With about 14 minutes left against the University of Portland Monday night (Nov. 14), the host Washington Huskies’ guard Tony Wroten shoveled a pass across the paint and through maybe eight players. The ball wound up in the ample hands of Aziz N’Diaye, who put in the hole to up the already insurmountable lead that would end in a 93-63 Dawg-pounding.
It was the third UW victory in about 60 hours. It leaves the team 3-0 with nearly a week off before facing a skein of six winnable games that could lead to an early 9-0 mark.
Against elite teams? Of course not, but why should that matter? The Huskies already are ranked 28th in one national poll and 29th in another. At season’s end, when NCAA-tourney seeding considerations are made, nine straight early wins (or even seven of nine) would augment the rest of a record mostly wrought from daunting contests amid the new, highly competitive Pac-12 conference.
More importantly: Even an easy 30-point grounding of the Portland Pilots serves another critical purpose. Coach Lorenzo Romar has eight freshmen this season and a pair of sensational sophomores. No matter what the caliber of the opponent, every win bonds the young players and builds their confidence.
Wroten, it was widely believed as the season approached, would prove to be the key freshman. He’d already received something like LeBron James celebrity treatment at Garfield High in Seattle. To say that he already appears to be, ahem, passing the test in the NCAA is obvious beyond being an inevitable pun. Among his team-leading six assists Monday, Wroten’s seemingly effortless toss to N’Diaye was of NBA-caliber precision, or would’ve been were the pro league in business and if NBA players even valued the passing game anymore.
The effort was part of Wroten’s growing highlight reel, with feats that have made fans gasp in amazement. Yes, and even he would concede that he’s not even the best or most valuable player on the young team.
Would that be C.J. Wilcox? The sophomore guard, showing formidable scoring talent, was named the season’s first Pac-12 player of the week. Would it be Terrence Ross, the Portland-bred sophomore three-point specialist who led scorers with 24 against Portland? Or how about N’Diaye, the seven-foot Senegal-born center who seems to have grown measurably in basketball skills now that it’s unlikely he will (or will need to) grow any further in stature?
All of the above seem to be insignificant questions. What seems to matter most going forward (or guard or center) is whether a young club with apparently deep talent reserves will be able to continue to develop continuity, especially when inevitable problems occur.
During the Portland game, for example, the Dawgs were stalled at 21 points for nearly four minutes until Abdul Gaddy (the junior is back and seemingly healthy after last season’s major knee injury) and Wilcox tossed down three-balls. After that Portland never got closer than 11.
Portland partisans may not relish further encounters with the likes of Wroten.
After the game, Romar spoke to reporters about the prize freshman: "You kind of allow his personality to take over on the floor. He's special in that way."
Early as it is and even though some arbiters pick the Dawgs as no better than fourth in the conference, it could be that the team itself will continue to improve enough to prove “special in that way” when March rolls around.