Todd Dybas, the Washington beat writer at the Tacoma News Tribune, answers five of my questions about the Huskies ahead of Colorado’s first game in Seattle as a member of the Pac-12:
RT: What has led to the improved play for Washington? How did this team go from losing to Albany and Nevada at home to winning three consecutive road games to begin Pac-12 play?
TD: A variety of things, not the least of which is health. Against Albany, the Huskies lost starting guard Scott Suggs just 90 seconds into the game when he received a concussion. They were already missing Shawn Kemp Jr., who, coming out of fall camp, was projected to be a starter before injuring his knee. Against Nevada, Washington still wasn’t complete, with backup guard Andrew Andrews out. Regardless, Washington should have won each game and those were bad losses. In the last three, the Huskies did what they didn’t do earlier in the year: defend and rebound. C.J. Wilcox can fill it up offensively, but him averaging eight rebounds a game the last three and Washington winning those three is not coincidence.
RT: This is CU’s first trip to Seattle as a member of the Pac-12. What should the Buffs expect the atmosphere to be like at Alaska Airlines Arena late tonight?
TD: In past years, the atmosphere here has been excellent. Arizona coach Sean Miller said at Pac-12 media day that he thought this was the toughest place to play in the conference. I’ve been covering the team since 2008 and the attendance and noise level have each gone done year over year. The crowds for this year’s non-conference schedule were the poorest I’ve seen. The late start could be helpful since traffic makes it difficult to get here for 7 p.m. tips. The counter to that is it could be too late for families and 9-5 workers. Washington is averaging 7,466 fans at home in a 10,000-seat arena.
RT: UCLA’s Ben Howland said Washington is “leading the league” in his mind with a 3-0 road record. Cal’s Mike Montgomery said “I don’t know that they’re a top-three team.” Are the Huskies contenders or pretenders?
TD: Million-dollar question. I think both have valid points. Conference road wins are liquid gold. But, the three teams Washington beat certainly appear to be ones that will be floundering in the bottom half of the conference. I think we’ll get a much better read on them against Colorado, which I still feel is one of the top teams in the conference. I don’t think Washington is a top-three team, but do think it could be in the top five which may narrowly be enough to get into the NCAA Tournament.
RT: What about CU concerns Lorenzo Romar?
TD: Length, rebounding and the fact that things have been bumpy for the Buffs the past couple weeks. He expects an irritated Colorado team that is more than ready to go Wednesday night. He’s also trying to get his guys to realize how early in conference play it is. So, you have a wounded team coming into a place to face a team fighting against any hint of complacency as a result of recent success. Though, in talking to the Washington players right after the Stanford win, you don’t get any sense of satisfaction.
RT: Is C.J. Wilcox just hot right now or is he going to keep this up and be in the mix for Pac-12 player of the year at the end of the season?
TD: He’s not hot, he’s just good. Wilcox has stepped into his role as Washington’s main scorer with comfort and consistency. He’s been an efficient scorer much of the season. Last year, Tony Wroten scored a lot, but was exceptionally inefficient in doing so. That’s not the case with Wilcox. He’s added a bit of dribble-drive to his game, too. The high-post offense really works for him since he’s someone who uses screens all the time to get open shots. Washington repeatedly runs pindowns for Wilcox with seven-foot center Aziz N’Diaye often setting the screen. That constantly frees Wilcox, who has quick feet, something often overlooked about his game.