Dawgs hit full stride before Gonzaga showdown

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Loyola Marymount may have anticipated another close contest against Washington, something along the lines of last year's 100-93 decision in Los Angeles. They found themselves, instead, in the clenches of the Husky jaws as the Dawgs forced 22 turnovers while racing to a 65-31 halftime lead, the highest scoring first half in UW history. Like a pack of dawgs that hadn't been fed for Thanksgiving, the Huskies tore into LMU and didn't let up until the waning moments, providing their biggest statement of the season, 112-65.
Starting with a Ryan Appleby 3-pointer at 15:41 in the first half, Washington went on 25-5 run over the next seven minutes to shake the life out of the Lions. Six Huskies contributed to the scoring blitz, featuring two treys from Hans Gasser and six consecutive points from Brandon Roy to make the score 41-17. Smelling blood, the Dawgs stepped up the full-court pressure, causing the kind of chaos coaches dream of, forcing errant pass after interception. Sophomore Joel Smith scored on back-to-back steals to trigger a 20-10 run to end the half, punctuated by two more Appleby treys from the left and right baseline.
Blossoming into his role as the primary scoring threat off the bench, Appleby contributed a career-high 18 points on six 3-pointers, one shy of the UW record. As the LMU backcourt wilted under the pressure, the Husky guards shined like diamonds no longer in the rough. Freshmen Justin Dentmon solidified his credentials as the floor general with a season-high 9 assists, on top of 7 points and a steal. He was rewarded for his efforts with a team-high 30 minutes on a day when nine players saw 14 or more minutes of action. Smith made his presence felt in fewer minutes with 8 points, 4 assists, 3 steals, and two gravity-defying rejections.
"We're really pleased with Justin," said coach Lorenzo Romar. "In the first half, he did a good job of controlling the game on the offensive and the defensive end. I told him at halftime that he had taken two shots, yet he had had a bigger impact on the game than anybody because he had six assists and zero turnovers and he played good on-the-ball defense. Justin has really used these six games to really improve his game as a floor leader for us."
"By far that was our best defensive first half so far," said Dentmon, a perimeter stopper who's playing without hesitation now. "I think we're going to have more. I think we're going to pick up when we play Gonzaga because that's going to be a big game."
With their best start since 1990-91, the Huskies (6-0) are hitting full stride just in time for the showdown with the eighth-ranked Zags. After topping 100 for the second time this season, Washington is averaging 98.5 points per game, the school's highest total for the opening six contests. For the fifth time in six games, the Dawgs had at least five players score in double figures.
"I thought tonight may been our best effort of all six," said Romar. "I thought our guys did a nice job of defending, which is usually the catalyst if we're going to play well. Everyone contributed tonight. There were a lot of heroes in this game."
Jamaal Williams tallied his first double-double as a Husky with 17 points and 12 rebounds, a season-high for the squad just one game after the New Mexico transfer had zero rebounds versus Idaho. Bobby Jones, looking more and more comfortable as a ball handler this season, added 4 assists to his 15 points. Matched against a sizable front line, Jon Brockman had a quiet first half for the second consecutive game, before finishing with a workmanlike 11 points and 7 rebounds in 15 minutes limited by foul trouble. And Roy poured in 19 points with his usual grace, but left the greatest impression with two long-distance assists, from beyond the arc through heavy traffic.
While Loyola Marymount did a better job protecting the ball in the second half, the damaged was already done. "This is the first team that has played this type of pressure defense against us," said LMU coach Rodney Tention, in his first season at the helm after seven years as an Arizona assistant. "It is about passing the ball to your guy, and having your guy be able to get open, and coming to the ball. You can't make 20-foot passes against a good defensive team or good athletes, and that is what we did." Or tried to do, with less successful results than Roy.
"I want to make sure that Bobby gets going, you want to make sure that Jon gets going," said Roy of his sharing ways. "There's times that I want to let Justin bring it and that I say I'll fill the lanes. At a point, Coach was saying, 'Brandon, you know you're probably getting everyone involved too much and you're thinking a little more than you need to be.' So I think the last couple games I've tried to be a little more aggressive offensively."
The Huskies' got 43 points in bench scoring, indicative of a blowout. Yet Romar kept the play from getting too ragged with a rotation interspersed with veterans. The maintained focus registered in the form of 27 UW assists on 40 field goals. Zane Potter brought the biggest roar of the day from the crowd of 9,675 with a trey in the final minute, giving the Huskies' their biggest lead, 46 points, and the final margin.
If LMU didn't provide much preparation for Gonzaga in the form of a tight battle, they did give the Huskies a size challenge in the form of 6-foot-10 center Chris Ayer and Matthew Knight, a 6-8 Tasmanian widebody. The UW held the two starters to a combined 14 points and 11 rebounds. Even with the loss of 6-foot-11 Josh Heytvelt to a broken ankle, Gonzaga features a bulky 6-9 center in J.P. Batista, and tall forwards Adam Morrison (6-8) and Sean Mallon (6-9). Mamery Diallo, a 6-9 junior transfer, will likely be pressed into service following Heytvelt's injury at the Maui Invitational.
"So far [LMU] is probably the biggest that we've faced, they're pretty big and wide," said Jones. "We had to really focus on our post defense, and that's one thing we haven't had to work on this year. Every team we play brings a different aspect that we want to work on. When we played Air Force, it was the Princeton offense. We had to work on our back-doors and our rotation. And now this game it was the bigs. Other games, teams could shoot, so we had to worry about their guards, like Idaho. Playing Gonzaga, we've got to put all those different aspects together."
"They have good wings and good big guys, so everybody is going to have to be on their game," said co-captain Roy. "This is like a Pac-10 game. It's a challenge we need early, we're going to see how good we are."
The Bulldogs advanced to the finals of this year's Maui Invitational, perhaps the most talented field in the tourney's history, with a triple-overtime thriller over Michigan State as Morrison tossed in 43. Gonzaga fell in the championship game, 65-63, on a last-second shot by No. 3 Connecticut's Denham Brown.
"It's a team that we haven't had much success against, number one," Romar said. "And it's also a team that is one of the top 10 teams in the country. It's a tremendous challenge for us to play against a team that's doing that well, and has done that well, to see a little bit more where we are."
"We have great confidence going into the game," said Jones, the squad's other captain. "We think if we put the effort forward, it's going to be a good game and we think we can pull it out."
"We have a win streak at home," Roy said of the Huskies' 28th consecutive win, the longest streak in the nation. "They've got a win streak against us, so something's got to give, hopefully it's theirs'."
Gonzaga has a final tune-up Wednesday when they host Portland State, looking for their 26th consecutive home victory. The Huskies, who haven't lost at Hec Ed since Jan. 10, 2004, versus UCLA, have a week to prepare for the Dec. 4 in-state battle than now rivals the Apple Cup.
"I think the freshmen have gotten a lot of experience," Roy concluded. "Justin Dentmon's playing well. Jon Brockman's played real well. We feel like we're as good as we're going to get to play them, so it's time to do it now."
Statistics vs. LMU
Scoring leaders: Roy 19, Appleby 18, Williams 17, Jones 15, Brockman 11, Smith 8, Wallace 8, Dentmon 7
Rebounding leaders: Williams 12, Brockman 7, Jones 6, Gasser 5, Dentmon 4
Assists leaders: Dentmon 9, Roy 4, Jones 4, six with 1
Steals leaders: Smith 3, Appleby 2, Brockman 2, Wallace 2, four with 1