Guest Post: Live from the Cal State Northridge Game

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THIS IS A GUEST POST by Sam Christensen aka @Sarkisianity – Since the game wasn’t on TV, Sam decided to write up a post as he was able to attend the game. Here are his thoughts on what he saw with his own eyes. 

The Dawgs took to the floor Thursday night, a mere four days after they were embarrassed by Nate Wolters and South Dakota State Jackrabbits. As the game wasn’t televised, I decided to make my way down to Hec Ed and watch the game in person.

In the final tune-up before Pac-12 play begins on December 29th against Oregon State, the Dawgs were in desperate need of a win and some signs of progress. While they were able to physically dominate an inferior Cal-State Northridge Matador team and walk away with a win, some significant questions remain about the potential of this squad.

The team is in dire need of a leader in the mold of Isaiah Thomas, Quincy Pondexter, Jon Brockman, or Brandon Roy. When the Dawgs struggle offensively you see their confidence deflate and their intensity at both ends of the floor plummets. When this has happened in years past the team’s emotional leader has strapped the team to his back and pushed them collectively through that adversity. Nobody on this year’s squad seems capable of doing that, at least at this point in the season, and it’s seriously troubling.

Against CSUN any struggles didn’t matter because UW simply had the more athletically talented players. Against Pac-12 competition, they will absolutely matter. Another symptom of the leadership void that I first noticed tonight was a lack of team chemistry. Team chemistry has been a hallmark of past Romar squads, and it took me watching a live game to notice this squad is lacking in that department. Players don’t seem interested in working for each other, whether that means setting a good screen or making a backdoor cut, the motivation to work for one another is missing. I believe this stems from the absence of a vocal court general.

Gaddy has seemingly attempted to take on that role, but so far has had lackluster results. A natural choice would be the team’s fifth year senior, but that doesn’t seem to be a part of Gant’s personality. Whatever the reason, this team will continue to struggle until that leader steps forward. Keeping the team issues in mind, I made a few observations from my seat in the rafters of Alaska Airlines Arena about how each Husky performed against Northridge.

Starters:

Abdul Gaddy:

  • Looked better than in previous games, but that may have been a symptom of playing against inferior competition. Gaddy is still a highly skilled player, but I fear that his knee injury may have cost him a step. His lateral movement seems to have slowed, which has been exploited by point guards from Nevada, Duke, and SDSU. Against CSUN, he wasn’t challenged defensively, showed a supreme command of the game, and was vocal with his teammates.
  • He was also open for five three pointers and showed no hesitation in taking them. Unfortunately, he only made one of those five. At the beginning of last year, Gaddy impressed me with his ability to penetrate and either get points or collapse the defense and kick to the open shooter. I haven’t seen nearly enough of that same penetration this year. With shooters like Wilcox and Ross on the floor, our ball handlers need to penetrate, draw their defender and kick to them. When it has happened this year, that open man is too often Gant or Simmons and not one our deadly 3 point shooters.

Tony Wroten:

  • Looked like a man amongst boys. Wroten is athletically superior to everyone on the court (aside from Terrence Ross). His individual command of the game of basketball is superb. However, when Wroten has the ball, his teammates appear to not know what to do. More often than not, they stand around in anticipation of a no look pass that will hit them in the chest. Wroten is clearly the leader on the court, but his locker room leadership has yet to be seen. Not that he should be expected to take on such responsibilities as a freshman, but it’s clear that other players are already looking to Wroten for inspiration. Here’s hoping he can step into that void.

CJ Wilcox:

  • Wilcox was draped by multiple defenders almost all night. He still managed to shoot 50% from three. However, that was the limit of his offensive involvement. Northridge’s game plan clearly emphasized shutting CJ down and to a large extent it worked as they limited him to 9 points. Coming into this season, there were rumors that Wilcox had developed a more comprehensive game. We’ve seen glimpses of it this season, but he needs to show some consistency if this team is destined for success in conference play.

Terrence Ross:

  • Ross managed to contribute with his sheer athleticism, but he also disappeared for minutes at a time.  There were moments where it was clear that the team was trying to get him involved, but it was telegraphed and forced, which allowed CSUN to defend it relatively easily.  At times, Ross struggled to take his man one-on-one and create a good shot.  As a result, he ended up taking a number of difficult, low percentage shots.  Last year, he benefited from sharing the floor with Isaiah Thomas who was able to collapse defenses and provide him with open looks.  So far this year, those opportunities have been much less frequent and he has suffered. If he’s going to turn into the consistent, high-level scorer that we anticipated, Ross is going to need help from his teammates.  And that help needs to come in the form of something other than a telegraphed lob into the high post.

Darnell Gant:

  • Gant started and played as he has for the last 4+ seasons. As a 5th year senior, we should have a thorough understanding of what Gant brings to the table. He has been, is, and will always be a role player who best serves the team when he provides a spark off the bench. Gant was efficient offensively (2-2 from the field), but was consistently beat on defense and ended up in foul trouble relatively early in the game. He ended with 4 fouls in 15 minutes of play, but did manage to bring down 8 rebounds in that short amount of time. My hope is that Gant returns to his role as a veteran bench player as that will help him contribute to this team.

Substitutes

Desmond Simmons:

  • The motor was firing on all cylinders against CSUN. At least half a dozen times, Simmons outworked two or three CSUN players for a rebound. I am thoroughly impressed by the effort Simmons puts forth every time he steps on the floor. In addition to drawing applause from the crowd for his rebounding, Simmons was an efficient team high-scorer with 13 points (5-9 from the field). He can definitely hit the mid-range jumper as well as the 3 point shot, but I believe his greatest contribution to this team will come on second chance points. Several times against CSUN, Simmons tore down a rebound and went right to the basket with it. While his offensive skills around the basket could use some improvement, there is no doubt that the energy and the effort are there.

Hikeem Stewart:

  • Hikeem saw the most minutes since the 88-65 Houston Baptist drubbing earlier this season. Those minutes were well used. He showed an on-ball defense unlike any of his teammates. The intensity with which he hounded CSUN ball handlers was a sight for sore eyes. Late in the game, the Huskies had a lineup of Stewart, Breunig, Kemp, Wegner, and Sherrer on the floor. As the sole ball handler and floor general, Hikeem proved himself nicely. If he can continue to refine and improve his defensive skillset, we may have found UW’s next lockdown defender and Hikeem may have carved out a niche on this team.

Aziz N’Diaye:

  • Aziz came back from his knee injury and played 16 minutes in a reserve role. Even with limited minutes his presence on the floor was felt. The Huskies are simply a different team with their enforcer manning the paint. CSUN guards showed a hesitancy to drive when they looked up and saw seven feet of Senegalese fury standing between them and the basket. One has to wonder if Nate Wolters would have rethought a few of those drives into the paint if he had to account for Aziz. On the other end of the floor, the offensive game opens up significantly with N’Diaye out there. He even put the ball on the floor a couple times and showed off his new jump hook. He dominated the CSUN frontline, putting up a line of 11 points (67% shooting), 7 rebounds, 2 blocks, and 2 fouls in 16 minutes.

Martin Breunig:

  • Breunig plays like a freshman, there’s no getting around that. His understanding for the college game is most definitely a work in progress. However, there’s also no denying the intensity with which he plays the game. Aside from Aziz, he’s the only member of the team capable of setting a good screen. Against CSUN, he showed that ability with a crunching screen that left a CSUN guard on the floor in a heap. Offensively he is still very raw (he was blocked a few times by CSUN defenders), but again he shows a tenacity and aggressiveness in attacking the hoop. If Romar and his assistants can coach him up, Breunig could turn into a good contributor. He certainly showed glimpses of his potential against the Matadors.

Shawn Kemp Jr:

  • For whatever reason, Kemp seemed to be in Romar’s dog house against SDSU when he logged only 2 minutes. That may have changed as Kemp came back and played 8 against CSUN. In those 8 minutes he showed a lot of potential both defensively (led the team with 3 blocks) and offensively when he ran the floor with Tony Wroten and threw down a left-handed jam off of Wroten’s behind the back pass. It was quite possibly the play the night, and brought the house down. Continued performances like this will hopefully lead to increased playing time for Kemp and accelerate his learning curve.

Brenden Sherrer/Alex Wegner:

  • Sherrer and the heir to his Victory Cigar throne ran the floor together in the waning minutes of the game. Sherrer is still Sherrer and Wegner seems to be a much slimmer, but more technically skilled version of him. While it’s unlikely Wegner will ever be a significant contributor to this team, he is definitely an unknown commodity at this point in his Husky career.