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Washington has what it takes for deep NCAA Tournament run



Arizona head coach Sean Miller could point at a handful of reasons for the Wildcats’ 79-70 loss to Washington on Saturday in Seattle.

The UA gave up 20 offensive rebounds and 42 points in the paint. The Huskies earned 11 more shot attempts than the Wildcats due to their work on the boards. The usually stellar Arizona defense only turned the Huskies over six times in 40 minutes and Washington had its way with the Wildcats’ defense.

But although those are all valid points, the reality is that the Huskies are, top to bottom, the best team in the conference, and have the potential to make a deep NCAA Tournament run. While it’s expected that no team from the weak Pac-12 Conference will find itself in the Sweet 16 or Elite Eight, Washington is the exception. Why should the field of 68 be hoping not to land a matchup with the Huskies on Selection Sunday?

Here are four reasons:

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By Dean Rutz / Seattle Times
Washington's Aziz N'Diaye, left, swats away a shot by Arizona's Kyle Fogg in the second half at the Alaska Airlines Arena on Saturday, February 18, 2012, in Seattle, Washington. The host Huskies posted a 79-70 triumph. (Dean Rutz/Seattle Times/MCT)

Guard play

Washington’s backcourt rivals some of the best in the country, and in March, teams go as deep as their guards will take them.

Terrence Ross is as complete as they come at the two-guard spot, and showed that against Arizona to the tune of 25 points on 11-for-19 shooting, while proving why he’s one of the better rebounding guards in the country, pulling in 6.8 caroms per game.

Then there’s Tony Wroten. The freshman is a load at 6-foot-5, 205 pounds. He’s physical enough to finish with contact yet quick enough to beat opposing point guards off of the dribble.

No one’s made more buckets than Wroten in the Pac-12, and with 16.5 points per game, 4.9 rebounds, 3.5 assists and two steals he could be poised for freshman All-American honors. Between Ross and Wroten, the Huskies will be tough to contain in March.

“The combination of Terrence Ross and Tony Wroten is really a 1-2 punch that you have to be ready to deal with because tonight they were terrific,” Miller said after the game.

But their guard play doesn’t stop there. Former UA commit and point guard Abdul Gaddy does a tremendous job running the Huskies offense.

Last but not least, C.J. Wilcox rounds out UW’s quartet of stellar guards. The sophomore guard was averaging 15.5 points per game in 16 contests before suffering a stress fracture and is regaining form as a major perimeter threat and the Huskies’ top 3-point shooter at 40.5 percent.

Between Ross, Wroten, Wilcox and Gaddy, the Huskies’ backcourt is a force to be reckoned with in the NCAA Tournament.

Big frontline

Most guard-heavy teams struggle up front, but not Washington. Between 7-footer Aziz N’Diaye, Desmond Simmons and senior Darnell Gant, the Huskies are the most physical team in the Pac-12.

They rank fifth in the country in rebounds per game with 40.3 and 10th in the NCAA in offensive boards per contest with 14.5.

“They’re great at offensive rebounding and they had that in place tonight,” Miller said after the Huskies grabbed 20 offensive rebounds against Arizona. “It’s the thing they do the very best of any team in the conference.”

Miller also called N’Diaye the conference’s best defensive big man earlier in the season, which makes Washington that much dangerous come tournament time.

Coaching pedigree

Lorenzo Romar has been in the trenches during March and knows what it takes to coach his team through a deep tournament run. Since taking over in 2002, Romar has led the Huskies to three Sweet 16s and four conference tournament championships while winning conference Coach of the Year twice.

Experienced coaches can be the difference in a successful tournament team and a first-round exit, and with Romar Washington certainly has that on its side.

Depth

As Miller’s found out with his thin seven-man rotation, the luxury of a deep bench plays a huge factor in March. Romar has nine players at his disposal with Wilcox, Gant, Shawn Kemp Jr. and Austin Seferian-Jenkins coming off the pine. That depth allows Washington to play at a break-neck pace, get after it on defense and crash the boards.


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