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College Hoops

Washington Husky Huddle for Saturday March 3rd 2012 (Part One)

The Huskies, true to form this season, were able to gain a split on a road trip in the Pac-12. The dominant 80-58 win at USC on Thursday was expected, but then so was the heartbreaking 75-69 loss at UCLA on Saturday by Vegas odds makers, who
picked the Bruins by five points. The game was exciting, as the YouTube highlight reel demonstrates.

Talking about what you thought going into a game after it’s over is pretty weak sauce, but I was also feeling the Bruins in this one. I was hoping for another break through performance from the Dawgs, but their form on the road has been very
consistent.

Win one (the easy one) lose (the tough) one, except against Arizona where they seemed to have had enough motivation to break that mold. The other side of that story is that the Dawgs win every game at home. This did not happen this season,
also (along with the Arizona sweep) in one instance.

In the Cal game in Seattle, Husky senior post Darnell Gant missed a wide open three on a nice assist from junior guard Abdul Gaddy. Had he made it at the buzzer and sent the game into overtime, perhaps UW would have already clinched the out
right Pac-12 title, instead of waiting until Sunday to see if Cal can beat Stanford in Palo Alto CA or not at 2:30 p.m. (PST).

Darnell went 0-9 from the field and 0-6 from three against Cal, which brought armchair critics to question whether he should have taken the shot. Sophomore guard C.J. Wilcox, the Dawgs best 3-point shooter was not available that day with
his femur injury. Sophomore guard Terrence Ross was the domain of the best defender in the conference in senior Bear guard Jorge Gutierrez, who was not likely to yield a good look.

The pick and pop play at the top of the key, with the ball in Gaddy’s hands was a very good call against Cal on that January Thursday night. Either Gaddy, who is the other decent 3-ball sticker along with Wilcox, Ross and Gant, gets the open three to tie, Ross somehow breaks free and Gaddy, who is the best assist man gets him a look, or Gant gets the shot and beats the odds after missing everything all day and is the hero.

The way it ended up was Darnell missing the shot, but he bounced back. Gant was an integral part, especially as a team leader, defender and rebounder, but also as a key scorer in places, as the Huskies went on after the Cal loss to win 10-11 leading up to the loss on Saturday against UCLA.

In a blow out win over Stanford, the next game after the Cal loss, it was Darnell keeping his chin up with 17 points and seven boards off the bench. In the come back win over UCLA at Hec Ed it was Gant with 12 points and an inspired defensive
effort down the stretch.

In wins at home against ‘Zona and one the road against WSU it was Darnell with outstanding defensive efforts against ‘Zona top ‘Cat junior post Solomon Hill and explosive WSU go-to junior post Brock Motum. In the USC game on Thursday, Gant was solid in keeping ‘SC at arms length with 14 points on 6-8 from the field and 2-3 from three, with nine boards.

I said when this season started and I’ve repeated it ad nausea. When Gant plays a good game, UW is hard to beat. Gant didn’t play a horrible game against UCLA, but he just didn’t have it shooting the long ball. If Darnell has an average shooting night from behind the arc against Cal in Seattle and UCLA in Los Angeles, UW is probably on top of the Pac-12 right now by 2 1/2 games going into the games on Sunday.

Since he didn’t where are they? They are still on top of the Pac-12 by 1/2 a game, with as chance to be out right champ. This year’s UW team has done amazing things, after losing a starting five in current NBA celebrity Isaiah Thomas, Matthew
Bryan-Amaning (who is ripping up Europe and will likely get a a shot at the NBA, if he chooses to take one), Justin Holiday (another Euro success story), Scott Suggs (the top shooter that would have been there when Wilcox had his health issues) and a player that always provided win after win with his fierce competitiveness in Venoy Overton.

Incidentally Thomas was named NBA Western Conference Rookie of the month on Thursday and a highlight film from hoopsfix.com of Matt’s “work” in Turkey on Monday was really impressive.

You lose all of that and bring back literally no top producers, only back-ups, spot starters and freshman and you are at least Pac-12 co-champs? How is that not a tremendous accomplishment?. It hurt for UW fans to let the win over UCLA slip
away on a somber Saturday in March, but coach Lorenzo Romar should be highly commended for being able to put a squad together with this much discipline and consistency from so many unproven players.

Yes, there are NBA guys on this team, but getting a team to the top with basically all first and second year players, except Gant is an amazing feat. Gaddy is a junior, but besides being one of the youngest in his class nationally, this is really the 2nd full season at the D1 level. Center Aziz N’Diaye is a junior, but this is his 2nd season at D1. Ditto Ross and Wilcox in their 2nd seasons, plus the challenge for C.J. in managing his injury.

Getting a conference championship, however this one pans out, with one true hoops upperclassman (a student who has completed two years) is a colossal win for Romar and his staff. Anyone that tells you that this team underachieved up to
now is just plain wrong.

This season UW, with Gaddy deserving much more credit than most realize, have done an impressive job of running plays. On Tuesday Steve Kelley of the Seattle Times talked about the Dawgs astounding ability for such a young team at running good plays. Against UCLA they ran decent plays, but as has happened over and over, were just beaten on the road by a good team. Let’s not forget that the Bruins have great talent and were playing for a lot of pride. It was two teams that
wanted it, but the home team got it. The refereeing played a part, as it always does in the infamous Pac-12, but UW had enough in LA to do what they did by gaining the split and just not enough more.

The key is how they will react to this loss. Should Cal lose to Stanford, it is going to be hard to not give UW an at-large bid the NCAA in my opinion, even if they lose their first game in the Pac-12 Tournament. That said, with their RPI and non-conference record, the Dawgs are going to have to worry.

Another year goes by and another UW team is sweating it out, as they enter the conference tourney. In these past two years UW has risen to that challenge by winning the thing because they really had to. UW fans have to hope that they can find the motivation and the heart to do it again.

Against UCLA on Saturday, again it was Gant with a 0-3 night from three and 1-7 from the field, but it wasn’t Darnell’s “fault” they lost the game. Some will point to his three missed 3’s down the stretch, including UW’s last shot with 15 seconds to play, before the game became a foul fest that UCLA had in the bag.

But Gant also led UW on the boards with 10. It was UCLA’s ability to get 11 offensive rebounds, including many down the stretch and more importantly key turnovers by UW late. Romar talked about the pivotal TO’s in the tight game being what swayed the outcome.

“The difference in the game was in the second half; they scored 11 points off of our turnovers and the majority of those were unforced. That’s the difference in the game. The game was a two-point game right down the stretch near the end. We
just didn’t do a good enough job of taking care of the basketball.”

Romar also acknowledged the outstanding play of UCLA, but I feel that it was especially sophomore guard Tyler Lamb who sealed UW’s fate. Lamb hit shots in the first half that kept UCLA close when it looked like UW were the better team. When
UW again put on runs in the 2nd half it was Lamb who not only hit shots, but made key defensive plays against Ross.

Lamb led a Bruin attack that answered when UW asserted itself and for that he deserves the game ball. Yes, maybe you don’t let Darnell take that shot at 15-seconds to play, but it was a wide open look to take the lead and the Bruins were
playing inspired defense.

It was not a poor decision. Perhaps Gant could have made a better decision or for that matter made one of those late threes, but what is more important for UW is what happens now. Where do they go from here? That is all that ever matters
anyway, no matter how grand things are going or how miserable.

With Colorado losing at Oregon State and Oregon punishing Utah in Eugene OR on Saturday, either UW is going to be tied with Cal for first, with the Bears holding the #1 seed in the Pac-12 tourney or Cal, Oregon and ‘Zona will be tied for second (if UA as expected beats ASU in Tempe on Sunday).

Either way UW’s first game in the league tourney will not be at Hec Ed. Up to now, this year’s Dawgs have gotten off the mat and punched teams in the mouth when they have stumbled, as they did on Saturday.

Will they stay true to form and do it again? Will they luck out and gain the #1 seed by the Bears losing and then play down to another team? Or will they beat that team only to do another “road split” by losing in their 2nd game of the tourney? A win over UCLA may have made things a lot easier for UW at this point, but perhaps with such a young team, the current situation gives UW the wake up call they need to run off another five straight to get back to the Sweet-16 for a school
record 4th appearance in Romar’s tenure.

The last two losses were followed by five straight wins. I doubt if this one is, anyone will be talking about Gant taking the last shot against Cal on Saturday as being anything of consequence. Even if the Dawgs just win enough to get their dance card punched, Darnell will be the first UW player ever to appear in four straight NCAA tournaments.

I hope to see Gant and the Dawgs do what it takes to achieve that mark. Seth Davis of CNN.SI.com said on Friday that UW has a “Chemistry problem”. I think that this is off the mark. UW has great team chemistry and Gant has a lot to do with
that. To lead this team as it’s only true veteran voice as he has, without being a true go-to player is a both a testimony to the program that Romar has built and the type of person Darnell is.

Gant may not be popping off on all of the mock drafts, though I believe that he has a pro future if he wants one with his skill set and size, but he is going in the absolutely right direction as a human being. He lives his life with tremendous
passion, which is all you can dream for in truth. He’s a hard worker and a team player, which is invaluable in the “real world”. He is bright and creative and a young man of sound faith.

Ken Lombard was a UW forward in the mid-70’s, also like Darnell from LA, who went on to be a huge success in the corporate world as vice president of Starbucks in charge of their entertainment division. Ken was a great player in LA that was also known as a great guy at UW under Marv Harshman.

Wroten, Ross, N’Diaye, Wilcox and perhaps more current Dawgs may be talked about more fervently by draft analysts, but players like Gant, as Lombard has proven, can take what they learned on campus and turn that into even more success than a much bigger basketball pro name. That is not to say that Gant could not become a great pro player if he wants, as I still feel he could.

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