Originally Published: October 29, 2010

Huskies Find The Formula That Works

By Diamond Leung

LOS ANGELES -- It wasn't too long ago when Washington coach Lorenzo Romar pulled out a pair of scissors during halftime, and it didn't immediately sink in with star player Jon Brockman that they would soon be used for cutting down the nets.

These days, that ceremony is expected out of the Huskies. They captured their first outright Pac-10 regular-season title in 2009, followed that up by winning the Pac-10 tournament last season, and now for the first time have been picked by the media to win the conference.

If Romar seemed reluctant at media day to bask in preseason praise, even for a team returning four starters off a Sweet 16 squad, consider that Top Dawg status in the Pac-10 remains relatively new territory for Washington.

"It's flattering," Romar said Thursday. "I wish they'd give us the conference championship because of the voting. I don't know if we're ready to win the Pac-10 right now. We have a lot of work to do."

Last season, the Huskies advanced to the Sweet 16 for the third time in the past six years under Romar, but only after doing some midseason soul-searching.

The team began 0-7 away from home while players struggled to settle into their roles without Brockman's presence. The challenge this season will be for the Huskies to avoid similar early-season letdowns while trying to replace another NBA draft pick in Quincy Pondexter.

Guard Isaiah Thomas, who can score in bunches and has worked on improving his shooting percentage, points to last season's maturation process being the key.

We just got to put our egos aside and not worry about who's scoring the most points and getting the most rebounds and just do whatever it takes to win ballgames.

-- UW's Isaiah Thomas

"We just got to put our egos aside and not worry about who's scoring the most points and getting the most rebounds and just do whatever it takes to win ballgames," Thomas said. "It came down to at the end of last year, we said to each other, 'We don't care who gets the spotlight, who gets to shine.'

"Once we get that attitude and get that feel for the game, we can be real good."

Romar credited forwards Justin Holiday and Matthew Bryan-Amaning for their inspired play down the stretch and also noted how Thomas showed leadership in being unselfish with the ball and demanding at times to defend the opposing team's main scorer.

"I think it just carried over to the rest of our team," Romar said. "Guys started to buy into the team concept.

"Because we experienced success doing that, I don't think guys are going to look back and try to do it another way. Guys understood, 'OK, so this is the formula that works. Let's make sure we stick with it.'"

So while Washington hopes Thomas will get his points, point guard Abdul Gaddy will gain some confidence and newcomers Aziz N'Diaye and Terrence Ross will make major impacts, expect individual goals to be set aside.

Consider it a mutual understanding.

Defending Champion California Starts Over

By Diamond Leung
LOS ANGELES -- After coaching Cal to its first regular-season conference championship in 50 years, Mike Montgomery will defend the title with a team that bears little resemblance to the one that celebrated with a shower of confetti.

Just how inexperienced are the Bears? They have all of four scholarship players on the roster who logged minutes last season.

[+] Enlarge
Jason O. Watson/US PresswireJorge Gutierrez is Cal's leading returning scorer … at 5.5 ppg.

"It's an interesting deal," Montgomery said. "I'm really glad we had the experience of winning the championship. It's probably the youngest and least experienced team I've ever had in coaching."

Montgomery is impressed with the leadership of guard Jorge Gutierrez, high on the potential of his freshmen and optimistic about big men Harper Kamp and Markhuri Sanders-Frison coming back from injuries.

But the hits keep on coming to a roster that already lost five seniors, including Pac-10 player of the year Jerome Randle. D.J. Seeley transferred, Omondi Amoke was dismissed and the latest departure came just Wednesday, when it was announced that center Max Zhang had decided to sign a pro contract in his native China.

"Not having a 7-foot-3 kid with three years of experience under his belt just makes it more difficult for us," Montgomery said.

It remains to be seen how quickly Montgomery's freshmen will grow, as he expects to play two or three of them on the floor together at any given time, with guards Allen Crabbe and Gary Franklin providing the team with scoring options.

"We've got a lot of work to do in terms of what it takes," Montgomery said. "Their attitudes are great. I've got be patient with young people and allow them to make mistakes and learn and not get on them too long. Give them a little love, which is not one of my strong suits.

"It's a new experience. It's a terrific group of young players, really fun to work with, have a great work ethic. We're certainly going to have some growing pains. Overall, we just have to improve."

Veteran Haynes Guides Young Oregon State

By Diamond Leung

LOS ANGELES -- Oregon State made history in 2008, and unfortunately for Calvin Haynes, he was there to experience it.

As a freshman, Haynes was a member of the Beavers when they went 0-18 in conference play, becoming the first Pac-10 team to ever pull off such a dubious feat.

[+] Enlarge
Kirby Lee/Image of Sport/US PresswireO'Neill and Vucevic head into the season knowing their team will be eligible to make some March noise.

Now a senior, Haynes knows that the program under coach Craig Robinson is on the verge of taking the next step because the talent level around him has noticeably improved.

"Dramatically," Haynes said. "Just having the wings and bigs and guards we have says enough. We have guards that can stretch the floor. We have forwards that can make plays. I want to say the talent level is pretty high. It's the best I've seen it since I've been at Oregon State."

Expectations are starting to take shape for a team that features young talent in bouncy guard Jared Cunningham and burly big man Joe Burton. And the best player from that sophomore class hasn't even made his debut. Guard Roberto Nelson redshirted last season due to academics and is expected to play this season, though possibly not until December.

This year's freshman class is highly regarded as well. Robinson went back to his hometown to recruit point guard Ahmad Starks out of Chicago and also added forwards Devon Collier and Eric Moreland.

"What we have now is a true point guard," Robinson said. "Ahmad is more of a point guard that can score.

"We're going to be a very young team, but we're going to be a much better team than we've been in the past. We are really looking forward to seeing what this new group is able to do."

A steadying influence, according to Robinson, has been Haynes, who led the team with 12.5 points per game last season.

"He's taken on a huge leadership level," Robinson said. "I've always teased Calvin about his defense and the lack thereof, but he's really embraced playing defense and getting other guys into position."

Hey Look, Something To Play For At USC

By Diamond Leung

LOS ANGELES -- USC forward Nikola Vucevic said he thinks his team has what it takes to make it to the NCAA tournament.

Last season, the Trojans were denied the right to even hope for such a thing, even after starting their season 10-4. In January, the school self-imposed sanctions that included a postseason ban due to NCAA violations committed by a player no longer on the team and under a coaching regime no longer in place.

The good news for Vucevic wouldn't come until the offseason when coach Kevin O'Neill called to say the NCAA would levy no additional sanctions that would affect the team's postseason hopes.

"I was really happy about it because now we have a chance to play for something," Vucevic said. "Last year they suspended us, and we played for really nothing."

The current Trojans team appears to be one that will actually get better with time.

Point guard transfer Jio Fontan is expected to become eligible in December, and once he's able to play, one of the conference's top frontcourts with the emerging Vucevic and senior stalwart Alex Stepheson should benefit greatly.

Thus far, the defensive-minded O'Neill has been pleased with the team he's seen in practice.

"The group on the court has been fabulous," O'Neill said. "We are going to play hard. We are going to defend. We are going to rebound."

O'Neill used the word "traumatic" in describing his emotions that memorable Sunday morning when the responsibility fell upon him to inform the team that its NCAA tournament hopes had ended right then and there.

He also recalled the empty feeling on the last day of the regular season, with his demoralized team losing a fifth straight game and flying back to Los Angeles ineligible for the Pac-10 tournament.

"It's nice to know we don't have those feelings this year," O'Neill said. "We have an opportunity. I applaud the job the guys did last year. They were awesome. Hopefully that sets the tone for what we're going to do this year."


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