Yes, we know that the UW Huskies lost a heartbreaker to the UConn Huskies 14 years ago but there’s a couple interesting things to pull from the loss.
First a little recap of the game which was a real good one for those that remember and those that saw the replay on CBS Sports Network this afternoon.
The game featured two players of the year candidates in Brandon Roy and Rudy Gay. Roy was the Pac 10 Player of the Year, a Wooden Award and Naismith Finalist and was chosen as an All-American at the end of the season. Gay was one of the finalists for the Naismith College Player of the Year, All-Big East First Team and also an All-American at the end of the season.
The game pitted two high-caliber teams at the top of their game in the first half as the teams traded leads throughout most of it.
After UConn grabbed some separation, UW went on a run using its defensive pressure. I forgot how this team could turn up the defensive intensity and forced UConn into turnovers. UW went on a 12-2 run with 6:00 left in the first quarter taking the 32-26 lead. After a miss on the offensive end, Roy snuck up on a UConn player for a steal and dunk to put UW up 10 with less than 4 minutes to go in the first half. At this point, I recall thinking about the Dawgs finally getting revenge for 1998 and a game closer to the elusive Final Four. I was also overlooking George Mason at this time. Lorenzo Romar’s team had a 45-40 lead going into halftime. The 45 points in the first half was the most the UConn Huskies allowed that season.
There were some issues. Both Jon Brockman and Jamal Williams had 3 fouls at the end of the first half. UConn shot 21 free throws in the first half and made just 12. But the foul trouble was a big issue later in the game. They were also shooting well from 3-point land.
The second half saw the Huskies hang on to the lead but up 53-43 Roy committed his second foul with 14:26 left. A minute later, Roy and Gay got tangled up which led to some words and technicals for both. Roy was assessed a foul on Gay and plus the technical gave him 4 with 13:48 left to play. Thus, Roy had to survive with 4 fouls without getting disqualified.
After the 4th foul on Roy, UConn went on a 10-2 run and it was the 3 pointers by UConn that helped. They ended the game 10-19 and 52% from behind the arc.
UW and Roy remained in the game despite UConn’s run keeping the game close and eventually pulling ahead late. Under a minute to go in regulation, UW was up 5. Jensen took a 3 and missed. Rashad Anderson made a 3 over Jensen on the other end.
Next UW possession, Justin Dentmon was fouled and stepped up to the line and made the first free throw and made the second. Dentmon was an 81% free throw shooter and came through to put UW up 4 with 21.2 seconds left. It seemed like a date with George Mason was a reality.
WHY MIKE WHY?
But…Mike Jensen inexplicably fouled Marcus Williams as he was driving to the basket for the hoop and the foul to bring the game to 80-79 with 11 seconds left. The look on Bobby Jones’ face from the bench said it all.
Roy was fouled with 7.9 seconds left. The future TrailBlazer hit both free throws to make it 82-79.
But UW didn’t pick up the speed dribble by Marcus Williams and a Rashad Anderson handoff catch and shoot in Ryan Appleby’s face forced overtime. An Appelby heave at the buzzer went offline and the teams went into overtime.
Huskies succumbed to foul trouble in OT. Yet, the Huskies stole an inbound pass down two with 11 seconds left but promptly gave it back on an errant pass to Roy. He fouled out on that play ending his college playing career. It was the last time the Huskies came that close to the Elite Eight.
Watching this game, there are some great observations.
First, Brandon Roy was one of the best players in UW basketball history. When his jersey retired, I initially thought it was too soon. But watching this game, it helped refresh my recollection that he was one of the smoothest players in college basketball. Notwithstanding his offense, Roy could really play defense as exemplified in this game.
Second, the Huskies defense was superb. Despite being undersized, Bobby Jones, Jamal Williams and Jon Brockman could matchup with any bigs in the country at the time. They were outrebounded in the game but the quick hands of UW caused 19 steals and UConn had 26 turnovers overall. Think about that. This was a team that lost 3 games all season and UW forced them into 26 turnovers!
Third, the point guard play of Justin Dentmon reminds you how great a team can be when you have a player that can run a team and hit a shot when needed. Certainly, Dentmon made mistakes, including a couple unforced traveling calls in the game, but he still was better than anyone we saw this season. And, he was just a freshman.
Finally, you could argue that this was the best UW team top to bottom in the modern era. Yes, the 2004-2005 team which earned the 1 seed in the West for the tournament probably had better athletes with Nate Robinson, Will Conroy and Tre Simmons. But this team led by Roy was solid. Brockman and Dentmon were just freshman and contributors. Moreover, the bench consisting of Jamaal Williams, Joel Smith and Ryan Appleby had their own defined roles in the rotation.
So now the two big questions that will still bring up debate among fans.
First, the decision to not foul on defense up 3 late in the game. Romar’s theory that playing tough defense instead of forcing a team to make free throws is still a confounding strategy. From one perspective, playing tough defense and making the offense make a tough shot seems like a sound strategy. However, from another the best a team can do is to get within one point of you with them needing to foul to stop the clock. Relying on free throw shooting to keep extending the lead seems like a sound argument for fouling. Then again, you are giving the other team two free points and you never know what may happen.
At a time when analytics were not used, the philosophies were debatable. If the Dawgs had picked up Williams at the outset forcing a foul and free throws at the line, the score would have been 82-81 with UW ball. This would force a foul for UConn and UW back at the line. I would think you’d take that scenario over UConn taking a shot at 3. At the time, Calhoun’s team was hot from behind the arc.
The other “what if” is what would have happened in a matchup between UW and George Mason? Would the Huskies have broken through to defeat George Mason or would they have succumbed to Cinderella’s slipper? George Mason defeated UConn in the Regional Final and went on to the Final Four where they lost to eventual champ Florida. As a UConn friend of mine told me after his Huskies lost. “It’s not like UW would have beat them.” Perhaps GM was a team of destiny and the heartbreaking loss to Calhoun’s Huskies saved UW from a loss just a game away from the Final Four.
These are the things we are still left wondering. It’s been 14 years since this game but the best chance that the men’s team had to make it to the Final Four since then. As we know, several Huskies (both UW and UConn) went on to the NBA. Jones and Dentmon are even reuniting this summer to play in the The Basketball Tournament. Without a March Madness (on the court that is) this year, reliving the past is the only way we can enjoy basketball for now. The 2006 Huskies were a fun team to watch and this game, even if it the good Dawgs didn’t win, was a remarkable one to watch.