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December 21, 2006As the season began, the Washington basketball team was a young one. Loaded with freshmen and sophomores at every turn, it was nothing if not a work in progress.
The talent was there to be sure, with a first-year class that compared favorably to any in the nation, but the experience was missing. The veteran leadership of the past two years and the seasoned play that came with it was nowhere to be found on the roster.
But one thing seemed pretty evident: once these guys got their feet wet, the sky was the limit.
Apparently there is a big cache of wet Dawgs on Montlake right now.
Louisiana State is a big-time opponent. The Tigers have an All-American in the middle and are coming off of a season that was as magical as anyone else's not named George Mason or Florida. Ranked just outside of the top-10 - at No. 12 - they were going to be a formidable challenge for the young Huskies.
However, Glen Davis and the rest of the Tigers didn't look like a challenge at all. They looked more like any of the other non-conference squads the Huskies have faced not named Gonzaga.
But even most of those squads put the game in question for at least a little bit.
"From day one we tried to preach to our team that you can have a lot of fun in the game of basketball, but in order to have fun you have to work hard," said UW coach Lorenzo Romar.
And really, there wasn't much of the 88-72 thrashing of one of the SEC's best that wasn't fun for the Huskies.
There was Spencer Hawes' pretty turnaround hook shot off the glass we saw over and over again. Or Jon Brockman's offensive put-backs that got everything started. There were even the three long-range bombs that Phillip Nelson put in, which continued his attempt to run up his Huskies' long distance bill the last couple games.
Everything was working for the Huskies and it all couldn't get up and running at a better time. Washington goes into conference play next week, and a win like this will do wonders for the squad's confidence as it heads down to Los Angeles.
"One of the best feelings is to go out and leave everything on the floor and just sit back," Brockman said.
For the next week - except Friday's contest against Weber State - the Huskies will be able to do a lot of sitting back. They have finally come together. Hawes has shaken off his pre-season knee surgery, and the entire team has developed a chemistry.
It took about a month and one hollowing loss to the in-state Bulldogs, but the Huskies are finally ready to compete. They are finally ready to enter the Pac-10 slate with confidence. They are finally where they need to be.
"I think we matured a lot in this game, especially the young guys," Hawes said. "We took the negatives (of the Gonzaga game) and turned them into positives."
Positives that helped Hawes and Brockman give the UW its first pair of double-doubles of the season. Positives that helped Quincy Pondexter turn a scoreless first half into a 15 point outburst in the second.
Positives, that most importantly, gave them the win. And it's not just any win. It's a win against one of the nation's elite, one of the best ways to build an NCAA tournament resume in the early goings.
It was a statement win. It told the Seattle, Washington and the rest of the United States that the Huskies are coming, and no one, no matter how big - even 6-foot-9 and 289 pounds - can get in their way.