Huskies survive road, handle USC in OT

Terrence Ross (Kim Grinolds/Dawgman.com)

LOS ANGELES - They didn't make it easy on themselves. Washington started horrifically, played gamely and finished valiantly as the Huskies notched a crucial road win in their conference opener, a 73-67 victory over USC. With school out and UW fans making the trip up from San Diego as the football team takes on Nebraska Thursday in the Holiday Bowl, Hec Ed was transported to LA for one night.

The win gave the Huskies (9-3, 1-0) a new team record of five-straight Pac-10 road victories.

"This was such a big game, because this team represented everything that's difficult for us," Washington Head Coach Lorenzo Romar said. "I was very anxious to see how we would play against this team. I feel like, if we can play against this type of team, we'll be OK."

With chants of 'Let's Go Huskies', and 'Go-Huskies' reverberating throughout Galen, the Washington fans were fired up from the start. The same could not have been said for the basketball team, as they wilted against USC's pressure defense. A layup by the Trojans' Alex Stepheson put USC up 16-4 at the 12:18 mark of the first half.

At the same time, the referees' whistles seemingly blew non-stop. Aziz N'Diaye picked up his second foul right before the first media timeout; they were called for 11 fouls in the first half, compared to four for USC. In fact, at one point, walk-on forward Brendan Sherrer looked to be headed to the scorer's table at the end of the first half to make sure Matthew Bryan-Amaning stayed away from getting his third personal foul.

"That was a concern," Romar said after the game. "When Aziz was in foul trouble early - Darnell, Justin…that was more of a concern than anything. We're playing this behemoth front line, and now we don't have our size that's available. But our guys stuck together and persevered. I'd be willing to stick my neck out and say after teams play SC, that question might get asked. They are so physical and they pack it in and make it a grinding game. Fouls get called and that's how they do it. That is how that team plays."

Still, Washington was not able to push tempo, as USC got back on every possession, made or not. They were up in the Huskies' faces, and didn't make it easy for them to run through their motion. A Justin Holiday three-pointer with 10:04 left before intermission was the first made shot by UW outside five feet. In the game, the Huskies finished with zero fast-break points, probably a record in the Romar era.

In return, USC gave up a lot of rebounds to the Huskies, eventually getting out-boarded 44-26.

"They are physical, they pack it in on defense, they don't give you anything easy," Romar said. "They just make it difficult. They are our toughest matchup in the league. But they don't go to the offensive boards as a team as much. Those two big guys are so good, but I thought our guys did a good job of boxing those guys out."

Washington tried to make things just as tough on USC - mixing zone defenses with their normal pressure man-to-man. It's the first time UW has gone zone all year long, and it tripped up the Trojans enough to keep the first half interesting.

"Some of it had to do with foul trouble; some if it had to do with changing the pace of the game," Romar said of their defensive choices. "I thought it helped. I'm really proud of our team, because that USC team is so well-coached. They don't make many mistakes. They turned the ball over 10 times. And they've got those two guys inside, especially Vucevic - it's just a matchup nightmare. To come from behind like we did and come up with the victory - I couldn't be more proud."

The UW start was very reminiscent of starts they had against Kentucky in the Maui Invitational and at Texas A&M. Nothing seemed to go right. "Early in the game was like Maui and Texas A&M," Romar said. "But our guys settled down, and once we did, our execution became better. We played the way we had been practicing, which was better execution."

As the Huskies got their footing, switching screens on the perimeter and mixing up their zone and man-to-man defenses, they started to show signs of life. It took back-to-back threes by Ross - the last one coming with 6:53 left - to really give UW the jump-start they so desperately needed. Ross ended up playing 26 minutes - seven more than his next-longest stint so far this year - because redshirt frosh deadeye C.J. Wilcox was battling a sore hip brought on by an infection.

"We had been practicing in case we needed it," Romar said of their zone use, the first time they had put it into play this year. "We tried to change and mix defenses. I have a lot of respect for them. We had to throw a lot of things at them, the kitchen sink, to come up with a victory on the road."

It was Ross - the freshman from Portland - who also gave UW their 28-26 lead at the half with his third made three-pointer, the last one coming with 1:03 left before intermission. "Terrence Ross - what a game to break out; on the road, Pac-10 opener…he really showed up," Romar said.

The Huskies also really benefitted from the play of senior Matthew Bryan-Amaning inside, and the London native gave UW a needed inside presence to balance out Ross' scoring from outside. He finished the night also with 18 points, as well as leading the Huskies in rebounds with eight.

The second half was more see-saw, scrappy ball - with neither team able to extend their own cushions by more than five the entire final twenty minutes of play. Nikola Vucevic, who scored a career-high 28 points for USC, made a layup to give the Trojans their biggest second-half spread at five, 38-33. Washington clawed their way back, and a Ross jumper tied the game at 42 with just under 10 minutes to play.

Venoy Overton, who has been battling a hyperextended knee injury, sprung to life for the Huskies, and he - along with Ross' sharpshooting - helped the visitors push an advantage to five after a Ross trey with 4:52 remaining. Vucevic would not be denied, however, as he scored the Trojans' final seven points, including a dagger three-point shot with 1:28 remaining in regulation, as well as two clutch free throws with 1:15 left to tie the game at 55.

Overton tried a three-pointer that rattled off the back of the rim. The Huskies, however, got the rebound back, only to see Isaiah Thomas miss another deep trey. Vucevic rebounded the ball, but barely had enough time to get it to teammate Jio Fontan. Fontan didn't have the ball for long, as Overton's quick hands enabled him to swipe the ball and try a last-ditch heave as time expired. The ball was on target, but came up short.

By that time, Overton, the senior guard from Franklin High, had his wind and he was ready to take the game over. After Justin Holiday scored the first five points of the extra period - including a deep three from the corner that saw the senior wing fall back into his own bench - and it was the veteran guard tandem of Overton and co-captain Thomas that finished the deal for the visitors.

"First game back, and he was just a little bit rusty," Romar said of co-captain Holiday, still hurting a little bit from a foot bruise he suffered against Nevada. "But his basketball IQ is invaluable; it still helps you out on the floor even when he's not at full strength."

Spurned on by chants of 'Go-Huskies' and 'Let's go Huskies' by the UW fans that had driven up from San Diego to see the game, the hoop dawgs turned up the defensive pressure and they got to USC. The Trojans' Alex Stepheson - the other half of USC's potent front-court combo - airballed his first attempt from the free throw line - and the UW fans definitely let him know about it. The Trojans' next possession, Stepheson was called for an over-the-back call after Overton had casually floated home a shot with time winding down.

"As the game went on, I thought our guys did a great job of executing down the stretch," Romar said. "When we wanted the ball to go somewhere, we got it to that person - and they scored for us. As good as they are defensively, if we were patient we could get decent shots."

At 64-58, Fontan buried a running three with 1:19 remaining. From here on out, it would be a matter of the Huskies finding their shooters and making their free throws. With 29 seconds left, Overton was at the line, looking to extend UW's margin to six. He missed both free throws, but because he knew the second would be off the mark he anticipated the bounce and was able to get his own rebound. USC's Maurice Jones had to foul, his fifth of the game, and Overton coolly sank two from the charity stripe to put the game out of reach.

"Venoy was very good," Romar would say afterward. "I thought if Venoy is still injured and he doesn't play tonight, maybe we don't come up with the victory. His conditioning is a little behind, but tonight he looked 100 percent. He played very well."

As the second wound down, those UW fans in attendance were chanting 'Just like Football' and 'Whose House, Dawgs' House!' The 'Just like Football' chants kept getting louder and louder as the USC fans exited the building.

"That was awesome support there," Romar said, as he acknowledged the crowd post-game with a couple of fist pumps. "They were there, they were loud. It was great."

Overall, this was a game that UW may not have won last year. In fact, the Huskies lost by 26 to these same Trojans last year. "We've had some fun non-tournament wins; I can't think of a whole lot of wins that I'm as excited as I am tonight," Romar said. "We got down; we appeared to be rattled. Our guys stayed together, guarded and got stops, and slowly fought their way back to it. It was a great, great character win.

"These are wins we talk about all the time."



Statistics:
Points: Bryan-Amaning 18, Ross 18, Holiday 12, Overton 11, Thomas 10, Gaddy 4
Rebounds: Bryan-Amaning 8, Holiday 6, N'Diaye 6, Overton 6, Gaddy 5, Thomas 4, Ross 4, TEAM 4, Suggs 1
Assists: Thomas 3, Holiday 1, Overton 1, Suggs 1, Ross 1
Steals: Ross 2, Thomas 1
Blocks: Holiday 2, Bryan-Amaning 1

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