Seattle - Some defeats sting basketball coaches for a few hours, then are stashed away in that corner-of-the-mind bin containing old phone numbers, former home addresses and the middle names of high-school girlfriends.
But every so often, losing a winnable game – by one point, say, on the road – creates a throbbing ache that lingers well into the following week.
When Lorenzo Romar met with reporters the other day after Huskies practice, his thoughts dwelled less on the 7 o’clock tipoff tonight against the University of San Francisco than his team’s self-induced, 63-62 defeat last Saturday at Texas A&M.
Romar said he’s watched the A&M game tape 11 times, an agony appreciated by those of us once forced to sit through 11 daily viewings of “Wee Sing in Sillyville.”
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In any case, Romar’s thorough dissection of the remains of that day left him with a conclusion.
“There are certain guys,” he said, “that may need to play more.”
Put another way, there is one guy certain to play more: Center Aziz N’Diaye, who has made four consecutive starts without contributing more than 13 minutes in any of them.
“Aziz hasn’t given us a lot from an offensive standpoint,” Romar continued, referring to N’Diaye’s 4.8 scoring average. “And due to foul trouble or maybe when his knee is bothering him a little bit or bad matchups in the game, he hasn’t played as many minutes. But Aziz is averaging 2.5 rebounds every three minutes, which is better than Jon Brockman’s average when he was here. You take our team with Jon Brockman and play him 12 minutes a game, I bet you we don’t rebound as well.”
The Huskies (6-3) are 5-0 when they’ve outperformed their opponents on the boards, 1-3 when they haven’t. Texas A&M owned a 39-33 rebounding edge. If that edge had been 38-34 – if the Huskies had allowed just one fewer second-chance score on he defensive end – it’s conceivable they would’ve escaped College Station with their No. 22 national ranking intact.
“What’s been killing us is rebounding, so now we’ve got to get guys in there who are strong in that area,” Romar said. “We can go out and do drills and have people come in who are experts, and we can also play guys who are strong at rebounding. We don’t have lot of those guys, but Aziz is one of them.”
Although Romar wasn’t sure of the specifics of the Huskies’ new rotation combinations, he’d like to see N’Diaye’s playing time extended from 12 minutes to something closer to 20. N’Diaye runs the floor well, so fatigue is less a concern for him than his knees: He had anterior cruciate ligament surgery on his right knee last summer, and tendinitis has given him some problems with his left knee.
Romar is confident the medical staff can keep N’Diaye’s knee issues under control. If he’s healthy, the sophomore from Senegal, by way of the College of Southern Idaho, poses an obvious advantage under the boards with his 7-foot body.
But rebounding is a complex art, and the missed shot doesn’t automatically go to the tallest player in the lane. Soft hands, tough skin and supreme confidence are required, as well a sense – and perhaps this is the most important component – of where the ball will carom before it actually caroms.
Teaching and practice can improve that skill, but a rebounder, no matter how tall or relentless he is, must have a natural feel for the angle the ball takes off the backboard or rim. Romar likens it to the intuition of an outfielder playing a line drive.
The gifted ones glide to the precise spot where the catch can be made, the grinders often break the wrong way. It’s not about effort. To the contrary, it’s about a trait that makes the best outfielders appear effortless.
And while certain subtleties about positioning can made good rebounders and outfielders even better, they should be wary of a strict allegiance to textbook technique.
Romar recalls a conversation he once had with Nolan Richardson. When the College Basketball Hall of Fame coach was still working at the high-school level, he had an undersized forward who’d turned himself into a glass-cleaning machine. Then Richardson attended a clinic, where a rebounding guru convinced the coach to implement a system steeped in the expert’s can’t-miss methods.
“The kid suddenly stopped rebounding,” Romar said. “He went from averaging about 20 to averaging a couple games of five. So Coach Richardson asked him, ‘What’s wrong?’
“And the kid said, ‘You know how I’m supposed to keep my left foot just so and my arms in that new position and ’
“Coach Richardson interrupted him. ‘Forget everything you’ve been told,’ he said, ‘and just go back to rebounding your way.’ The next game, the kid had 25.”
Romar’s discussion about rebounding led to a question: Who was the best he can remember?
“A guy I played with on the Warriors,” answered Romar, whose five-year NBA career ended in 1985. “Larry Smith – ‘Mr. Mean.’ I once saw him pull down 30.”
The 6-8 Smith averaged 9.2 averaged rebounds over 13 seasons in the NBA, finishing with at least 20 boards in 28 games.
“Dennis Rodman was the smartest,” Romar said. “I went to a game once and kept my attention on him the whole time. When it came to a rebound, he was a like a point guard, motioning teammates on where to position themselves.
“And then there was Bill Russell. Can you imagine him averaging, what, 50 rebounds a game? Man, those guys must’ve been shooting a lot of bricks.”
UNIVERSITY OF SAN FRANCISCO (4-5) AT WASHINGTON (6-3)
7 p.m., Hec Edmundson Pavilion
TV: FSN. Radio: 950-AM.
Series: In their only previous meeting, last Dec. 29 in Seattle, the Huskies won, 86-71, behind the comprehensive effort of senior Quincy Pondexter. He led all scorers with 22 points, and finished with five rebounds, three blocks and two steals.
Scouting report: Before USF took the unprecedented action of shutting its scandal-rocked program between 1981 and 1985, the Dons were an intermittent West Coast powerhouse. They won the 1949 NIT and consecutive NCAA championships, in 1955 and ’56, behind legendary center Bill Russell. Another center, Bill Cartwright, led USF to a No. 1 ranking late in the 1977 season. Former Kansas guard Rex Walters, in his third season as USF’s coach, has installed a 1-3-1 zone defense that Huskies coach Lorenzo Romar notes is “not as aggressive or pressure oriented as Oregon State. We haven’t faced anyone this year with a similar combination.” In their most recent game, the Dons beat Montana, 50-48 in overtime, behind the 23 points and 13 rebounds of sophomore Michael Williams. Both marks are career highs...Montana’s 48 points were 20 below its season averageTonight will be a homecoming for USF freshman Cole Dickerson, former Federal Way High star. The Huskies fell out of The Associated Press Top 25 after their 63-62 loss at Texas A&M. They’re now ranked No. 28. The UW is riding a 21-game unbeaten streak at Hec Ed.
Next: vs. Nevada, 6 p.m. Wednesday, Hec Edmundson Pavilion.
John McGrath, staff writer