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February 27, 2006

Roy-al home finale flush with good vibes

A season that began with a slew of questions came full circle Sunday versus California. With a senior-led effort and poised performances from the newbies, the Huskies provided many answers-and a joyous celebration-on Senior Day. In front of family and 10,000 friends, Washington knocked the Golden Bears out of first place with a confident 73-62 victory. Brandon Roy demonstrated why he is senior in the Pac-10 player of the year consideration, taking over late in the second half to finish with 27 points, five rebounds, and countless compliments.

With less than seven minutes remaining in the tightly-contested showdown, Roy scored 10 points over a four-minute span in every fashion. He hit a clutch turnaround jumper from the baseline as the shot clock got to skinny numbers. He created space with a ball fake and drew nothing but nylon from the top of the arc. The Garfield grad answered a Richard Midgley 3-pointer with an automatic, acrobatic drive down the lane for a layin. And when Theo Robertson cut the lead to six with a trey, the Huskies' No. 3 swished a 3-ball for a controlling lead with 2:15 left.

"He did what great players do," said coach Lorenzo Romar following an emotional post-game gathering. "Great players take their teams to great heights, and he did that tonight with the help of his teammates. But in the second half he just took over."

In their final home game, the senior trio of Roy, Bobby Jones, and Mike Jensen ran their four-year home court record to 51-12 as the Huskies, picked to finish fourth in the preseason media poll, clawed their way into a second place tie with Cal (17-8, 11-5). Roy moved into 12th place on the UW career scoring list with a 50-point, 11-rebound, nine-assist weekend that may earn him a third consecutive Pac-10 player of the week award. Jones, who is currently fourth on the career steals list and tenth in blocked shots, contributed six points, two treys, and six rebounds in the Bear beating. Jensen, who moved into 10th place in career 3-pointers with six on Thursday, added another and keyed an active interior defense that held Leon Powe, Cal's conference player of the year candidate, to 14 points and eight rebounds.

Jamaal Williams, the senior in his second year on Montlake, started both halves alongside his classmates and scored 13 points, his sixth consecutive game in double figures. Along with freshman Jon Brockman, who led the Huskies with eight rebounds off the bench, Williams was part of a collapsing, helping defense that limited Powe to just two rebounds and a quiet seven points in the second half. Not only was the denial effective in limiting the power forward's touches, but when Powe spun away from his man, the backside help was quick enough to draw three charging calls.

Justin Dentmon and Ryan Appleby, the freshman and sophomore guards who were at the top of the preseason question list, each contributed 10 points on 2-of-3 shooting from behind the arc, with only two turnovers combined. Both backcourt neophytes hit a pair of free throws in the in the final minutes to ice the home finale. When walk-on senior Zane Potter was brought in for Roy in the waning seconds, the Dawg Pack erupted in celebration. Their mascot was in for the 17th home victory of the season, their main man was marvelous again, and all was well in Romarville.

Roy surpassed Powe in the Pac-10 scoring race (19.93 to 19.86) with 19 second half points. Roy now leads Powe in scoring in conference games alone, 22.9 to 19.6, and leads Powe in every category with the exception of rebounding. Powe leads the Pac-10 with 10.1 boards per game, in comparison to Roy's 5.5, but the UW guard leads the conference in assist/turnover ratio.

The hometown hero can be found in the top 10 in 10 of 13 conference categories, while no other Pac-10 player is listed in more than seven. Roy has now scored 20 or more points in nine straight games, while Powe's streak was stopped at four games. When Williams drew a charge on Powe with 43 seconds remaining, the Dawg Pack reminded him of the state of the POY race. "BRoy's better" they chanted to the amusement of a packed house.

"I think my teammates helped my candidacy by defending Leon Powe the way they did," Roy said of physical game that saw elbows fly and tempers flare. "He just couldn't get into a groove. I think individual awards should be team awards, because your teammates put you in position to accomplish some of those things."

With the conference title on the line and the extra glare of a national television audience, the Huskies (22-5, 10-5) overcame an early dry spell-hitting only 3 of their first 13 shots-for their hottest shooting night in Pac-10 play (.558). Roy's marksmanship-9-of-13 from the field, 3-of-6 from the arc, and 6-of-6 from the line-led a 65-percent second half. The Dawgs drilled 10 of 20 treys, their third consecutive game with 10 or more triples. Washington also held their third straight opponent under 44-percent shooting.

The combination of confident shooting and aggressive defense resulted in their sixth straight win to stay in the title hunt one game behind UCLA (22-6, 12-4). The Bruins pulled away from a 30-30 tie with Oregon for a 17-point win Sunday. The Huskies finish the regular season next weekend in the Grand Canyon State, where Arizona (17-10, 10-6) held ASU to 13 first half points while cruising to an impressive victory. UCLA travels to the Bay Area next weekend, where their finale with Stanford will be broadcast Saturday on CBS at 1 p.m. The 'Cats and Dawgs dustup will be broadcast Saturday on FSN at 3 p.m.

"What gets lost in the shuffle with Brandon, again, is how well he is defending. He guarded a very good basketball player in Ayinde Ubaka and held him to 2 of 9 from the field," Romar said as the Cal guard was held under 11 points for the first time in 15 games. "He's just playing a complete basketball game right now and, again, not to toot his horn but we've won six straight and Brandon has been phenomenal in all of those games. Plus, he's got to be playing as well as anyone in the country."

Jensen, who was coming off a redshirt year following his first shoulder dislocation as Roy and Jones became Romar's first commitments, thinks Roy should get serious consideration above and beyond the Pac-10 player of the year.

"We feel like we have one of the best players in the entire nation on our team. He doesn't always get that national credit, but he is starting to get it now. When I look at the media all I see is J.J. Redick and Adam Morrison, guys that are scoring all of these points," Jensen said of two gunners that were both held to 11 points on Saturday. "But Brandon is playing defense, rebounding and averaging close to a triple-double. There are not many players in the whole nation that are doing that. We just wanted to let him know that we had his back and we were going to try our best so that he could shine and really tonight he shined."

After a 3-pointer by Midgley cut the UW lead to 38-37 early in the second half, Jensen answered with a 3-ball from his favorite pocket, the left baseline. The complexion of the game changed when back-to-back fouls by Midgley, his third and fourth, forced him out to the game with 14:10 remaining. With a frustrated Powe under wraps, Midgley was leading the Bears with 10 points. He returned for a trey with 4:24 left and assisted another, but with Roy scoring 12 of Washington's 14 points down the stretch, the Bears never made another serious threat.

The Senior Day celebration, which began with flowers, family greetings and special introductions, ended with an unscripted, heartfelt moment. Coach Romar invited the seniors in the Dawg Pack down onto the court, where they shared the love with the senior players.

"We have a lot in common," Romar said of the senior fanatics. "When we were freshman, they were freshman. We were 10-17, but they cheered us on like we we're champions. They started out small, but they grew with us, and now according to Sports Illustrated, they're ranked higher than we are."

Each senior student-athlete addressed the Dawg Pack in the impromptu exchange. Williams recognized the student section, ranked No. 8 by SI, as "being a part of starting this dynasty of UW basketball."

Potter, often the 12th man off the bench, thanked the group for "making me feel so special."

Roy started by returning the Dawg Pack's chant of 'Thank you, seniors,' and then announced, "I don't care what SI or ESPN said, you guys are the best." He finished by sharing how Romar had pulled the seniors aside before the game. The fourth-year coach thanked the group for their hard work and told them he loved them.

"Coach, we love you too," Roy said on behalf of his class, which will finish with one of the best career records in school history.

The reciprocal gratitude put a joyous conclusion on the 17-2 home record. After having their school-record 32-game home winning streak, the nation's longest at the time, snapped in the double overtime loss to Arizona, the Huskies have won six straight at home.

After the game a smiling Romar admitted that the Senior Day setting triggered some powerful, paternal emotions. "I was a wreck the whole time. You know you tell yourself, 'Okay, just focus, focus, focus.' And when you see them come down that tunnel for the opening for the last time, it hits you right between the eyes, or right in the heart. To see a couple of them get teary-eyed, it's tough. But, you know, you're proud of them and you know they're going to go on and be successful."

He may have been talking about their futures after Husky basketball, but his prognosis might be equally accurate for the remainder of the season. The team is playing its best basketball as we flip the calendar to March.

"I think this team has really come into its own," said Jensen. "We were kind of like a hand with five fingers. Every once and awhile people would stray away and not do the right things. But now we're really like a real fist. People can't score on us, we can get stops when we need stops. We understand that we have certain people that are playmakers and certain people that are shotmakers. I think when your team understands that and you're all working together for the same goal that makes us a great team. I think our momentum and our confidence are rising as we realize that."

Roy cited his teammates' perimeter shooting and Williams' inside scoring as examples that the squad is firing on all cylinders now. And, of course, they've got a special passing gear named BRoy.

"Coach knows when the game gets tight a light switch goes off in my head and I start to dig down and help the team as much as possible. Tonight, shots just fell for me. I took some threes and they were going down. It was just a big moment and a great way to leave out at Bank of America Arena."


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