Win over Stanford marks Washington as sleeper

January, 9, 2009

Jon Brockman went to the huddle Thursday, pointed at his head with both index fingers in an aggressive manner and implored his Washington teammates to make sure they weren't defeated.

Stanford had just scored on an Anthony Goods jumper with 14.4 seconds left to give the Cardinal an 83-82 lead.

"He usually does that,'' Washington coach Lorenzo Romar said of his senior forward Friday morning. "He's the clear leader on our team. He's a great example.''

Romar called the timeout to regroup, and it ultimately gave Brockman the chance to ensure his teammates were focused.

"I just told them the game was basically in our hands,'' Brockman said. "Yeah, they hit a big shot, but we could have hung our head. We still had 10 seconds left, we had the ball, we could control the outcome of the game. We just had to execute.''

They did. Or should I say, Brockman did.

He played the angle off Matthew Bryan-Amaning's missed two-point shot for a putback with four seconds remaining to give Washington the lead by one, and ultimately the win.

"The ball came off right to me, but I read it a little bit and saw Matthew shooting from the right side and figured he was trying to bank it and it could miss long,'' Brockman said. "I wedged myself in there to the far side of the hoop and got a lucky read on it.''

Brockman finished with 19 points and 18 rebounds, including 12 on the offensive end, none bigger than the last one.

The win for Washington was, shall we say, HUGE. Washington is looking like the team that was projected in the preseason as a possible sleeper challenger to UCLA and Arizona State for the Pac-10 title.

The win over Stanford, coming on the heels of a win at Washington State and in advance of a showdown with 3-0 Cal on Saturday, was yet another example that the Huskies are ready for prime time. The game, by the way, might have been one of the most entertaining this season. (The atmosphere for a big Pac-10 game at Bank of America Arena rarely disappoints.)

"This really shows the versatility of our team,'' Brockman said. "This was two different games, with the Wazzu game being slow-down-and-grind-it-out, and then this one was an up-and-down, grind-it-out game. Now we've got a game against a great Cal team and possibly the No. 1 team in our league.''

Brockman was bothered by a sprained right ankle earlier in the season and didn't play in a one-point win over Portland State on Dec. 14. But he said he's fine now, and Thursday night's performance was evidence.

But the difference in the Huskies is clear: This team is ready for the big stage. Part of the reason is the play of freshman point guard Isaiah Thomas. He is averaging 15.1 points and 3.1 assists per game and, for the most part, is reducing his turnovers. Thomas scored 18 points against Stanford, dished out two assists and had two turnovers.

Earlier in the season, Romar said Thomas thought he could just waltz into the lane as much as possible or whenever possible. Now, he said, Thomas understands how to pick his spots and use "different gears.'' Thomas has speed, but he doesn't just run wild to the hoop.

The Huskies were humbled in their first game of the season, losing by six at Portland.

"That opening loss was a huge eye-opener for the young guys that no college basketball game is a guarantee,'' Brockman said. "You've got to bring it every night.''

The Huskies attempted to change perception of them in the CBE Classic in November in Kansas City but were humbled by Kansas 73-54 in the first game before nearly clipping Florida in the consolation. They lost 86-84.

What has changed for the Huskies? Well, it's not just that they haven't left the state, winning nine in a row, including the road win in Pullman. (During the streak, Washington also blitzed Oklahoma State 83-65 in the Pac-10-Big 12 Hardwood Series.)

"We've made a commitment to sharing the basketball,'' Romar said. "Now we're more of what we had hoped [at the beginning of the season]. We have rarely gone out on the floor and not played with great intensity since the Kansas game. We're definitely playing much better than the first few games.''

If the Huskies beat Cal on Saturday, they will erase the mistakes of the past two seasons, when they started 0-3 in the Pac-10.

Washington hasn't been to the NCAA tournament since Brockman's freshman season in 2006, when it lost to UConn in the Sweet 16.

A smooth start for the Huskies is critical, considering the Pac-10 gave Washington a four-game road trip from Jan. 29 to Feb. 8 to Arizona, Arizona State, Cal and Stanford.

"It kills you to watch [the NCAAs] from your couch,'' Brockman said. "We had to make a statement to start the league off right. The last two years, we spent the league [schedule] climbing up hill to get to the tournament.''

And it didn't work. But Washington might be on its way now.

Andy Katz | email

ESPN Senior Writer



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