Washington blasted off its 2006-2007 Men's Basketball season with a 16-2 run in the first 4:30 of the first half and went on to a 99-91 victory over a Pepperdine team that never gave up until the very last possesion. Whenever a 15 point lead, which was what the Huskies led the Waves at half by, was threatened, Coach Lorenzo Romar's young, but extremely talented team, stiffened their resolve and pushed it out to around the 20 point range and out of trouble.
That initial 16-2 run was fueled by a mercurial college basketball debut from six foot seven inch forward Quincy Pondexter, who had nine points, two rebounds, one steal and one assist, all in that first 4:30 time frame.
It proved to be the deciding run, as the teams battled back and forth for the remainder of the contest, the Waves usually putting up numbers against UW reserves and the Dawgs responding with it's starters to bring it back up to about that 15-20 point bulge. Pondexter ended up with 21 points on 9-14 from the field, 7 rebounds and 3 assists. He brought the house at the Bank of America Arena down with one of his sky walking Alley-oop dunks off a lob from fellow freshman Adrian Oliver.
Quincy was humble and acknowledged his team mates after the game. "This is a great program, both teams played up and down and I'm glad my team mates just got me the ball. We just played together. That's how we went out on top."
To the Waves credit, this is a team that makes you play hard and aggressively on both sides of the floor for 40 minutes. If you let up, they will put a quick 10 point run on you in a heartbeat. Romar did an excellent job of summarizing this point in his opening statement to the press.
"We started off strong and then got a little relaxed offensively and let our guard down. We tried some experimental passes and we didn't finish some plays. They hung in there and they didn't go away. They just didn't quit, give them a lot of credit. It would be very interesting to follow that team both this year and the years to come because they are a good team."
"I thought we were prepared and I thought that we did a pretty good job defending them for a long stretch, but what they do is make you play the full 40 minutes. As you saw as the game went on they began to get more and more open looks."
Once this Pepperdine team gets it's star guard Mike Gerrity, an All-WCC freshman last year, back in this line-up and has a chance to solidify this style of play, under first year coach Vance Walberg, this team should be one of the toughest match-ups in the WCC.
The biggest problem that the Waves had was in the post against team captain Jon Brockman, who had a career high 25 points and tied his career rebounding high with 12. On the other side of that post tandem stood Spencer Hawes, who provided deft passing en route to 7 assists, to go with 12 points, 5 rebounds and 4 blocks (one more than anyone had in a game all last year at Washington) in only 19 minutes.
Though only in his first game at this level, you could definitely see the kind of ability, size, ambidextrous coordination and basketball IQ that will make people all over the basketball world marvel, as they watch this 18 year olds season unfold. I think that Husky fans are looking at a pair of big guys, (in he and Jon) that could emerge by seasons end, as the best front line in college basketball.
Coach Romar seemed to rest any speculation as to how long it would take to get his seven foot freshman into the starting line-up probably for good, when he started Hawes in the 2nd half for Artem Wallace, who continues to put out a solid effort as well.
Romar went on to say, "I think that when you watch him play it is kind of hard to keep him on the bench." When Spencer entered the game at 17:27 to go in the first half, we believe it marked the beginning of what should be (at least) one of the best eras in the history of Husky basketball. Spencer and Jon have a natural chemistry that we think Husky fans will be talking about for years to come. After the game Spencer said, "We built that chemistry playing with each other for so long".
"We had that little year off, but now we're back at it and I think the chemistry shows up there on the court."
Washington is a very young team and learning to play defense will be vital to the success of the coming season. We were impressed with the way that certain players have elevated their game defensively, for instance Ryan Appleby, Phillip Nelson and Hans Gasser, but there is a ways to go before the kind of defensive effort that Dawg fans are used to seeing from the likes of Bobby Jones, Nate Robinson, Brandon Roy and Will Conroy is in full effect again.
That was not the reason the score ended up where it did though. The coaches substituted liberally and played everybody who was healthy and reasonably early and for long minutes. We got the feeling that Romar felt that he could keep the team in the win column, but also try a number of combinations and play reserve guys long minutes.
I think it also needs to be said once more that Pepperdine is just an explosive team and when the reserves were left in at the end of the game, they just didn't quit, right down to the final minute. Playing so many first year players will pay dividends I'm sure in practice and in future games this year for Washington.
Aside from the brilliant performance by Pondexter and the amazing but brief debut of Hawes, Oliver also looked once again to be the best all-around of the three "shooting guards". He had a nice solid consistent game in which he shot well, going 4-6 from the field, made his only 3-point attempt and played hard hustle defense.
He also, as he had in the exhibition game, fouled out and had 4 turnovers to go with his 4 assists, but this time logged 25 good hard minutes against the fast paced, aggressive Waves. He may not be the best choice to start games, but he does so many things well, that he will always play starters minutes regardless.
Harvey Perry also fouled out, but once again impressed with his ability to out run, jump and scrap good solid basketball players. His stellar defense, nose for the ball and ability to take his man one on one were, once again, very impressive. It may be, that part of the perception that this team is not on a level defensively with the last few Husky teams could go away in a reasonably short period of time, in no small part due to Harvey, Quincy, a strong return by Joel, of course Justin Dentmon and the continued transformation of Hawes and Brockman, as the towering defensive presence in the middle and the scrappy leader in the paint respectively.
Harvey unfortunately made a number of unforced errors to go with fouling out, that made his night not one to write home about. What he, Appleby and Oliver did do was to not let this high pressure Pepperdine team stop them from putting the ball in the hands of the guys that did in fact win this one for the team.
Appleby had a poor shooting game, going 0-3 from 3-point land, but we liked the way he has improved his defense and showed well on a number of occasions in tough situations, much better in that area than last year. His ball handling numbers were adequate, but not outstanding, but his value to this team is undeniable. Now that Spencer has laced up the shoes and given the world a glimpse of what he can bring to a game at this level, Appleby's stock rises quite a bit.
Had he and Nelson, who went 0-4 from behind the arc had the kind of performance we are used to witnessing, they would have probably put up another 20 points between the two of them and not only put this thing way out of reach for Pepperdine, but probably helped create momentum for others in so doing.
Luckily for Washington, Dentmon came ready to play this time from long range, sticking 3-7, to go with a determined display of ball control against the constant Pepperdine pressure, in a team leading 26 minutes. It was a nice turnaround for both he and Brockman from the exhibition game that seemed like an exercise in shrinking to allow others to shine, more than anything else. Dentmon ended up with 13 points and looked every bit a leader out there along with team captain Brockman, who rallied the troops in impressive style when there was a need to circle the wagons.
Coach Walberg, whose son Jason Walberg displayed excellent balance and finesse in leading the Waves in scoring with 18, remarked about Washington's speed. "Well they just have so much speed, and not only do they have speed, but are very athletic with their speed and they shoot the ball well and they rebound the heck out of it." Pepperdine doesn't have great post players, but they have some pretty sturdy guys that we feel will help them along with perimeter guys Walberg, Gerrity and Michael Lea, to place well near the top of the WCC, if health doesn't play too large of a factor.
But Washington has more than just sturdy, solid college basketball big men in the front line.
Of Brockman, Walberg had plenty to say. "He weighs more than two of our guys together. And they're just tough. I don't know what to make of them. They know what it takes and that is important." He also seemed to feel as we do that both Hawes and Pondexter are headed to the league. "There is no limit. I'm from Fresno, so I know what Pondexter looks like. I've seen him enough, and I think he is going to be in the NBA one day also (referring to Spencer). He's got a lot of talent."
Brockman seems to be a good leader for this group. He encourages his team mates and embodies a team that believes in each other and is excited to be part of a whole.
"You hear so much from the coaches, from the fans. They are always expecting perfection and every single player, you are not going to be perfect every night and you need to hear that from your team mates. Don't worry about that play, get back on defense and let's shut 'em down."
This type of selfless concern for team starts with the coach. It was obvious to me from the start that Coach Romar was a team first leader and an individual that puts others above himself in life. When I asked him about why he does so many things with his television commercials for Domestic Violence and Mentoring for kids he answered in a way that really shows what kind of an example he sets for everyone else in the program. "If you have a platform, I feel that you have a responsibility to do what you can to help others. You can use it for yourself, or you can use it for others."