Huskies hope to finish strong

SEATTLE - Lorenzo Romar remembers it well. In fact, he remembered thinking to himself that if there were any NBA scouts around, they'd be really impressed with that guy. 'That guy' happened to be sophomore guard Malcolm Armstead of the Oregon Ducks, and all Armstead did against Romar's Huskies the night they beat UW 90-79 was lead the Ducks with 21 points, as well as dish out six assists.

While the Huskies were busy containing hot-shot jump-shot artist Tajuan Porter, Armstead tore them apart with defense-shredding drives to the basket, leading to easy looks for UO center Michael Dunigan, who was happy to clean up to the tune of 20 points on 70 percent shooting from the field.

"We couldn't keep them in front of us," UW guard Venoy Overton said. "They won the guard battle, so now we've got another chance. Armstead was like a new face, so we didn't know what to expect. We know now. We have to play him a little different and we have to keep Tajuan Porter off the 3-point line and make him finish at the rim."

"After we played them, I thought they would have a chance to contend for the league championship, because they were really good that night," Romar added Tuesday, as Washington gets ready to travel to McArthur Court in Eugene one last time before old gives way to new, in the form of Matthew Knight Arena. The Ducks' new hoop digs are expected to be ready by the start of the 2010 season.

The Ducks aren't likely to see the same Washington team they faced back in the beginning of January, and the Huskies will be quick to note that Oregon has done some changing too - and not necessarily for the better. After starting out Pac-10 with two away wins, Oregon promptly lost five-straight. Then two more wins were followed again by a five-game losing streak. So after winning both their away games this past weekend in Los Angeles, does that mean UO is ready to go on another poor run of form?

If they do, it'll be with Porter firing on all cylinders. The senior from Michigan will be playing his last two home games of his career this coming weekend, and coming off a 29-point outburst at UCLA means he'll be looking to go off. He was 7-9 from 3-point range. But the Huskies will use starter Justin Holiday as fire retardant to help keep an Oregon hot start from happening.

While Porter's prodigious range hasn't changed, some things have for Oregon since their 11-point win at Hec Ed. Armstead has been inconsistent, despite having more starts (23) than any other Duck. He's averaged less than seven points a game the last four, and Overton thinks he's got a bit of a scouting report on the JC transfer, noting that he always wants to go left to drive. If he goes right, he passes.

If he does pass inside, chances are it won't be to Dunigan that much. Since his 20-point performance in Seattle, the sophomore from Chicago has fallen off the map. He scored a combined two points in LA this past weekend, playing only 12 minutes against USC and seven minutes in their win at UCLA. In his place, sophomore forward Jeremy Jacob has blossomed; after being named a starter over a month ago, he has played 30-plus minutes in seven of those games and scored in double-figures six times. Against UW, he scored four points in seven minutes, so the scouting report will be thin from a first-hand point of view.

Romar hopes he can combat the effectiveness of Jacob with a newly resurgent Matthew Bryan-Amaning, who couldn't miss in the first half of Washington's 59-52 win over Washington State Saturday night. He had 10 of the Huskies' first 14 points, as UW ran out to a 35-21 halftime lead before being tethered back in by a raucous, sold-out WSU crowd. His head coach pointed out Tuesday that the forward/center is a far different player than the one Oregon saw in Seattle. In that game Bryan-Amaning scored one point in 21 minutes, his last start before being benched in favor of freshman Tyreese Breshers.

"I thought about six weeks ago Matthew put it upon himself to come out to practice and really be focused and really try to be dialed in and be the best he can be," Romar said. "That focus kicked in, and he gained more consistency with his play. Defensively he's like a linebacker. That's the focus that maybe he didn't have before. He's getting back better on defense…little things like that. In turn, I think it's helped his offense. Focus is focus. When he's shooting the percentage he's been shooting of late, you have to try and get him more touches."

And as senior Quincy Pondexter noted, when someone like Bryan-Amaning is going off like he did Saturday night, you feed him the ball and get out of his way. And the past six games the junior from London has averaged over 13 points and seven rebounds a game.

"If someone else is hot and they've scoring, I'm like, 'Do what you need to do - let's win this game'," Pondexter said. "He played a terrific game. I was real proud of him, because in my head I was like, 'make this move, make that move', and he was actually doing it!"

The Huskies will need to have all parts in sync Thursday, as the Oregon crowds are expected to be particularly boisterous due to the closing of McArthur Court. "I've been to Mac Court a lot of times - a lot of fond memories, but also a lot of not-so-fond memories," Romar said, noting how the feel to him is very reminiscent of the old Boston Garden. "It's just a unique place," he added. "It's always been a fun, fun place to play. I remember being in the locker room, hearing all the stomping upstairs, right above you. It was very interesting.

"It wasn't as much intimidating as it was exciting because of the mystique of the place."

You can still hear the stomping nowadays, but according to Romar it's nothing like what it used to be. "Before, it seemed like they knew exactly where the soft spot was," he said with a grin. "They were ready. They were coming after you."

All Pondexter can remember is the echoes of the celebration by the Oregon team after their win at Hec Ed in January. "That's something we all remember as a team, and it really hurt," he said. "They beat us fair and square on our home court, and it's something we've had with us for a little bit. We remember that."

He also remembers fondly the last game played between Oregon and Washington at McArthur Court. The Huskies won that day, 84-67, behind the 23 points of Isaiah Thomas and 22 of senior guard Justin Dentmon. "I remember they started out pretty good on us," Pondexter said. "Our team came together, and after halftime we had a different fire in us. We got a great speech from our coaches and we took off. That was a big stepping stone for our season. We gathered up and beat them on their home floor, which is really hard to do."

And if it's at all possible, the junior Player of the Year contender is hoping Thursday's crowd is even crazier than the one the Huskies saw in Pullman Saturday night. I suspect he just might get his wish.

"That makes the game that much more fun," Pondexter said. "That's why you play the game. It really shows a lot if your team can fight through the adversity on the road to come out and win. That's something we have the capability of doing now that we really didn't have experience at during the beginning of the year."
Notes:
Sherrer back with the team: Sophomore walk-on forward Brendan Sherrer is back with the Huskies after being hospitalized with an infection that caused him to miss the WSU trip. "He's out of the hospital and he should be able to start picking up where he left off," Romar said of Sherrer. "I don't think he'll play this weekend, but the main thing is that his health appears to be fine."

No TV for Thursday: The Oregon game will not be televised, but it will be carried via the ISP Sports Radio Network, meaning KJR-950 AM for Seattle, KUIK 1360 AM in Portland/Hillsboro, and on channel 193 through XM/Sirius Satellite radio. "I think it's unfortunate," Romar said of no TV. "It is what it is. There was a time where we didn't get this many games on television." When asked if he would have been amenable to play earlier to accommodate TV, he said yes. "Being on the road, as long as it's after 10 o'clock (AM) it doesn't matter," Romar added.

Brockness Monster sighting: Former UW forward and current Sacramento King Jon Brockman was in town, and dropped off a few 'Brockness Monster' t-shirts in the basketball office. Romar was sporting his during Tuesday's media availability. "He's too humble of a man to say, 'Hey, go wear this'," Romar said of Brockman. "It's pretty sweet. He's the man out there in Sacramento. They can't wait for him to get in the game. Really. I'm not exaggerating. They love him out there. You don't get to see a player play the way he does very often, with that much intensity."


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