by: Griffin Bennett
They say things come in threes. While Husky Nation took over Southern California for two basketball match-ups and football bowl game, no one thought that Romar and Sarkisian could pull of a three-for-three. Sports disappointment has been a major part of all our lives these last 10 years, and it seems rather apropos that things seem to be turning the corner right on New Year’s Eve.
With one more game to go today, Romar needed his Dawgs to beat UCLA in Pauley Pavilion which is something that he had only accomplished once during his coaching tenure. The team remembered last year’s heart breaking loss after a buzzer beating three, and there was never a lack of energy or motivation. While the refs tried their hardest to give the game to the Bruins with a 36 to 15 free-throw attempt advantage, the Huskies relentless defense and post presence led them to their best road victory of the year since….. Wednesday.
- MBA – If there was an internet equivalent of the slow clap then I would start one for him right now. He had his first back-to-back good games against top-tier post talent since late last year. If he has truly found his groove for good, then this team can look completely different. His line tonight was very impressive as his 21 points and 10 rebounds came against three of the best post players in Smith, Honeycutt, and Nelson. He also shot 5 for 6 from the free-throw line that ended up being key in extending a second half run.
- Isaiah Thomas – While he can still create his shot in the lane when he wants, he has realized that the team has a better chance to win if he plays a more distributing role. While 17 points isn’t exactly taking a step back in scoring, you can see that he is being more selective with his shots and loves running the pick and roll with MBA in crunch time. He added 9 assists, 3 rebounds and 2 steals to his night’s total. More importantly, it seems like IT is taking away some of the point guard duties from Abdul Gaddy. Especially down the stretch of the game. I’m not sure if this is a designed facet, or if it has just naturally been happening, but IT has been handling the ball and running the offense while he shares the court with Gaddy.
- Rebounding – UCLA can be a beast on the boards at times with their wide bodies and aggressive post players. Still, the Huskies won the rebounding battle 33-30. While it may not be a large margin, winning a rebounding battle against a team like that is nothing to overlook. MBA looks to have a new found aggressiveness and Gant seems to be trying to get in the post more on offense. Aziz is still Aziz. He struggles to stay on the court and it looks like he’s always a half-second slow to ball.
- Assist-to-Turnover Ratio – This Husky team continues to protect the ball superbly well (minus that USC game that no one saw) while also passing the ball at a staggering rate. The 17 dimes and 9 turnovers continues one of the best passing seasons in recent memory.
- Justin Holiday – I just can’t not put him in this category. He played 35 minutes while not being 100% healthy and just makes plays that don’t make it onto a stat sheet. 9 points, 8 rebounds, 3 assists, 1 steal, 1 block, only 1 turnover, and 1 insanely awesome technical as he drained a three in front of the Bruin bench with his brother sitting behind it. Even his newly found swagger is fun to watch.
- Aziz N’Diaye – As I mentioned earlier, he just got owned by Reeves and Smith down low and made some bad decisions on fouls that continue to limit his minutes. Luckily, MBA was there to pick up his slack, but we need Aziz to gain some sort of consistency by the halfway mark of the Pac-10 season. Right now, it seems like a coin flip deciding if Aziz is going to impact the game positively or not. I’m not worried yet, though, as it hasn’t cost us a game.
- Suggs and Wilcox – It’s not really negative, production wise, but they only played a combined 10 minutes Friday night. It’s not even that Romar is starting to favor Ross more, as he only played 9 minutes as well. Is Romar shortening his bench by giving his starters more minutes? Could be. It’s just something to keep an eye on.
- Three Point Shooting – With Suggs, Ross, and Wilcox not playing many minutes, the perimeter shooting suffered. The Huskies can be better than 4 for 15, which they shot on Friday, but Gant’s dagger trey-bomb to ice the game is enough to forget about it for a night.
I think one of the major stories is Romar’s willing (and ability) to change his philosophies to help this team win. The newly implemented zone defense looks a little weird, but against teams that can’t shoot, it’s the perfect strategy and Romar realizes this. Aziz’ height and MBA’s block ability allow the lane to be clogged while our guard’s height and speed close down the passing lanes. It is just awesome and impressive to see it working. What’s more impressive is that Romar is still willing to learn and constantly evolve his coaching strategy even after all of his recent success. It’s the sign of a great coach. While I think that Romar is amazing, I was still surprised to see him pull Terrence Ross after one bad pass early and his huge game on Wednesday. He was even playing well early against UCLA but then he was out, and barely played again. Is he trying to teach the young gunner a lesson? Is he making an example out of him? Did he just not need him again? Who knows, but Ross still had the “hot hand” and he wasn’t in the game. Maybe there’s a method to Romar’s bench madness, but Ross has a chance (albeit small) to win Pac-10 Freshman of the Year as his skills are starting to boil over.
Taking a step back to look at what just happened, the Huskies may have just swept their hardest road series of the year. This leaves only, arguably, two tough road games left at Arizona and at Washington State. With our road woes apparently cured, the Huskies are now firmly awaiting the match-up with Arizona to determine just how good this team actually has become. Let’s hope they don’t trip up before then.