the potential to be a much better defensive team than we've been the last couple of years," Romar said.

After mixing in Pondexter's defensive maturation with Bryan-Amaning physicality and adding a healthy dollop of Justin Holiday's energy and hustle, you've got all the ingredients of a top-notch interior defense. The Huskies still lack an intimidating shot blocker, but that's never been a hallmark of Romar's defensive strategy.

"Defense and sharing the ball - that can go south at any time, so we have to make sure that everyone understands how important those areas are," Romar said.

We also saw how much more offensively versatile this team is compared to last year's version. Brockman can always be counted on for scoring punch: But unlike previous nights when Isaiah Thomas and Justin Dentmon picked up the scoring slack, it was another set of Huskies that filled the void – Gant and Bryan Amaning. In fact, six players scored eight or more points, though none played more than 26 minutes

On that note - for those wondering why Brockman isn't seeing more time on the floor, the answer is simple: Romar know he's going to need every minute of Jon Brockman during conference play, and by limiting his minutes in the early going, he gets fresher legs when he's needed most. Yes, he could be putting up 20 points and 15 rebounds a game, but Washington needs Brockman at his best during conference play. Obviously, Brockman's rest also allows Bryan-Amaning, Pondexter and Gant maximum time to tune up before Pac-10 play begins.

"I'm very pleased with how we've rebounded the basketball," Romar said, noting the group effort.

Bryan-Amaning's game against Texas Southern - a career high 18 points - was a great confidence booster for him, but I don't think this was the breakthrough game fans were hoping for. He had such a dramatic physical advantage that he was imposing his will at will. What we did see was how offensively smooth he is with the ball in his hands. He's got tremendous feel and a lot of poise when he lets the game come to him, as he did against the Tigers.

Defensively, though not as advanced as Holiday or Gant, Bryan-Amaning demonstrated that he's got the potential to shut people down, force turnovers and smother smaller opponents. He's still not 100 percent yet, landing gingerly on a couple of dunks, but the signs are encouraging that he may be headed towards the breakthrough season Husky fans are hoping for.

"I think this is the kind of player the coaches thought I would be when they first recruited me to come here," Bryan-Amaning said. "I didn't have the freshman year I wanted, so now is the time to pick it up."

With a post rotation of Brockman, Pondexter, Bryan-Amaning and Gant, Washington possesses the most formidable front court in the conference.

Speaking of breakthrough performances, those of you have DVR should go back and watch Darnell Gant's defense against Texas Southern: Not just when he's guarding on ball, but off the ball as well. The kid is special, and it's easy to see why Coach Romar has put him in the starting rotation. He fights through every pick, is always denying the passing lane to his man, and rarely lets his opponent get beyond arm's length without good reason. His defensive rotations reads are often spot on, and he rarely gambles into a mistake. He spent much of the game against the Tigers on the perimeter defending guards and seemed totally comfortable.

It's not a stretch to suggest that Gant could end up a three for Romar eventually, especially with his expanding range. He's a player that Romar will be able to use much like Ben Howland used Luc Richard Mbah a Moute to guard every position on the floor, based on whatever the team may need that particular game. Everyone is talking about Justin Holiday as the "Fireman", but I'm even more bullish on Gant because of his offensive upside.

There were a couple of negatives that continue to rear their ugly head and need to be addressed over the next three weeks.

Washington turned the ball over 16 times against a lousy team. The Huskies are bringing up the rear of the conference in that category, averaging 16.6 miscues a game, and though some of that has to do with the team's up-tempo style of play (they are third in the conference in scoring) they need to do a better job of taking care of the ball (Romar considers an average of 13-15 turnovers per game acceptable).

"Turnovers and still, 40 minutes every time we play," Romar said, noting the areas of concern. "I think we've made big strides in that regard in the last two weeks. But we still need to do a better job."

Secondly, Venoy Overton continues to struggle; plagued by poor decisions and dismal shooting. His assist to turnover ratio is an abysmal .53 and a point guard who can't shoot and turns the ball over twice as often as he earns an assist will have a hard time finding his place on the court.

Right now, Overton's defensive prowess is keeping him out there, but true freshmen Elston Turner and Scott Suggs are nipping at his heels for playing time. Romar will continue to work Suggs into the rotation as he adjusts to the college game.

Overall as the Huskies are working their way toward the half-way point of the season, these hoop dawgs are doing exactly what they need to. Expect them to be a competitive force this season in what is shaping up to be a mediocre Pac-10.


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