BY Bob Sherwin 11:53PM 12/18/2010

Huskies go big, get better results

Bryan-Amaning joins N’Diaye in the starting lineup for the first time and the Huskies overwhelm USF

Washington guard Isaiah Thomas scored 12 points, 10 in the second half, against San Francisco Saturday night. (Drew McKenzie/Sportspress Northwest)

Sometimes when a team suddenly finds the answer, it raises more questions.

It was that way for the Washington Huskies Saturday night in their 80-52 victory over San Francisco. For the first time this season, coach Lorenzo Romar, feeling a near obsession to improve team rebounding, started his two biggest players, 7-foot Aziz N’Diaye and 6-foot-9 Matthew Bryan-Amaning.

It made a huge difference. Together, Bryan-Amaning and N’Diaye pulled down 14 rebounds. They also combined for 19 points, making 9 of 15 attempts. N’Diaye also blocked four shots.

“That’s what I’m pretty much concentrating on,” said Bryan-Amaning, the senior forward. “Points will come with the personnel we have and system we’re in. Right now, I’m just trying to rebound, creating more opportunities for my team to score.”

The Huskies pounded the boards, holding a 22-13 edge by halftime, including 11 offensive rebounds. San Francisco has one offensive rebound in the half.

The Huskies had a 40-33 rebound margin. Bryan-Amaning had nine, N’Diaye five.

It was such a natural step to take, yet: Why didn’t this happen earlier? How long will it continue?

Romar has committed to just the next game – Wednesday against Nevada. He said he will evaluate from game to game and start the best five, based on style and skill of each opponent.

As to why it didn’t happen before, it really down to timing.

N’Diaye, a transfer from the College of Southern Idaho, did not play last season because of knee surgery. The medical staff has been cautious in bringing him back. He also has had to adjust to a new system and a higher caliber of play. He wasn’t ready. Until now.

Bryan-Amaning started the first six games but wasn’t providing what was needed, so he was brought off the bench for the previous four games. His shooting has improved –20-of-33 – and is more consistent.

Saturday night, both were ready.

“I thought Aziz and Matthew did a good job of co-existing in the game,” Romar said. “It was a good game to look at that because USF spreads the floor for a good portion of their possessions, and it gets your big guys moving around. I thought our big guys did a good job of keeping them in front of us and not getting beat. That was encouraging.”

He added that N’Diaye’s length makes a significant difference.

“It also allows Matthew to roam a little bit,” he added. “He’s not taking all the pressure on himself. When he’s in there without Aziz, there’s a lot of pressure on him to go get that basketball. We want him to, but being in there with Aziz kinda helps him. It gives him a bodyguard, so to speak.”

Isaiah Thomas, the 5-foot-9 junior guard, said it was obvious from the start that this group was going to work.

“You could see from the first couple minutes everybody was crashing the offensive boards,” Thomas said. “Even if they’re not coming up with the ball, they’re getting their hands on it. That’s the main focus.

“It changes a lot. We needed the rebounding. That’s the main point. Matthew is 6-9; Aziz is 7 feet. We took a step forward in rebounding. We just need to continue to take baby steps to get better at that.”

It was Thomas who gave the Huskies their ample victory separation at the start of the second half. He provided a personal 10-0 run. He hit successive three-pointers followed by a pair of free throws, then a 16-footer to give the Huskies a 49-24 lead with 17:02 left.

Scott Suggs came off the bench to help steady an uncharacteristically uneven Husky offense. UW missed its first seven three-point attempts. That’s unusual for a team that prides itself on deadly perimeter shooters.

It wasn’t until Suggs entered at 11:39 that the Huskies finally took off. Suggs hit a trey at 11:23 to give the Huskies a 15-11 lead. Next time down, he hit another. He started a 16-4 run.

No other Husky hit a three-pointer. They went 2-of-14 in the half and 6-of-26 for the game.

“This Washington team definitely has the ability to make it to a Sweet 16 game if not anvappearance in the Final Four,” USF Coach Rex Walters said. “They are relentless in their pursuit of the ball, and they have great size and athleticism to go along with it. I have seen a huge jump from last year’s team to this year’s team. Suddenly guys that we didn’t have to pay attention to last year are a huge shooting threat.”

Walters saw a team that seems ready to compete for the Pac-10 title. They open conference play Dec. 29 at USC. The Trojans also start one of the biggest lines in the conference, one that includes Alex Stephenson and Nikola Vucevic, each 6-10.

There’s a good chance the bigger Husky lineup will be necessary.

“Coach has done it in the past with different stuff,” Bryan-Amaning said. “When we were lacking defensively, he put best five defensive players on the floor, no matter who it is. Right now, he’s said he’s going to put his best five rebounding team on the floor. That’s what he’s done and I think he’ll stick with it.”


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