Thiel: Huskies' Ross the boss, ruins Bruins

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by Art Thiel

SportsPressNorthwest

Posted on February 5, 2012 at 1:01 PM

The crowd promotion at Hec Ed for Thursday night was '70s throwback. For a long while  against UCLA , the Washington Huskies chose to throw back to December, when they played their lackluster, turnover-prone worst.

With about seven minutes left and down 10, coach Lorenzo Romar pulled his star player, Tony Wroten. Suddenly, the Huskies were back to the future.

Led by a splendid run of offense from Terrence Ross, an effective zone defense and an eardrum-thumping crowd, Washington salvaged a 71-69 triumph that, combined with Pac-12 Conference co-leader Cal's loss to Arizona, provided sole possession of first place as well as thwarting Romar's biggest fear for the weekend -- complacency.

"We were a little scattered tonight," said  after his 500th career game as a college coach. "We were a little scattered in practice (Wednesday). It's human nature. There's a tendency to ease up when things are going well.

"There wasn't any of that in the final minutes. We were such a team at the end. As a coach, it was one of my proudest moments."

Washington outscored UCLA 18-6 over the final seven minutes as the Bruin, in deep foul trouble, collapsed under the roar. Ross had 14 in the run, including a couple of daggers beyond the arc, that spoiled UCLA's recent streak of 10 victories in 14 games. The din was a big part of the win, the eighth in a row over UCLA in Seattle.

"It’s a great, loud environment because it’s built right on top of you," said UCLA coach Ben Howland.  "Obviously it was a great advantage for them."

Wroten, meanwhile, said after the game that he was 50-50 for the 8 p.m. Saturday home game against USC because of a thigh bruise sustained in the first half. Wroten tweeted later in the evening that he was having an MRI scan done on his leg.

While Wroten was noteworthy by his absence down the stretch, Romar was quick to offer his version.

"You might say that (Wroten was out), I would say that C.J. Wilcox was in," he said, smiling, of the substitution. The leg bruise obviously was a part of the benching. Washington's scoring leader missed seven of 11 shots had five of UW's 16 turnovers, but made all five of his free throws.

For this evening, Washington performed better without Wroten's slashing drives to the hoop. As is his custom, Ross exploded in the second half as the Huskies moved the ball to get their best perimeter threat some open looks.

Up 68-67, Ross delivered the fatal blow with 1:21 left with a three. UCLA's Josh Smith, the 280-pound All-Stater from Kentwood who crushed the Huskies inside all night -- "like trying  to stop without machinery a van going downhill," was Romar's description -- left his final treadmarks with a putback at 56.6 seconds after two UCLA misses. Ross missed a chance to ice the game,  but the Bruins failed to capitalize when reserve guard Norman Powell missed a jumper with two seconds left.

Smith finished with a game-high 24 points as well as nine rebounds as he left the Huskies nearly helpless inside to stop him. The only real answer was a 2-3 zone to quiet the rest of the Bruins, as well as preserve Aziz N'Diaye, who picked up a third foul early in the second half and a fourth with eight minutes to go. Yet he walked a tightrope to the finish, his defense, 11 boards and seven points a vital weapon that countered UCLA's size.

"Without Aziz," said Romar, "we'd be in a world of hurt."

After nearly letting it slip away with turnovers and hasty shots, the Huskies (8-2, 15-7) were particularly proud of the salvage job that rescued their 10th win in the past 12 games.

"For awhile there we were yelling at each other at times instead of cheering each other," said Abdul Gaddy, who quietly led the team back from the mess. "At the end, we really came together as a team. And we went to our guy (Ross). He carried us."

All the way back from December.

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