As I walked into the arena, I saw the Idaho team bus. The bus driver was sitting there, waiting patiently half an hour before tip off. This was a team that had only trailed Gonzaga in the last few minutes by one basket. The same Zag team that was involved in a triple overtime game with Michigan State (that it would end up winning) in the Maui Classic, as I walked into the Bank of America Arena and watched what I could of that game in the press room.
UW was heavily favored by the odds makers to win this fourth home game of the 2005-2006 season and though the Vandals looked very stubborn on TV over in Spokane last Friday night, I felt that UW would come back after a static performance against American University and play more of the defense that has been the most amazing thing about this season and the Lorenzo Romar tenure at Washington. That they did and also played some offense as well, winning this one handily 90-67 by coming out scoring the games first 11 points and going up by a confident 22 at the half.
In the 2nd half they continued their intensity and extended to their largest lead of the night, a 37 point bulge at 10:20, on an Artem Wallace lay-up off a nice assist from the steady and markedly improved Hans Gasser. Though Idaho continued to fight, as the game moved on to an early appearance by Zane Potter at 4:48 left with the Dawgs still up by 28, I found it hard to get myself excited about a Vandal run that had just pulled them "dangerously" close at 27 points down.
Every time that Idaho would put on a run against the deep Huskies bench players that played much of the last ten minutes, Jon Brockman would power up a reverse lay-up and one, Joel Smith would pack the fast break dunk of the year (so far), Ryan Appleby would nail a three off an assist from Jon or Artem would show his offensive and defensive skills in the low post.
When this Husky team is in their normal rhythm, they are a very good team.
Bobby Jones, as Romar said, "Put on a clinic in the 2nd half in terms of good play and hustle." He really looked like a future pro out there to me tonight, more than ever. Though Romar pointed out that the team played "a little sloppy down the stretch", he also said, "I feel like we did the right things that we need to do to win games and we are pleased with our effort".
After the American game, the staff decided that less practice and more teaching were in order. After the game Lorenzo said that, "If you go out and are not ready, sometimes you just don't have the legs. You can have the will but the body just isn't ready and that can get you into more trouble. We just wanted to cut some hours back." This certainly worked for Bobby as he looked unusually mercurial, like an NFL kick return specialist darting through traffic for huge yardage.
Jamaal Williams also looked unusually focused as his 12-17 foot jumper was consistent and proved a back breaker for Idaho, in their attempt to Zone UW, as they had Gonzaga. He scored 16 points, 14 in the 1st half, when there was a game to talk about, sort of, after the blitz to start the game. Appleby also seemed sharper and less stiff, as he scored 11 on 3-3 from beyond the arc, though he marred his fine effort by some sloppy play late, leaving him with a team leading 5 turnovers.
Brockman had a steady, but not outstanding game, though he made it look a bit better at the end and also ended up with 11 points and 8 boards. Even on a night like that, it is incredible to watch him hustle and scrap. He had a couple of rebounds that looked literally like a bulldogs jaw shutting and some beautiful assists. There is much to look forward to with Jon, that's for sure.
Brandon Roy was again the answer man, as he led the team with 5 assists to one turnover and scored a quiet 14. He wasn't great from the field, but hit 5-6 from the line and always seemed to get the rebound or the assist that was needed to nip any Idaho hopes in the bud. Gasser was also understated as he dropped a couple nice assists and 8 points on 3-5 from the field, including his first 3 pointer of the season. He also stayed in the right place on defense and was very successful in setting some nice picks and screens in the half court.
If for some reason Mike Jensen does not fulfill the promise that he showed when I saw him play last summer in pick-up, when he returns next month, UW is in good hands with the smooth style of Gasser and the athleticism, scrappiness and spark of Artem. Justin Dentmon scored 8 and looked even more comfortable in the starting role. He does what UW needs, coming out of the gate, by putting the pressure on the other team and contributing to getting all over them right from the tip.
With the 3 SR's (Roy, Jones and Jamaal) jabbing at and harassing the opposing club and he and Brockman holding up their ends with their intense style of play, it's tough to not end up down 10 in a hurry for the opposition.
Though most of the Idaho players chose to stay neutral and compliment both teams as top national powers, forward Desmond Nwoke said, "These guys are going to beat Gonzaga. They're more athletic players, better defenders and they shoot better."
Romar tried to defuse that notion by stating when asked how his team did so well against Idaho, while Gonzaga struggled by saying, "I did get to see that game (last Friday), but a couple years ago we missed 22 consecutive shots against Gonzaga and it is hard to win like that. They are a great basketball team. Idaho played a zone against them and their guys just weren't knocking the shots down. Idaho capitalized on that and gained confidence as they continued to play hard in an effort to win the game."
Against UW, Idaho fought hard to maintain what mostly amounted to their pride. Sometimes it got to the point where they were a bit too emphatic. Big forward Mike Kale was charged with two intentional fouls, first against Bobby then Roy and finally head Coach Leonard Perry was charged with a technical foul, after pushing the envelope all night trying to rally the charge.
Smooth operator, guard Tanoris Shepard and awkward looking but effective post Igor Vrzina led the Vandals with 14, followed by nice shooting forward Aaron Smith with 9 and tough forward Keoni Watson with 8, but it was another case of an out matched opponent, getting beat up early and often by this Husky team.
I'm sure the bus driver, as the Vandals make their way through the rolling wheat fields on their way to greater Moscow/Pullman and vicinity will not hear as much bravado as he heard after the near win in the Kennel last Friday. I don't think the UW players and fans are feeling as swelled with pride as the Zags are either, after another ESPN Instant Classic, this time in the paradise of Maui, where they have a very good chance of winning the tournament tomorrow against UConn.
I think that UW is going to give Gonzaga all they can handle though, if they play the way they played tonight. I doubt GU will play the way they played against Idaho. But lest not forget the LMU Lions, who will be coming into town to play on Friday at 3:30PM. They gave last years Dawgs all they could handle down in their gym in Westchester (Southwest LA) CA.
Definitely concerned about the talent of Loyola Marymount Romar said, "They're a hard nosed team. They've got a few scorers on that team that can put the ball in the basket. They have coach Rodney Tention from Arizona and he's used to winning games and understands what it takes to be successful. They went on the road to BYU and won their opener and that says a little something. Against Idaho we were very aware that they were going to come in here and play hard and we just want to make sure we play harder. Friday we're going to be very aware that Loyola is going to be able to knock us off if we're not ready to play."
That attitude is going to win a lot of games for Lorenzo Romar, who is starting to sound like the legendary Husky Football coach Don James in the way that he approaches each game. UW now has the longest home court winning streak in the nation, obviously aided by this lighter early season schedule and the tremendous run over the last year and a half, but impressive nonetheless.
They have scored 96 points per game which is the highest number for the first five games since the great 1969-1970 team of C Steve Hawes (Spencer's uncle), one of the all time UW PG's Rafael Stone and future ABA and NBA career pro player and executive, SF George Irvine. Though this run is against some pretty unimpressive teams, the way they are playing, does not make one think that they are preparing to be exposed.
Starters: PG Justin Dentmon SG Brandon Roy SF Bobby Jones PF Jamaal Williams C Jon Brockman
Stats: Scoring: Williams 16, Roy 14, Jones 12, Brockman 11, Appleby 11, Dentmon 8, Gasser 8, Wallace 6, Smith 2, Burmeister 2
Rebounding: Jones 9, Brockman 8, Dentmon 5, Roy 3, Gasser 3, Appleby 2, Wallace 2, Smith 1, Burmeister 1, Potter 1,
Assists: Roy 5, Dentmon 4, Jones 2, Brockman 2, Appleby 2, Wallace 2, Gasser 2, Smith 1, Burmeister 1,
Steals: Jones 2, Roy 2, Dentmon 2, Williams 1, Brockman 1, Appleby 1, Wallace 1,
Blocks: Wallace 3, Jones 2, Brockman 1, Burmeister 1,
Turnovers: Appleby 5, Dentmon 3, Brockman 2, Williams 2, Wallace 2, Burmeister 2, Jones 1, Roy 1, Potter 1,