No one can dismiss a personal milestone faster than Lorenzo Romar, who renders moot the topic with a blizzard of cliches, platitudes and bromides. But the occasion of his 300th career win Saturday afternoon, he may mark the event with a little note that will remind him this was the game the 2011-12 Washington Huskies got it together.
“If we can continue to build on this,” he said following a remarkably easy 76-63 win over well-regarded Stanford, “I’ll be pleased.”
Romar knew this would be a trying year, with so many freshmen and so few seniors. It has been, particularly with the additional injury losses of Scott Suggs for the year and C.J. Wilcox for awhile.
The home loss Thursday to league leader Cal, 69-66, seemed particularly odious, given the low energy and offensive regression. Winning a league championship in a weak Pac-12 Conference does not happen by blowing home games.
But the Huskies had what was probably their best game of the year against a decent Stanford team that had a chance to run ragged a shorthanded opponent. Instead, the Huskies launched the new guy, Austin Seferian-Jenkins, with an old plan — lip-ripping defense — and nearly wired the afternoon, with leads as large as 22 points.
Freshman football tight end Seferian-Jenkins — “a poor man’s Jon Brockman,” in Romar’s own words — had as vital a role as any scoreless player can have in his collegiate debut. In 16 minutes he had seven rebounds and provided valuable front-line relief minutes when center Aziz N’Diaye fell into foul trouble.
Entering four minuters into the game, Seferian-Jenkins set a screen on Stanford guard Jarrett Mann that had the Cardinal dentist on alert.
“Yes, I intended to hit somebody really hard,” said a smiling AS-J, responding to a question. The stoning was met was met with appropriate oohs and aahs from the 9,794 on hand at Alaska Airlines Arena who had been eager for a look at what the 6-7, 260-pounder could do.
Romar held him out until he had enough practices to get a clue about Washington’s offensive and defensive sets. But Romar finally admitted Saturday that he knew the kid was nearly ready from the moment he stepped on the practice floor.
“This is different,” Romar said of AS-J’s style — a powerful, aggressive dude who would have an impact just standing there. Even though he fouled out of the game Saturday with seven minutes left, the Huskies were well ahead because Stanford could not take advantage of N’Diaye’s foul trouble.
“Hes an energy guy whos strong and physical.” Romar said. “As he learns more about what were doing, I think youll see him go to the foul line a lot more. Usually physical, aggressive guys do that. (Before today) he just did not know what we were doing. He hadnt been out there long enough.”
Washington had a 47-32 rebound advantage and held Stanford, the conference’s best three-point shooting team, to just 3-of-19 beyond the arc (for the game, the Cardinal was 23 for 64, 36 percent). And they did it with a seven-man rotation, needing reserve help only from senior Darnell Gant, who recovered from and 0-for-9 night against Cal with 17 points on 7-for-11 shooting.
If AS-J can sustain his contribution, the Huskies can leave on the bench freshmen Shawn Kemp Jr., Martin Bruenig and Hikeem Stewart, all of whom were struggling to contribute.
Having no trouble contributing was Tony Wroten, whose headlong lunges to the hoop produced 21 points and only three turnovers. The push was crucial because UW’s only other healthy scorer, Terrence Ross, was off, as was the entire team (11-24) from the line.
“Something that we can really hold onto after this game is how hard we played,” Romar said. “I thought we played very physical. I thought we were alert.
“Its unfortunate we lost a close one to Cal, but without C.J., to come out here and get through tonight, I couldnt be more proud of our players.”
Saturday also established that no team has any particular edge over another in the conference. In Pullman, WSU beat Cal to give the Cougars a sweep of the Bay Area schools, leaving the Huskies (12-7, 5-2) just a half-game out of the conference lead.
“I think I said earlier in the year we may have some ups and downs early because of the makeup of this team,” Romar said. “I thought wed be a much better team later than we would early. Weve been a work in progress all season. Inch by inch, weve been getting a little better.
“Were starting to see some things that look more like what weve been talking about in terms of the big picture of our team. Were still not there. If 10 is our best and one is our worst, were at about a five or a six here.”
This year in the Pac-12, a five or a six may get it done. But adding a quality player at mid-season just might nudge the Huskies up to a seven, making them one-eyed men in the land of the blind.