Romar's steady hand key to Washington's success
Lorenzo Romar doesn't vary from the core teaching principles that are largely responsible for Washington's unprecedented success since he took over the basketball program in 2002.
Even two months ago, when the Huskies were at the lowest point in their ragged season, sitting 3-5 in conference play and winless on the road, his message and demeanor remained the same. He kept challenging his players to be better when they were good, and boosting their fallen egos when they struggled.
With the Huskies looking up from the bottom of the Pac-10, critics and message boards lit up wondering if Romar was the right coach for Washington's future.
Now that the Huskies are winners of nine straight and headed to the NCAA tournament regional semifinals for the third time in Romar's tenure, those same fans are wondering if this has been the finest coaching job by the two-time Pac-10 coach of the year.
The 11th-seeded Huskies face No. 2 seed West Virginia on Thursday night in Syracuse, N.Y.
``He's pretty much been consistent. Even when we weren't playing at a certain level he coached at a certain level and now we're starting to try and match that level he's coaching at,'' forward Justin Holiday said. ``He knows the way he wants it. He's not going to change. He's going to keep it the same until we figure it out.''
Washington figured out what Romar wanted from his players in time to stage a dramatic late-season run, going from tournament afterthoughts to being among the field still playing on the second weekend of a bracket-thrashing tournament.
They were lost in the middle of January. Stars were distrustful of teammates. Rotations and roles weren't defined. The Huskies remained juggernauts at home, but defined dysfunctional on the road.
Romar got his team some confidence with four straight home wins in late January and early February. They won on the road for the first time Feb. 13 at Stanford and took off from there.
The Huskies have won nine straight games on the road or on a neutral court, including their Pac-10 tournament title victory and wins over Marquette and New Mexico in the first two rounds of the NCAAs.
Their current winning streak is the longest since an 11-game run in the 2006 season, the last time Washington reached the round of 16.
``Your team just being on the borderline of really, really doubting themselves, to come back from that and now be in the Sweet 16 is very rewarding,'' Romar said. ``To see certain players step up and have an impact, such as a Matthew Bryan-Amaning that wasn't having as great a season up to that point, that has been gratifying. To see the team come together as a group is awesome to see.''
By getting his team back to the round of 16, Romar also gets an opportunity to exorcise some of his personal demons.
Four years ago, Romar took the fifth-seeded Huskies to Washington, D.C., where they led No. 1 seed Connecticut into the closing seconds. Then Rashad Anderson's 3-pointer with 1.7 seconds left - when Romar chose not to foul up by three - forced overtime. UConn went on to win 98-92.
Romar candidly admitted this week that the loss to UConn still haunts him.
``If I would never experience as a head coach an opportunity to go to the Final Four and win a national championship, that UConn game will always haunt me, because I remember how close it was,'' Romar said. ``When we were sitting in the locker room that night after the game I was thinking to myself 'I hope we have a chance to get back here again, because many others have been in this position and never made it back.'''
The Huskies are now back, again the decided underdogs against another Big East team. Washington's win over Marquette in the first round snapped a 10-game losing streak against Big East competition. A win over the Mountaineers would be Washington's deepest tournament run since reaching the 1953 Final Four.
``He's never going to stop working hard and he just found a way. He found a way for this team to start winning games,'' Washington star Quincy Pondexter said. ``He found a way for us to all buy into what he was teaching us and it's paid off now.''