Huskies jump huge hurdle in overtime win at USC
(Jason McCleary contributed to this story)
The Washington Huskies won their first game of conference play in overtime against USC, 73-67 on Wednesday. The Dawgs received a tremendous boost off the bench from freshman guard Terrance Ross, who fouled out with 2:37 left in overtime, but finished with 18 points.
Ross hit four of eight 3-pointers, most at pivotal times in the win.
Though Ross was the additional weapon that Washington needed to beat a very good USC team on the road, senior Matthew Bryan-Amaning was also just as important. “MBA” fought and scrapped his way to 18 points as well, plus 8 huge rebounds. As a team the Dawgs won the game on the boards, out rebounding ‘SC 40-26 and Bryan-Amaning’s presence inside led the way.
“MBA” was also a factor rebounding his missed shots and putting them back in. Early in the year, he had shown a tendency to pull back after misses, instead of attacking the basket after low post attempts. This was probably the single most positive for UW in a game filled with a lot of little things that made a big difference in the end.
The Dawgs had seven players with four or more boards, in what could be best described as “team rebound”. Though there were a ton (I counted at least 10, but there were probably more) of very questionable calls by those notorious Pac-10 refs, UW gutted it out by boxing out and alert game management by Coach Lorenzo Romar.
Husky Coach Lorenzo Romar gave credit to his team when he spoke to the media after the game and made it clear that beating USC in LA was no small feat.
“I’m really proud of our team, because that USC team is so well-coached. They don’t make many mistakes. They turned the ball over 10 times. And they’ve got those two guys inside, especially Vucevic.
It’s just a match-up nightmare. To come from behind like we did and come up with the victory, I couldn’t be more proud.”
Starting center Aziz N’Diaye was slowed by the whistle parade and a tough USC front line to zero points, but was still able to pick up 2 rebs in 14 minutes. Sophomore guard Abdul Gaddy was an ice-cold 1-6 from the field and seemed to be rattled by freshman bantam weight Maurice Jones, but still squeezed out 5 boards.
Junior guard Isaiah Thomas forced things at times, as Trojan defensive specialist six-foot-six Marcus Simmons did a great job of disrupting his game. Thomas had six costly turnovers, leading the Dawgs who as a team had a miserable 17, but “IT” came through on the glass with 4 rebounds to go with his 3 smart assists. Thomas also toughed out 10 points.
Senior guards Justin Holiday and Venoy Overton overcame, aches, pains and ridiculous refereeing to play, just as important roles in the close call win. Holiday grabbed 6 boards to go with his 12 points, including a clutch three in overtime. His block of USC star guard Jio Fontan with 19-seconds to play in overtime, virtually sealed the game.
Holiday was slowed by foul trouble, but managed to stay clear of the zebras enough to log 29 minutes, despite being whistled for his 3rd foul with 2:27 to play before half-time. Holiday’s defense of Fontan was also a huge factor. The ‘SC star of the Kansas, Tennessee and Lehigh games was held to 4-14 from the floor.
Fontan still managed to score 14 points, but certainly has the ability to double that output, as Trojan star forward Nikola Vucevic did against the Dawgs with 28 points and 14 boards. Holiday also held Fontan to zero rebounds. Overton, like Holiday was slowed by injury, but the senior defensive spark-plug and offensive closer turned in his best game this season.
Overton saved most of his heroics offensively for the overtime, where he scored eight of his eleven points. Six of those eight came on free throws as the Trojans tried to stay in the game by fouling late and though Overton missed two of those eight with 29-seconds to play in OT, he made a heads up play on the rebound to force two more foul shots that he made.
For the rest of the first 40-minutes Overton provided strong team play, grabbing 6 boards, doing the job on Fontan, Jones, senior guard Donte Smith and the other USC guards and playing relatively mistake free ball. He logged one assist and one turnover and played within himself, but always showed the passion and fire that he has always brought to the UW team.
Romar gave Venoy credit, when he spoke to the media and stated that though Overton is still getting his health back his effort was all-important.
“Venoy was very good. I thought if Venoy is still injured and he doesn’t play tonight, maybe we don’t come up with the victory. His conditioning is a little behind, but tonight he looked 100 percent. He played very well.”
It was great for Husky fans to see their three seniors in “MBA”, “Venoying” and Holiday attain this huge building block win for their senior season, as the Dawgs beat the team that I feel are the 2nd most likely to win the league on the road.
But that wasn’t all for UW who won a game with no TV and little hoopla in the national media, but one certainly worthy of high praise. USC came out of the gates running and gunning, taking a 16-4 lead over the Dawg’s. Romar noticed something in USC’s offense and switched the defense to a 2-3 zone.
The zone caused a number of forced shots for the Trojan’s along with a bunch of missed three pointers. Romar rolled the dice on an ‘SC team that had seen Smith light teams up as late, along with Fontan and others from three and it worked. I have criticized Romar’s in-game adjustments, especially at half-time against Michigan State and Texas
Romar spoke to the media about the zone and complimented his team for their execution of a defensive set that they had done work on but never used this season.
“We had been practicing in case we needed it. We tried to change and mix defenses. I have a lot of respect for them. We had to throw a lot of things at them, the kitchen sink, to come up with a victory on the road.”
I have given Romar a few well placed jabs for his preparation against Kentucky, who like ‘SC came out to a huge lead early on Brandon Knight, who I felt UW was ill-prepared for. Against ‘SC though, the Husky coach played the in-game chess match brilliantly. Besides his timely use of the zone he managed UW’s foul situation very well to get the most out of his troops.
This was as good of a win as UW has had in a long time in the Pac-10, because not only did it exorcise some of the early season shortcomings with a huge early conference road win, but it also showed that this team and coaching staff get it. The UW team as a whole understands what they need to do to win this league and unlike previous years get it from the beginning.
Last summer I spoke about Ross, as a player that would start to assert himself by Pac-10 play. Though the freshman has been locked in tight competition with sharpshooting red-shirt freshman C.J. Wilcox and astute junior Scott Suggs for PT through out non-conference play, because of a hip injury to Wilcox and a cold night for Suggs, Ross who got the nod from Romar.
Terrance took advantage and started making it rain in the Galen Center. If not for Ross it wouldn’t have been close in the first half.
With seven minutes to play in the first half and USC still maintaining a nine point lead, Ross hit two straight threes to get the Dawgs right back in it. Ross then canned a three to put UW up at the half 28-26.
The Huskies committed 10 turnovers along with 11 team fouls in the half and Vucevic was a handful, finishing with 10 points and 7 boards by half-time. The Huskies battled through everything that came their way in taking the half-time lead. The biggest positive at was that they out-rebounded the Trojan’s 21-13 in the half and that trend continued.
In the second half the Dawg’s came back out in a man to man defense which USC attacked. Vucevic carried the load for USC, but Ross came off the bench to hit more key shots. “MBA” was again factor down low, grabbing boards and showing even more aggressiveness than he did in the first stanza.
With the game going back and forth throughout the second half, the refs were still calling a lot of fouls. Every time it seemed like the game was evenly called in the second half compared to the first, the refs made a very bad call in USC’s favor. After N’Diaye fouled out with 5:17 to play in regulation, instead of folding, the Dawg’s battled in the paint.
Romar gave his team credit for stepping up against what he termed the toughest match-up problem for them in the league.
“They are physical, they pack it in on defense, they don’t give you anything easy. They just make it difficult. They are our toughest match-up in the league, but they don’t go to the offensive boards as a team as much. Those two big guys are so good, but I thought our guys did a good job of boxing those guys out.”
Darnell Gant fouled out on a very poor play reminiscent of Mike Jensen’s infamous blunder-foul against UConn in the 2006 NCAA Tournament, but it didn’t cost UW the game luckily. Gant finished the game with zero points, zero rebounds and a TO, but I think that it is worth pointing out that Gant was an important contributor.
In 22 minutes Gant, much like Jensen in his very successful career at Washington, was able to block USC’s bigs out so that UW’s perimeter players could get rebounds. Jensen often had lower rebounding totals, but it was highly effective for the Dawgs, who were led on the glass by guard Tre Simmons on Washington #1 seeded 2004-2005 team.
If Gant can continue to play like Jensen did in that regard, while shooting the perimeter shot well (also like Mike), plus continue to go more aggressively to the hoop, UW and Darnell are going to be very successful while he’s at the school. I like Gant’s spirit that he brings, his work ethic and skill set.
As long as he continues to play more aggressively and assertive, stat lines like this will never hurt the Huskies.
With all that every UW player could muster to get this win though, USC never shied down to the challenge. Vucevic’s motor never stopped. Down four with 2:09 left in regulation, Vucevic grabbed a rebound, was was fouled by Thomas. Vucevic hit two free-throws, followed by a 3-pointer, two more free throws and two more rebounds to send the game into OT 55-55.
Through out the game USC’s defensive play was tough as nails, as the Trojans held the Dawgs to only 7 assists to go with the turnovers. In overtime though USC only scored 3 points in the first 3 minutes and most noticeably Gant and “MBA” combined to keep Vucevic out of the scoring column.
Romar told the media after the game that he felt newly confident that his team could overcome problem match-ups that have been their nemesis recently.
“This was such a big game, because this team represented everything that’s difficult for us. I was very anxious to see how we would play against this team. I feel like, if we can play against this type of team, we’ll be OK.”
The win over USC was a tough test that the Huskies passed. Now they will have another one again against UCLA on Friday at 1 p.m. (PST) in Westwood CA. Washington’s fans, as if by sheer luck because of the football team’s appearance at the Holiday Bowl against Nebraska Thursday at 7 p.m. (PST), came out in droves to support the Dawgs against the Trojans.
If the Dawg’s come back to Seattle with a sweep it will be something they haven’t done since that same 2006 team of Jensen, NBA All-star Brandon Roy, epic defender Bobby Jones, inside scoring wizard Jamaal Williams, UW’s All-Time 3-point scorer Ryan Appleby and a freshman named Jon Brockman who left UW as the All-Time leading rebounder and 2nd leading career scorer.
Romar told the media after the game that this was a special team effort from his guys.
“I can’t think of a whole lot of wins that I’m as excited as I am tonight. We got down. We appeared to be rattled. Our guys stayed together, guarded and got stops and slowly fought their way back to it. It was a great, great character win. These are wins we talk about all the time.”
If the UW fans can stay enthused enough to affect the UCLA game, as they did against USC when they truly out-shined the home crowd, the Dawgs could actually get the sweep. That is not going to be easy though, as the Bruins have won 6 straight games and beat a very good WSU team on Wednesday 80-71 with a dynamic second half performance.
UW fans chanted “Just like Football” as the Dawgs put away the Men of Troy as they have on the gridiron over the past two seasons. Hopefully for UW fans and their hoops team, they will be able to bring out as great an effort on New Year’s Eve in famed Pauley Pavilion.
Though Washington got a great win, USC was cold from outside, which falls into the good luck category in my opinion. The Dawgs and their vacationing fans will need every bit of this kind of work-load and probably a little more luck against UCLA. The USC game drew 5,584 fans, many of whom were wearing purple.
Even though Pauley has been unusually vacant on a couple of occasions during the Bruins weak non-conference schedule this year, I’m sure that the red-hot Bruins and their fans will do better. UW will have to probably play better to beat them than they did against USC.