Washington doesn't like the 'soft' label

SAN JOSE, Calif. -- Talk inside the Washington locker room after Thursday's upset of Marquette turned to the perception that the Huskies simply aren't all that tough.

The idea that Washington, known out West for playing an in-your-face style of defense at home, somehow is considered more of a finesse team in other parts of the nation is something that has gotten back to the Huskies.

"They talk about how we shouldn't be in this tournament and we're soft," guard Venoy Overton said of the people he called "doubters."

And just in case his Dancin' Dawgs didn't realize this, coach Lorenzo Romar made sure to drill that into their heads for motivational purposes before the NCAA tournament.

"As a coaching staff we can get on our players and talk about 'em, but we don't want anyone else to talk about 'em," Washington coach Lorenzo Romar said. "I think our team is a physical team. I think our team goes out and plays a tough brand of basketball.

"We talked about those things. It wasn't like the tough guys [from Marquette] were going to come in and play against the little soft guys. We just wanted to make sure that we knew that was our identity."

The "soft" label is likely a byproduct of being part of a Pac-10 conference that received only two NCAA tournament bids and saw Arizona State and Oregon State lose in the first rounds of the NIT and CBI.

Even the media that covers the conference apparently thinks that while there might be some Tarzans in the conference, they aren't any better than Jayne.

In a recent Oakland Tribune survey of Pac-10 writers, one with tongue planted firmly in cheek predicted Stanford women's basketball star Jayne Appel as the conference's best NBA player in five years. Another wrote down "no one."

And while Washington has the conference's highest-scoring offense, its defense ranks seventh.

But Washington is so good about imposing its will on opponents that numerous Pac-10 coaches have indicated that their chances of taking out the Huskies at Bank of America Arena depend on how tightly the referees call the game.

Letting the Huskies hound the ball doesn't exactly make for a fun evening for opponents, and it was defensive stop after defensive stop that keyed their rally from 15 down against Marquette.

Against New Mexico on Saturday in the second round of the tournament, Overton noted he'd have to pester ball-handlers around the perimeter and help take away the 3-pointer and make the Lobos try to drive the ball. Waiting in the paint would be forward Matthew Bryan-Amaning, the team's tallest player at 6-foot-9.

Told of Overton's comments, New Mexico forward Roman Martinez remained confident in his team.

"We have a lot of guys that can attack the rim, and that's what we've done all year," he said. "I think we're going to be fine with that."

Reputations aren't easy to break, and either way, Washington knows it's representing the Pac-10 in this tournament.

"Whether we like it or not, I think that's what it is," Romar said.