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January 1, 2012SEATTLE - The demise of the Washington Huskies may have been premature.
The Huskies shook off a lethargic preseason, and completed a solid sweep of the schools from Oregon on Saturday with a convincing 76-60 victory over the Ducks.
Coupled with Washington's double-digit win Thursday over Oregon State, the Huskies 6-5 preseason that included a bad loss at home to Division II South Dakota State, appears to be in the rear-view mirror right along with 2011.
"We're taking it real serious," point guard Abdul Gaddy said. "Our goal is to win the conference, and defense is the way to do it."
Washington found a renewed vigor at the defensive end after South Dakota State hung 92 points on the Huskies on Dec. 18. A large part of the mission on Saturday was keeping Oregon's leading scorer, Devoe Joseph, in check.
Gaddy had a hand in accomplishing that mission, as Joseph struggled through a 1-for-13 shooting night at Alaska Airlines Arena. Joseph entered the game averaging 14.7 points a game, but he finished the night with just four points.
"I thought we defended as well as we have all year," UW coach Lorenzo Romar said. "The guys did a tremendous job of keeping (the Ducks) in front of them."
On New Year's Eve, a night for fireworks, Washington and Oregon did set off a few sparks of their own several hours before midnight.
With just under 16 minutes to play in the game, and the Huskies holding a 47-36 lead, Oregon's Olu Ashaolu caught Husky guard Tony Wroten with an elbow. No call was made immediately, and the Ducks came down the floor to where Darnell Gant got into it with an opponent.
The officials huddled around the monitor, and after a delay of nearly 10 minutes, came back with calls of Class A technical fouls on Ashaolu and Gant. The long delay seemed to temporarily affect UW negatively as the Ducks made a run to get within four, 48-44, on an E.J. Singler layup with 13:11 to go.
C.J. Wilcox quickly put an end to that, however. Wilcox buried one of his six 3-pointers with 12:14 to play, then hit another one 30 seconds later and the lead was back to eight, 54-46.
Wilcox later put the ball on the floor with two nifty moves to the hoop as he finished with a game-high 24 points on eight of 11 shooting from the field.
"C.J. has continued to work creating his own shot," Romar said. "And putting the ball on the floor."
With the lead extended, the defense went to work.
Perhaps the most spectacular sequence came with 3:30 to go. Wroten penetrated the middle on the run, took off from just inside the foul line and gently laid the ball over the front rim for two of his 17 points. Oregon shot back down the floor and had a seemingly open 3-point look.
But Wroten raced back and came out of nowhere to block the shot, then saved it to a teammate on the baseline as he fell out of bounds.
"We've just realized what we're capable of," Wroten said. "We know what we are if we all buy in. We didn't have the preseason we wanted."
But Pac-12 play is a whole new ball game.
And the Huskies have two big wins to take with them on the road to Colorado and Utah this coming Thursday and Saturday, the team's first road test in conference.
"This was good," Romar said. "We're 2-0. But we've got to keep getting better. We're not there yet. But this beats the alternative."
Defensive stopper: UW center Aziz N'Diaye scored eight points, grabbed six rebounds and had three blocked shots against the Ducks. But his presence inside did so much more.
By late in the first half, when N'Diaye was in the game, the Ducks would make sharp turns away from the basket if they got in the lane to avoid challenging the 7-footer.
"Aziz N'Daiye was sensational on the defensive end," Romar said.
On the road again: Washington is off to a 2-0 start in the Pac-12, but now must take the show on the road to Colorado and Utah.
"You always seem to forget this on the road," Gaddy said. "Just little things. Defensive assignments. You've got to be that much more dialed in on the road. Good teams get wins on the road."
Romar certainly knows the importance of Week 2 in conference play.
"You can be 2-0 one week, and in eighth place a week later," Romar said. "Early on we weren't a team yet. We weren't a cohesive unit. That's where our growth is. We've got to keep improving."