Dawgs Dance with Golden Eagles

Mar 16, 2010, 9:00 PM | Updated: Apr 5, 2011, 11:20 am

The Huskies huge win over Cal in the Pac-10 Tournament Final was a huge step for the Washington program. The coaching staff was able to turn around a team that appeared doomed to win 12-14 games down the home stretch and create an effective front court where one did not exist in the understandable void left by the great Jon Brockman.

The Oakland Tribune clairvoyantly picked Washington as the team that would win the tournament, but so did Fox Sports Color Analysts Marques Johnson and Miles Simon. The Tribune also picked the Dawgs after UCLA as the 2nd biggest disappointment and Quincy Pondexter as 3rd in their Player of the Year voting behind locals Jerome Randle and Landry Fields.

I don’t mean to toot my own horn, but in September I picked the Bears to win the league and Washington to win the conference tournament. I hit on some other big ones like picking Mike Gerrity, Jeremy Green, Malcolm Armstead, Reggie Moore and Matthew Bryan-Amaning as their respective teams’ biggest surprises at that time. I also missed the mark some what with the other 5, selecting Kyryl Natyazhko (way off), Trent Lockett (not bad but not Ty Abbott), Nikola Dragovic, Max Zhang and Roberto Nelson.

The Huskies prevailed over the Bears with their depth. If you look at minutes, the Dawgs starting 5 are more like Isaiah Thomas, Venoy Overton (he plays starters minutes, while actual starter Abdul Gaddy does not), Justin Holiday, Quincy Pondexter and Matthew Bryan-Amaning. They effectively use Gaddy to start the game, which provides a settling influence to the offensive execution early and gives the coaches a good look at who is the best guy to give to Overton as well as a head start in wearing that player out just a bit.

It also provides Abdul with solid minutes to grow into what should be a dominant player in years to come. Gaddy reminds me of a point guard version of former Husky Donald Watts. He has excellent size for the position and a high basketball IQ. He just needs some time to get his feet wet and this season and this approach by Lorenzo Romar and his staff has been the right one.

Other than Abdul the bench consists of former starter Tyreese Breshers, who earlier in the year was being used similarly to Gaddy, but has now been moved to a more conventional and straight forward bench role. He is a good choice when UW needs some bulk and muscle inside and though he is still getting untracked after nearly two years of injury rehab, he has made steady improvement over the course of this season.

His performance against Cal on Saturday was strong, as he added 4 bog blocks to his 6 points, including two plays that combined could be argued as the game winner. His block on Jerome Randle with 3:33 to play led to a dynamic three from Elston Turner (who also arguably won the game for UW with that three and a lay-in before that to bring the game to a tie) that put UW up 71-68.

After a brilliant defensive series by the Dawgs led to a Theo Robertson turnover, the Dawgs smartly got Justin Holiday wide open for an easy 10 footer on a tricky fake “Alleyoop” to Venoy, but that was answered by a long three from Patrick Christopher that brought Cal within two. The Dawgs then ran the clock down to the 2:02 mark when Tyreese was able get the ball in close and drew a foul. He then sank both shots with the game on the line toe extend UW’s lead to 4.

From that point UW was able to win the game on a grind it out possession that ended with a huge turn around jumper in the lane for Quincy and yet another clutch trip to the line in the last seconds by Venoy. Scott Suggs (who on occasion has provided major help, mostly from three this year) and Darnell Gant also played important roles, as the Dawgs won this one with their bench. UW was able to get production from their back-ups late when the opponent had worn down and the opposing coach did not feel good about playing their subs.

After the game the Dawgs celebrated their Tournament Championship with the couple of hundred Husky faithful who made it down to the game and could stick around afterwards to show their support.

Coach Romar seemed fulfilled to have been apart of such an amazing turnaround and group effort.

“What a college basketball game. It was obvious something was on the line for both teams. I couldn’t be happier to see these guys experience a championship-type situation.”

A team that had been left for dead had risen to the top with contributions all up and down the bench. Mostly they had stuck together and had faith in each other. Thomas gave credit to a higher power.

“It’s a blessing from God. Keep faith and anything can happen.”

So the Dawgs went to sleep Saturday night without having to worry about Selection Sunday, as they won the Pac-10’s automatic bid with the tourney won. Now it was time to relax, sleep in and congregate in the Don James Center to watch the selection show and find out where they would be headed. When it was announced that Washington would be an 11 seed and face #6 Marquette in San Jose, a collective cheer went out.

It was a very good location and an opponent that seems to be some what beat able. Marquette is smallish with two players six-foot-seven and under up front and San Jose is a place that is familiar to Washington who plays there every year for a weekend to meet Cal and Stanford.

Romar cautioned about being too happy to be facing the Golden Eagles of the Big East.

“We’re playing against an exceptional basketball team. Marquette is good. They’ve had some great wins. They’re tough. They’ve played in a tough conference. They’ve played against some tough opponents. It’s going to be an unbelievable match up for us. But when you’re in the NCAA tournament, you’ve got to expect to play against the best.”

One obvious advantage for UW is the travel. Marquette will cross two time zones and a flight that is at least twice as long (including load in and load out) to get there. The crowd should be more pro-UW, as travel by auto is not that tough from the state of Washington where as coming from Wisconsin, is literally nuts. Bay area fans are much more likely to root for the Dawgs as would those of the Montana Griz who will face New Mexico for the honor of facing the UW/Marquette winner.

The San Jose Mercury agreed in their preview piece.

“Of the eight teams here, Washington is also the closest to San Jose (albeit a 14-hour drive away), which could mean a large fan contingent.”

All that said though the game will be very tough for UW to win. The Golden Eagles are very well coached, defend very efficiently and can shoot threes like nobody’s business. They shot threes in Big East play at a .406 clip and could easily rack up a pretty good lead on UW if the Dawgs can’t get out on shooters well. They beat a Georgetown team that beat the Dawgs convincingly, but then lost to the Hoyas badly 80-57 in the Big East Tournament this past week.

I wouldn’t read that much into that loss to the Hoyas, who are a very tough match-up with their size and especially after MU beat Villanova, who some felt could have grabbed a #1 seed this past weekend, the night before. They are very strong individual defenders, but they are certainly a threat to effectively use a zone on the Dawgs.

Coach Buzz Williams is a show all by himself. He already started the psychological battle throwing daisies at Romar and Pondexter.

‘I don’t know a lot about Washington. I know that Coach (Lorenzo) Romar is one of the finest human beings in the business, and I know that Quincy Pondexter is a first-round draft pick.”

Quincy’s physical counterpart will be Lazar Hayward, who he played with this past summer in the World University games in Serbia. Lazar had pleasantries to throw QPon’s way as well, including exaggerating his height.

“He’s a really good player. He’s about 6-8, and he can pretty much do it all. So it’ll be a good match up for us.”

Perhaps he thought Quincy was taller that his listed six-foot-six and a half, because Hayward is actually an inch and a half shorter than his listed six-foot-six. That doesn’t stop this awesome competitor from playing center for Marquette. Hayward is probably a shooting guard at the next level and he should be playing considerable minutes there next season.

Both guys are seniors and like Adam Morrison said to Brandon Roy at the foul line in December 2005, they may be discussing where they may be seated in NY in June. Hayward, like most of the Marquette team, including fellow post Jimmy Butler, can shoot lights out from three. Butler averages 15 points per game on 50% from three. All of the Marquette starters, other than Hayward (who averages a respectable 35%) average close to 50% from behind the arc.

Those are ridiculous numbers. They could easily jump out to a huge lead on the Dawgs and probably will. Where UW has had to fight the assertion that they have beaten nobody except Texas A+M and a bad Pac-10, MU has take down Connecticut, Seton Hall, Cincinnati, Villanova, Michigan and Georgetown. That list sounds impressive but if Washington can keep it close and get to the end game, where the UW depth can kick in or foul trouble becomes an issue, the Huskies could advance.

Because UW is bigger up front with surging Matthew Bryan-Amaning and are able to attack the basket so well with Pondexter, Thomas and Overton, that may be their best tactic. A big game from MBA, as well as Breshers could be the difference for the Dub, but expect a skillfully executed zone from Marquette that will make it very tough for UW to find much room down there. The Golden Eagles are short but very tough, hard nosed, Midwest style players and they could make the Huskies pay for turnovers with run outs and transition threes.

The Dawgs will have to take care of the ball and share it effectively to have a chance to win this game. Marquette could be compared to Cal in a lot of ways. They can shoot as well as the Bears and that’s saying something. They have an efficient five-foot-eight PG in senior Maurice Acker who can be compared to Cal’s Jerome Randle rather favorably.

Acker doesn’t shoot as much as Jerome, but when he is left open he is very deadly from range. Like the Bears there are two other perimeter guys who are deadly from distance as well, except in Marquette’s case you add to that both post players. Then take into account the fact that Hayward, who averages 18 points per game, is a better individual player than anyone on Cal and you start getting the gist of things. 3rd guard Darius Johnson-Odom is only six-foot-two, but is 200 lbs. and very physical.

If they put him on Pondexter it will not be a given that Q will have his way to the hoop against Darius and he can create his own shot very effectively, averaging 13 points per game. The off-guard for the Golden Eagles is David Cubillan who is a solid athlete and another dead-eye shooter. There is just no one Marquette is going to put out there in their well honed 7-man rotation that UW is going to be able to leave open outside the arc.

As a team Washington is a better rebounding group, but Hayward (7.7) and Butler (6.4) can both clean the glass on both ends and have proven to be able to do so against much bigger front lines in the Big East. Hayward has averaged 3.4 fouls per game, but don’t let that fool you into thinking that Washington can easily sit him down. He fouls a lot because he does a lot and the senior does whatever needs to be done to win big games including being able to stay in them.

The Seattle Time Percy Allen quoted Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reporter Todd Rosiak who talked about how effective Hayward and Butler are in the paint.

“I made a joke at the Big East that those two guys should have been nominated for Big East Defensive Player of the Year just because every night they’re going in there and they’re banging against guys that are four inches taller and sometimes 50 pounds heavier and they’re holding their own.”

Washington fans only need to remember back to a guy named Nate Robinson to know that being bigger doesn’t mean much on the basketball court when it comes to toughness and an ability to scrap.

Rosiak was also very impressed with the mental make-up of the team that he covers in Milwaukee, WI.

“This is my eighth year doing this and I’ve never seen a team this tough mentally and that includes the Final Four team with (Dwayne) Wade. Just unbelievable for a team to be 11-8 and 2-5 (in conference) – you kind of saw it with your guys – but 2-5 in the Big East and pretty much left for dead. A six-man rotation. Undersized. Every reason in the world to give up and these just battled, battled and battled.”

There are actually a lot of similarities between the two teams. The Golden Eagles are small but feisty, much like the 2004-2005 team that realized a #1 seed, but they can shoot like no team has at Washington probably ever. They got hot to end the year, other than the blow-out loss to Georgetown in the Big East Tourney. The Golden Eagles are a wee bit (St. Patties Day influence) more experienced than the Dawgs with two seniors, two juniors ands a sophomore as starters, but the Dawgs are deeper. How well the Dawgs can stay with these guys early should go a long way to deciding this one.

Marquette also has a very tough minded coach in Williams and his disciplined style and intense, methodical approach may remind some of a young Lute Olson. MU wins a lot of tough games and the ones they lose are usually closer than expected. Buzz will attempt to convince his guys that they are underdogs in this game, coming from the Midwest, etc. They play well in that role with a sort of short guy syndrome, “chip on the shoulder” mind set.

The Huskies and the Pac-10 have a lot to prove and could easily argue that they are the underdogs compared to the media darling Big East boys. Nobody carries a bigger chip than “shorty” himself Isaiah Thomas. This game should be a tremendous challenge to Isaiah to play tremendous perimeter defense and lead his team in attacking what should be a nails tough interior defense by Marquette. Whether UW wins or loses, don’t bet against Thomas giving a superb effort.

The same can be said for Pondexter, who will be playing very close to his hometown of Fresno CA and has demonstrated a fierce will to win this year. Quincy will need 32 points to pass Bob Houbregs for 3rd place in scoring all-time at Washington

The experts are divided when it comes to this match-up. Most feel that Marquette will win because they have proven themselves against better competition back east, but quite a few see this as a toss up or a possible upset.

Andy Katz of ESPN feels it’s more of a matter of pace than I do.

“If the Huskies can get out and run against Marquette’s stingy defense, they’ll win. If it’s a low-scoring, half-court game, give the edge to the Golden Eagles.”

Paul Zeise of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette feels that both teams are more characterized by their high powered offenses.

“If you like offense, then this is a game you should love. Both are capable of scoring a lot of points and both have great guard play.

Gary Parrish of CBS feels that Washington is one of, “Two double-digit seeds that make the Sweet 16”, meaning that UW will beat Marquette and either the Lobos or the Griz. :

The NY Daily News feel that the game is their Eastern Bracket “Upset Special”, stating about the Golden Eagles, “They may not be as road weary as undersized Marquette, which may have left it all on the floor in Big East tournament at the Garden, and now faces a long trip west.”

The Charlotte NC Observer also picked the game as their “Upset Special” stating that the Dawgs may still be rolling from the adrenaline of their magical run.

“No. 11 Washington was a desperate team in winning the Pac 10 championship. That could carry over into its first-round game against sixth-seed Marquette.”

Former Dawg Still Helping Out

Brandon Roy wears his Husky purple in a new Nike ad. Roy has been a huge help to the program both off-season in coming around to open gyms at Hec-Ed and during the season in coming to games when he can and sitting on the bench inspiring the Dawgs. Washington is blessed also to have an ambassador in the NBA with such a great team oriented game as well as “elite level” individual talent.

Husky Recruiting Corner

2010 signee forward Desmond Simmons spoke to Ryan Petitt, former publisher of UDUBSports.com (Rivals Washington site), who now hosts a NW Sports talk radio blog. Simmons told Ryan that his game most resembled Quincy’s on this year’s team.

I was also a guest last night on the show and talked about the UW/Marquette match-up as well as a summary of what Washington was able to do this year to get its house in order after such a slow start.

Simmons just had a monster game in the Northern California semis, scoring 34 points and hauling in 20 boards against Modesto Christian as his Salesian Lions won 69-65.

2010 UW forward recruit Terrence Jones stated to the Oregonian after his Jefferson Democrats won the Oregon State title game that he had not yet committed to Washington, as was reported in various unconfirmed reports around the net, including out very own Husky Digest.

According to the game story in the Oregonian, “UCLA coach Ben Howland was in attendance Saturday”. Though UCLA’s season is over, Howland is doubtless trying to make up ground on the recruiting trail and still hammering away at the elite Jones. Some would like to interpret this as proof that the Husky Digest story is baseless, but I feel that until a player comes out with a public commitment coaches will continue to hammer away. Some may even do that after a public commit, but that is usually done more behind the scenes.

Just to set the record straight, since a number of competing message boards on the internet have gone out of their way to misquote and take issue with my credibility, I would like to state that we are not backing away from our report and would like to offer what was previously subscriber only content to our readers here at mynorthwest.com free of charge. I hope that this will help to set the record straight as to what we actually reported.

“According to a source with direct ties in the Kentucky Athletic Department, 2010 forward prospects Terrence Jones and Terrence Ross from Jefferson High School in Portland OR have committed to Washington. We are currently seeking confirmation from both kids, but we were also told that they would not make a public announcement until after the Jefferson Democrats season ends.”

“The Demos are in the midst of a state title run in the Oregon State tournament. This could be huge news for the Huskies who must replace forward Quincy Pondexter’s production up front, but this tandem could help Coach Lorenzo Romar go a long way towards closing the void that will be left by Quincy moving on.”

“The word that we have also heard from sources is that both of these kids could have some academic challenges yet to overcome and for that reason UW will continue to recruit for the class of 2010, until there is no question that one or both of them will get in. Right now Washington has two spots open for next fall, one of which has been filled by fall signee Desmond Simmons of Salesian High in the Bay Area.”

“An additional spot would need to open up on the Husky Roster for both kids and Simmons to receive scholarships for the 2010-2011 season.”

One of the players that Washington is still recruiting, in my opinion for reasons that were spelled out in that update, is 2010 forward and former USC commit Dwayne Polee. Polee’s Westchester High School team beat the Long Beach Poly Jackrabbits 67-53 in the Southern California semis. Dwayne had 19 points and 10 boards in the win. Westchester will face Mater Dei in the regional finals.

While previewing the game the LA Times stated that, “Another advantage for Westchester is that 6-foot-7 Dwayne Polee Jr. is getting better and better” and added “How UCLA and USC are going to let Polee leave town tells a lot about the sorry state of college basketball in Southern California”.

Polee has lowered his list to Washington, Georgia and UNLV according to a story from a Georgia paper that reported that Bulldog and former Nevada Head Coach Mark Fox watched the game against Long Beach Poly. A preview of the Mater Dei game in Rivals stated that Oregon is also in the mix for Polee.

2010 UW center recruit Aziz N’Diaye will likely choose between Washington and Oklahoma, according to the Twin Falls ID paper, but according to his coach and CSI Steve Gosar in an update in Rivals, LMU and Oregon State are still in the mix.

Aziz’ CSI team mate Carrick Felix, who was also looked at by Washington, has committed to Duke according to Scout.

Tony Wroten Jr. will commit to Washington if they won the national title stating, “I swear to God I would”. He recently told Isaiah Thomas on his Twitter page that he would go to UW if Thomas agreed to stay 4 years. Thomas had already publicly announced that he will stay 4 years at Washington. This Twitter banter is a bit more information than fans really need to hear from Tony or Isaiah for that matter with his assertions that he will play football next fall in Husky stadium. Wroten, who is related to Husky legends Nate and Jacques Robinson, will likely go to Washington in my opinion.

Cougar Corner

WSU Head Coach Ken Bone did a nice “state of the union” press conference for his basketball program, as their once promising season ended with the loss to Oregon on Wednesday.

Bone said that expects attrition, but must figure out a way to open up one spot. He also mentioned that center Charlie Enquist was told that he had no guarantee that his scholarship for next year would be secure.

The Zags will face a very athletic Florida State team. I feel that the Seminoles will win this match-up with size and athleticism that surpasses that of GU and a bit more firepower in Solomon Alibi and company.

Rivals disagree with that, stating that the Zags will not only beat FSU, but have to ability to advance and take out Syracuse.

Pac-10 Round Up

Assault charges were dropped on UCLA’s Nikola Dragovic. I felt that he should not have been allowed to play until this was cleared up, but now that it has it’s nice to see him get another chance. I hope he learns his lesson this time. Knowing the neighborhood it would not be surprising in my opinion if this situation was helped by a good West LA attorney. Nik was also convicted a year earlier on a misdemeanor domestic violence charge.

Josh Smith, who doubtless will help replace Bruin seniors Dragovic, James Keefe and Mike Roll was named Washington State Player of the Year.

Oregon’s Ernie Kent was fired today as the Ducks Head Coach. Ernie’s departure means that Romar is now the dean of the Pac-10 head coaching fraternity.

OSU will compete again in the College Basketball Invitational, while ASU was chosen as a #1 seed in the NIT. The Beavers will face Boston University at 7PM (PST) on Wednesday, while the Sun Devils are hosting Jacksonville tonight.

NW Round Up

The Montana Griz will face New Mexico in the game immediately following the Washington/Marquette game. Montana’s Anthony Johnson, who ended up playing for the Griz to be close to his wife who is a Lady Griz hooper is a feel good story that has made for a lot of human interest sound bites in much of the coverage around the country. Johnson has been able to back up the media coverage with his play on the court and was also chosen by CBS as one of “Five Players You’ve never Seen Who Make For Must See TV”.

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