BY Art Thiel 09:09PM 12/16/2011

Huskies’ Wroten mad at himself; Gauchos pay

Precocious freshman guard scores 27, but late-game miscues get him benched in Washington’s 87-80 win over rugged Cal-Santa Barbara and its NBA-ready guard, Orlando Johnson.

Tony Wroten, in his first start, blew past UC Santa Barbara for 27 points Friday night in the Huskies' 87-80 win. / Drew Sellers, Sportspress Northwest NigfA

For a guy who just tied the school scoring record for a freshman with 27 points, Tony Wroten was out of place and out of sorts as the the game ended Friday night against Cal-Santa Barbara.

He was on the bench and cranky.

Coach Lorenzo Romar decided to pull Wroten after his otherwise mostly spectacular game decayed in the final minutes of a taut contest won by Washington 87-80.

By interview time, the impulsive Wroten had calmed down and taken responsibility for his poor play late that up until that point had been a hometown coming-out party.

“If I can’t make free throws, I can’t be in the game late,” he said matter of factly. Verbal point taken, even if he didn’t make the basketball points.

With the game against the physical Gauchos still in the balance in the final 100 seconds, Wroten twice missed the front ends of one-and-one free throw chances. Coupled with two earlier turnovers, Romar had seen enough. Wroten was pulled, and he flashed his anger as he came to the bench, barking at the assistant coaches.

He explained that he was mad at himself, not the decision.

“I take blame for that because I made two crucial turnovers,” he said. “In the huddle, it was calm. Coach Romar was like, ‘Settle down. Just play our game and we’re going to come out of here with a victory,’ and we did.

“Coach says good teams have to be able to close the game out. We gathered the whole team and said that we have to get this win and that’s what we did. I was frustrated with myself, not coach Romar.”

In his first career start, Wroten was often dominant and a couple of times brilliant,  but to no one’s surprise, his game still has some holes.

“Id rate myself a seven (out of 10),” he said in response to a question. “I felt I played good. But I can’t make free throws.”

A 52 percenter from the line coming into the game, Wroten didn’t help himself with a 4-for-9 effort. But he made up for missing the easy shots by executing a variety of contortions for harder two points.

Three minutes into the second half, Wroten blew down the lane and nearly blew down the house. Faking a pass to his left, the 6-foot-5 guard exploded to the hoop and dunked over 7-foot-3 center Greg Somogyi. The crowd of 9,246 at Hec Ed returned the courtesy by coming to its feet, and the Huskies rally from a sluggish first half was ignited.

But it was a slow burn. The Gauchos of the Big West Conference have been to the NCAA tourney the last two seasons, and showed they were easily Pac-12 caliber. Led by almost certain NBA first-round draft choice Orlando Johnson, a powerful 6-5 guard who had 24 points and 10 rebounds, Santa Barbara tied matters at 77 with 3:30 left on Johnson’s down-the-middle layin.

It was the sort of play that probably wouldn’t have happened had the Huskies had the services of their 7-foot center, Aziz N’Diaye. He may return by Wednesday from his sprained left knee, but his enforcer presence was sorely missing Friday in a game where the UCSB shot 48 percent from the field and outrebounded Washington 40-35.

Then again, his injury created space in the starting lineup for Wroten, whose explosive offense was critical to the victory. Romar opened with a four-guard lineup that included Wroten, while moving 6-8 forward Darnell Gant into the middle.

And it was Gant who supplied the breakthrough play, rebounding a miss by Abdul Gaddy for a putback bucket and a foul at 2:26. It was the start of a 10-3 run to the end that stanched the upset bid.

It also brought to an end a three-game losing streak while extending Washington’s home-court winning streak to 32 against non-conference foes. And for fans of history — and Romar — it was his 200th win as head coach.

“It’s a blessing that there’s been longevity here,” said Romar, who went on to name almost every assistant, player and administrator who’s been a part of his 10 years at Washington. At one point, he had to laugh at himself.

“I don’t mean for this to sound like an awards ceremony, naming every one,” he said smiling.  “You don’t get any amount of wins and have any success if you don’t have a lot of people around you . . . the Dawg Pack as well.”

As was mentioned, no one was left out.

The other good news for Huskies fans was a decent game from Gaddy. The criticized point guard, seemingly energized by Wroten’s play, had a season-high 17 points. He seemed to have no problem with his former backup starting alongside him.

“It’s great playing with Tony because he’s so aggressive that teams try to pack it in, so it leaves open for 3-pointers,” Gaddy said. “I think it’s a great line-up – we’re fast and we could pick up full court. We could press and we could do a lot of things.”

With C.J. Wilcox in foul trouble, Gaddy’s improvement was timely.

So was Wroten’s career-high game. Even if lacked a Hollywood finish.