Washington Huskies Headed For N.I.T. Semi-Finals

Great game last night.  One thing you can’t say about the NCAA Tournament:  you rarely ever get a real live home game for your team.

You do realize you're cheering for losers, don't you?

There are a couple of arguments at play.  #1 – Would I rather the Huskies be in the NCAA Tournament?  Well, yeah, of course!  I would rather the Huskies win the whole fucking thing and make my dreams come true!  But, that’s neither here nor there, because this team couldn’t even beat Oregon State on a neutral floor.

Which leads us to Argument #2 – Am I excited about the opportunity to win the N.I.T.?

Look, I just think it’s awesome that the Huskies are still playing, in a single-elimination tournament, against teams that are roughly as good as we are (or, at least, can be).  I got to go to two of these games, because the Huskies are a #1 seed, and I would’ve been to a third except my birthday fell awfully close to last Friday’s game and I was out of town.  I’ve already been to more N.I.T. games than I have regular season games this season!  That should say SOMETHING about my excitement level.

Last Tuesday was fun because it was something different, because there was practically nobody in attendance, and because I was able to get really fucking awesome seats for the price of a song.  Yesterday was just as fun (in spite of having significantly worse seats) because of the electric atmosphere and, more importantly, the opponent.

Who DOESN’T love beating the shit out of Oregon?  Yeah, a 4-point win might not be “beating the shit” out of anyone, but fuck it.  And fuck Oregon!  The Oregon Ducks can eat my ass burgers!

And did I mention that yesterday’s was one whale of a game?  Because it was!  I don’t think either team had more than a 10-point lead.  The Dawgs would go on a roll, the Ducks would bounce back.  The Ducks would go on a roll, the Dawgs ditto.  We make some stops and get the crowd into it, they hit a dagger three-pointer or have their big man sink a crazy hook shot in traffic.

Terrence Ross led the way, making it that much more difficult to see him go this offseason.  He had 24 points on 50% shooting from the field.  Tony Wroten chipped in 22, with 10 coming at the line (side note:  the Oregon Duck fan I happened to be sitting next to kept muttering insults under his breath whenever Wroten did something bad; funny, didn’t hear much out of the guy when Wroten was leading the parade to the free throw line in the second half).  C.J. Wilcox was as cold as cold can be in the first half (3 points, with terrible shooting), but he made up for it in the second half to finish with 17 points (including his final 6 at the line at the very end of the game when things were still in doubt).

The players of the game on the defensive end were probably a combination of Wilcox and Darnell Gant.  The Ducks’ big men were pretty strong in the paint (especially when N’Diaye was out with foul trouble), but it was E.J. Singler who was single-handedly destroying us in the first half.  He had either 16 or 17 points at halftime, but after that, we shut him down with a combination of Wilcox and Gant (I know for a fact he never scored when Gant was blanketing him) to the tune of 2 or 3 points in the second period.  That was the ballgame right there; if we didn’t figure out a way to slow down Singler, we would’ve lost that game, no question about it.

Interesting rotation last night, as well.  A whole lot of 4-guard lineup (with Gaddy, Wilcox, Wroten & Ross) with either Gant or Seferian-Jenkins (who played 15 minutes in N’Diaye’s absence).  No Shawn Kemp Jr. and only a token 5 minutes out of Desmond Simmons; I guess Romar really wanted that physicality that only ASJ can bring (when N’Diaye isn’t around, that is).  Of course, against the Ducks (who aren’t a particularly tall group), that’s acceptable, and in the end is what it took to beat them.

So, the Huskies are in the Final Four.  How about that?  We play the winner of the Minnesota/Middle Tennessee game.  Can’t say as I’m exactly quaking in my boots over either of those teams (but we’ve lost to worse this year).  The Final looks a bit more advanced, as it’ll be either UMass, Stanford, or Nevada.

Finally, can I just say how proud I am of the fans who filled Hec-Ed last night?  They booed those Oregon Ducks cheerleaders something FIERCE whenever they got on the court (don’t ask me why they were involved in the festivities when it was a Husky home game; I blame the National Invitation Tournament).

In a sometimes-sloppy ballgame, the Huskies did just a little bit more.

This was a total team effort; how often could we REALLY say that about the Huskies this year (except for some unfortunate losses)?  Four guys in double-figures, nobody scored more than 14 points.  Normally, when Thomas has more assists than points, you’re looking at a bad night.  Indeed, he didn’t shoot the ball well (2 of 11), but when his assist total is 12, you know he’s getting the rest of the guys involved.  I would take a double-double like that from him every game.

Where everything came together for the Dawgs was on the defensive end.  We had 5 steals, 4 blocks, and held them to 32% shooting (and a measly 4 of 24 from behind the arc).  We held their hottest player – E.J. Singler – to 3 of 9 shooting for only 10 points after he had 20+ in the first two games of the tournament.  Our zone came up big, rendering their big man to a fairly impotent 18 points (7 of which came at the free throw line).

We didn’t get a whole lot out of our own senior big man; MBA could only muster 6 points and 7 rebounds.  But, he was constantly getting double-teamed, and fortunately our swingmen picked up the slack admirably.  With Gant’s 10 rebounds, we out-boarded them 39 to 31.

Everything has gone our way so far this tournament.  You might say we lucked into this championship game thanks to Oregon’s upset of UCLA; you knew their hot shooting wouldn’t continue for a third straight night.  But, who’s to say we couldn’t have had a similar performance against the Bruins?

All I know is I’m grateful for the chance this afternoon.  This is EXACTLY the matchup I’ve been wishing for since we lost by a point in that frustrating game down in Tucson:  a neutral floor matchup against a team who got ALL the calls from the refs when they were at home.  It’s pretty lucky that we get to test my theory in a few short hours:  taking out the overwhelming fan majority, WE are the better of the two teams.

I’ve never wanted a win so bad in my life.  Yes, I understand we’re officially a lock for the NCAA Tournament, but you know what?  We’re here, we’re in this game, might as well go out there and win it.  I want to be able to hold up my middle finger to the rest of the Pac-10 with pride!

WHOSE HOUSE???

Husky Fans Are Officially In Panic Mode

Look, it’s already old news at this point; the game was on Saturday at 1!  Did they shoot too many 3’s?  Of course they shot too many 3’s.  Did they play piss-poor defense?  Of COURSE they played piss-poor defense!  I’ve never seen E.J. Singler so open in my life!  Did we lose MBA for long stretches of game – in a game, mind you, where he was dominating when we found him?  OF COURSE we lost MBA for long stretches of game!  He could’ve easily had over 30 points against the Ducks, but for whatever reason this team isn’t capable of feeding the inside hot hand when they have it.  Instead, MBA had a respectable 21 points on 10 for 16 shooting.

Whatever, we lost.  This is our third loss in a row, officially knocking us out of the Top 25 for good, and maybe putting our season in jeopardy.  I mean, let’s face it, we only have 15 wins now.  We play Seattle U, so I guess that’s 16.  We have to go to the Arizona schools for our last road trip, and they’re certainly no cakewalk (especially the way we’re playing right now).  This weekend, we have the Bay Area schools, and look at how we struggled against Stanford earlier in the season.  Then, there’s the Wazzu rematch, followed by the L.A. schools to close out conference play.

If this team looks like it has over the last three games in a 7-day period, I could see us going 2-5 against our remaining Pac-10 foes and missing the Tourney altogether.

That’s the most plausible Worst Case Scenario I can come up with.  The unrealistic Worst Case Scenario deals with losing a buzzer-beater in back-to-back games vs. Seattle U and WSU, followed by me taking a sniper rifle and clipping anyone wearing crimson & gray who walks out of Hec-Ed on February 27th.

Forgetting all that for a moment, because at this point I don’t have a good word to say about anybody on this team, I would like to talk about the 7-foot tall elephant in the room.

I hate centers who bring nothing to the table.  Essentially, they force you to play 4-on-5 basketball, and they NEVER do enough on the defensive end to make up for the fact that they’re essentially meaningless on offense.  Unless you’re Dikembe Mutombo and you block EVERYTHING in the paint, all the while averaging 10+ rebounds a game, then I’m sorry, but I have no use for a no-offense center.

Of course, I’m not blaming our current woes on Aziz N’Diaye.  I’m sure he’s a lovely human being and a stand-up teammate.  But, that doesn’t change the fact that he has no offensive game, he commits too many fouls, he’s probably the worst foul shooter I’ve ever seen, he can’t jump, and for a guy who’s generally the tallest man on the floor, he doesn’t get all that many rebounds.  Combine that with the fact that he’s only averaging 1.1 blocks per game (averaging about 17 minutes a game), when Blocking Shots is his only discernible skill … that’s a problem.

Does he bring other intangibles to the table?  MAYBE he frees up MBA to not have to guard the other team’s biggest guy.  But honestly, other than that, I don’t know what the point is of having a 7-foot center who can do nothing!  Not to be an ass, but the team OBVIOUSLY plays better when he’s not on the floor!

If we weren’t so damned injured – what with Gant now joining Wilcox in the realm of the freaky aches and pains – I’d say you cut N’Diaye’s minutes down to around 10 per game (maybe the first five minutes of each half and that’s it) and run Small Ball for the duration of the schedule.  Let’s really run and gun!  Let’s get Ross and Suggs out there together more often!  Let’s see what we can do when we have our best offensive players out on the court at the same time.

They’re going to play zone on us?  We’re going to drain more shots from beyond the arc than you’ve ever SEEN!  I’ll take the trade off:  reduce N’Diaye’s role and I won’t bitch about threes, even if the Huskies shoot 40 per game!  Let’s turn this shit around!  Come on Dawgs!