Huskies Understand the Issues

SEATTLE - As Washington prepares for the last game of the decade, Lorenzo Romar can look back at the last seven years and know a corner has been turned. The Huskies have gone from a perennial mid-level Pac-10 team to yearly contenders. And at the beginning of each year, the Huskies start from square one, because they know they aren't in a position where they can rest on their laurels.

The simple reason being, there aren't many laurels to rest on. But Romar is working on that. Despite last year's outright conference crown, there is still plenty of room in Washington's trophy case, where annual visions of hardware have invariably been replaced by dust. Lots and lots of dust.

"It's always a day-to-day battle to continue to recruit, to continue to keep your program afloat and going in the right direction," Romar said Tuesday as the Huskies get ready for their first two league games, at home against Oregon State and Oregon. "I can't say, 'Washington basketball is here to stay. It's over'.

"You always have to keep working."

And lately, the Huskies have been working hard at getting better in two main areas; defensive identity and sharing the ball on offense. "We have sets of principles that we use in our defensive system, and we just weren't very consistent in executing those principles," Romar said. "For instance, Texas Tech…they score 14 points because we don't rotate back in safety position. That's something basic that we know we need to do. We haven't had that issue as much since that game, but it's 14 points and the game goes to overtime. A game like that - you're talking about the two free throws we had, but what if you eliminate those points that you could have controlled? There were areas like that where we didn't play very smart that we've gotten much better at now."

And in many ways, these same ideas are ideas that had to be hashed out last season, and when the Huskies sold out on defense and shared the ball on offense, they made a breakthrough. And it happened in the Huskies' very first conference game - at Washington State. They forced the Cougars into a 4-14 assist/turnover ratio and 2-10 from 3-point land. And offensively, Washington only turned the ball over 11 times, a product of getting all five players on the floor involved.

"Hopefully as you establish your program it's a way of how you do things out on the floor, and you are sound enough to withstand anyone that comes up and makes adjustments," Romar said. "Hopefully your system can withstand the adjustments that others make. For example, over at Arizona State and the way Herb Sendek and his staff have played…maybe they have tweaked some things a little bit, but they play that tough, tough zone and offensively they've done some of the same things. You know what they are going to do. Jim Harrick, who I worked for, used to say, 'Easy to scout, hard to stop'. And against sound systems, hopefully that's the case. And that's something we aspire to be and strive to be."

For Romar, he gives due props to those that helped him get the program to where it is today. "I think you had some kids that saw a vision…Brandon Roy, Nate Robinson, Will Conroy, Mike Jensen…those guys that stayed the course," he said. "They saw that maybe Washington, if they stayed right here, could be pretty special. And they did that. And that helped. When you have basketball players like that, you've got some others that want to share that vision with you. I can't leave out Tre Simmons, who is from here also, and a guy like Bobby Jones, who decided, 'Hey, I want to come along and be alongside these guys'.

"The students, the administration, got behind us and really supported what we were trying to do. And that in turn, I thought, leaked over to the community. People really got behind this program to where, I remember, we won 32-straight games at home. A lot of that had to do with the energy that this place provided in here. Jon Brockman, Spencer Hawes…people like that began to come. But it all started, I think, with that first core guys - Nate, Brandon and Will."

Now it's the local kids named Isaiah, Venoy and Abdul - led by a Cali transplant named Quincy - that are entrusted with extending the legacy of those who played before them. "The more the expectations, the more we really got to step it up here," Romar said of the idea that teams have targeted the Huskies since their 2008-09 outright Pac-10 championship. "And others wilt over that type of situations. I think our teams have done a pretty good job of going out maybe knowing that teams are out to get us, so to speak - and stepping up to the plate."

And according to the script, the non-conference schedule is supposed to get Washington prepared for the rigors of Pac-10 play. Romar thinks, based on that script, the Huskies are close to being where they need to be if they hope to repeat as champions. "Sometimes it seems like we are a ways away, but most of the time I feel like we're very close," he said. "I still don't say, 'Boy, we are really ready to take on the world right now!'. I don't say that, but we've made a lot of progress to where our team now understands - whether we go out and do it or not - what it takes for this team to be successful. Earlier in the year I don't think we understood it."
Quincy's Team: Much like the relationship between Nate Robinson and Brandon Roy, it's Isaiah Thomas that provides the fireworks for this year's Huskies, but Quincy Pondexter is the undisputed leader. Romar gave an example from his own professional career to hammer home the idea that this team is Quincy's team. "I'll never forget as a rookie playing with World B. Free," Romar said. "He believed in himself. And I remember us going to Philadelphia, playing in the Spectrum. And here I am playing and Dr. J is there and here we go. The Spectrum. I remember World being denied. I'm trying to throw him the ball and the guy is denying him. And I'm looking at him. I might turn this over. He says: ‘Just throw it up.' I throw it up. He jumped like 12 feet off the ground. Looked the guy in the eye, 1-on-1 and just busted (a shot). ‘We can take these dudes all night.' All of a sudden I'm ready to go.

"That's what talented leaders do. They just show you this is how we're going to get this done. And Quincy has done that in this non-conference schedule."

Scouting Oregon State: The Huskies host the Beavers on Thursday night at Bank of America Arena. Romar compared Oregon State's offensive style to that of Georgetown, and their use of a point-center and their back-door cuts. "Anytime you play against any team, you're going to try and look at the engine and try to disrupt the engine somewhat," Romar said. "Calvin Haynes is a marvelous scorer. And he can get going and he can get you 30-35 points. They do a lot of stuff through (Roeland) Schaftenaar, and if we were successful against Oregon State and Schaftenaar you kind of look at that game and say, whew I'm glad that's over with. But then he's going to – like a weed – keep coming back. Just keep coming back. That's how he's going to be and we can't at all think if we had any success against him before that he's not going to be a factor. He's very versatile. He can shoot the basketball. He passes the ball. He can put the ball on the floor and go to the rim. He's tall. He's huge. If you stand next to him, he's really tall. And he can do so much to hurt you that we're always going to have our hands full. And you just take that one game at a time and hope you get out of there unscathed by him.

"The thing I know about Oregon State is…last year I believe they opened with USC. And they were coming off the season before where they didn't do very well in the Pac-10. And they weren't stellar in their non-conference…and all of a sudden they beat the most athletic, talented team in the league. So Oregon State will be ready to play, and they are certainly capable of beating anyone in this league."

Is the league improving?: "It's definitely getting better," Romar said. "If you look at USC and the addition of Mike Gerrity and Leonard Washington, now that they are eligible and back, they are a different ball team. Even Alex Stepheson, whose been playing really well, was hampered by a knee injury early. That wasn't the USC team you see now. Oregon, it's going to be interesting to watch them, because if you look at the box score, they've got all their players back. Even UCLA now…whatever issues they dealt with in the pre-season now seem to be getting resolved. So they are playing better basketball. So it's a conference I think is improving as we go, in spite of what happened to Arizona last night against BYU…I thought they were a team that was improving as well."

Injury Update: Isaiah Thomas injured his ankle against San Francisco, but it doesn't appear to be serious enough to hold him out of the Oregon State game. "Isaiah tweaked his ankle in the game the other night," Romar said. "With about six minutes to go, he drove to the rim and it looked like somebody pulled the rug from under him. He kind of threw the ball up and he was about to fall. I think that's when he tweaked it a little bit. But he should be fine by game time."

Shooting Slump: Right now the Huskies are leading the conference in scoring at 83.5 points per game, and they are doing it despite average shooting from outside. UW is sixth in field goal percentage (.450), and ninth in 3-point field goal percentage (.314). Is Romar troubled by the Huskies' cold start from the arc? "Troubling only in the sense that I wish we were a better shooting team," he said, matter-of-factly. "But it's not something we woke up one morning and thought wow we haven't shot the ball well. Going in, that was something we knew we were going to have to do some other things to compensate for that. We're not a great outside shooting team…yet. We haven't shot the ball well yet. Isaiah Thomas, Elston Turner and now Scott Suggs - when those guys start to click in all cylinders, we'll be alright."

With that being said, Romar continues to assert that there's no way he'll burn C.J. Wilcox's redshirt. "As much as I'm tempted to say, 'C.J., come here man'…no. I wouldn't do that to him," Romar said of the sharp-shooting freshman guard from Utah. "I don't think that's fair to him. The decision was made based on the big picture. Now if we are not successful this year and that was the only reason, then maybe it was a mistake. But if we're able to still be successful and know that he will have that year on the back end, he's going to be really, really good player. He'll probably get as many minutes as he wants. I think the tradeoff is worth it." Top Stories