Big-time college basketball is often such blur that spectators must wonder how players even maintain a visual sense of the game while they're on the floor. Brandon Roy says maybe they don't. Roy, of course, is the University of Washington version of the perfect basketball player. Speaking during the relative calm after the Huskies had improbably erased an 11-point deficit and defeated Illinois 67-64 to earn a second-straight trip to the NCAA tournament's "Sweet 16" round later this week, Roy cited the key to his team's success: Coach Lorenzo Romar.
Players "don't always really see the game," Roy told reporters. But the coach saw with clarity what was necessary, calling time out with 12:43 remaining and the Dawgs down by 11 to a suddenly swaggering Illini five that had overcome an imposing Husky first-half lead. Romar reminded his guys that the Huskies hadn't yet lost. The coach made a key move on defense, in effect asking senior big man Mike Jensen to tether himself to Illinois point threat James Augustine. The latter had amassed 19 points but, with Jensen suddenly becoming his conjoined twin, Augustine's scoring game was over.
As always, Washington's heroes of Saturday, March 18, in San Diego included Pac-10 Conference Player of the Year Roy, whose upcoming NBA draft status seems to improve every time a national commentator gushes about him. (Dick Enberg of CBS should be charging agent's fees after deifying Roy during UW's 75-61 first-round win against Utah State on Thursday, March 16.) Also invaluable were preposition guys Jensen and point guard Justin Dentmon. Jensen is the "out" player, given that he'll soon face what one imagines will be a final competitive game for the non-pro prospect. Dentmon, on a career ascent, is the "up" guy. The Illinois high-school product has made the usual freshman mind-freeze mistakes this season, but against the Illini he was upperclassman-cool. His three-pointer and follow-up free throw with 4:12 left brought the fifth-seeded Huskies to within a bucket and made believers of teammates who easily could have packed it in after fourth-seeded Illinois built a big lead.
Most surprising about the 26-6 Huskies is that this was supposed to just be a transition year. Gone were the hurry-up Huskies led by Nate Robinson, now with the New York Knicks. To come is the Spencer Hawes era, with the Seattle Prep behemoth (good enough to be a high NBA draft pick right now if he weren't following his dad and uncle to Hec Edmundson Pavilion) expected to give UW the bulk in the middle the team has needed.
Or maybe it isn't needed this season. Every advance through the NCAA basketball tourney means a nearly exponential new challenge. Many who thought Washington couldn't play with Illinois will be certain the Huskies can't match up against the foe in D.C. Friday, March 24 — top-seeded Connecticut.
But there's that guy on the sidelines who sees things. Even with the restrictions of a height-challenged eight-man rotation, he saw a much tougher, more resilient Husky club than the one that lost three straight league games midseason. Maybe now Lorenzo Romar also sees what few others can visualize: a way to eyeball two more and move on to the Final Four.