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January 14, 2006When Washington won its 13th game of the season on the eve of Friday the 13th, Husky fans could breathe a little easier. Seniors Brandon Roy and Bobby Jones had led the Dawgs to their first road win with a combined 45 points and 21 rebounds against the USC Trojans. The duo's dynamic play snapped a two-game conference losing streak, setting up the showdown between the 13th-ranked Huskies and the eleventh-ranked Bruins cross-town on the UCLA campus. The Dawgs had held on to a 13-point halftime lead, the same margin Arizona and Washington State had hurdled in the UW's previous losses.
Jones emerged from a six-game struggle with a spring-challenged ankle by bounding to his best game of the season. With 22 points and nine rebounds, Mr. Jones matched his career-high scoring effort and set his season-best on the boards. In tandem with Roy's fourth straight phenomenal Pac-10 performance, the pair have helped bolster the Huskies confidence going into their biggest challenge, winning at Pauley Pavilion. The history-draped building has been Washington's Waterloo in Westwood, a place haunted with 19 consecutive UW losses.
The Huskies haven't swept in Los Angeles since 1987--when Eldridge Recasner was a freshman--because the Bruins always seem to find a way to beat the Dawgs. Last year, Washington brought its 13 wins into Pauley and bolted to 30-9 advantage, but the Bruins blew by the purple-clad visitors with 53 second-half points by shooting 66 percent (19-29) after the break. In 42 tries at Pauley the Malamutes have won exactly twice.
But believe it or not, Washington has a good chance of bursting the Bruins' bubble on Saturday afternoon (1 pm, FSN). UCLA (14-2, 4-1) is off to its best start in its third season under coach Ben Howland, but when starting center Lorenzo Mata broke his tibia (leg) in a collision with Jordan Farmar late in their nail-biter over WSU Thursday, he was the fifth Bruin to go down for all or part of the season. Mata will miss 6-8 weeks.
Howland will likely be forced to start three freshmen. Michael Roll, a 6-foot-5 wing who replaced the scuttled Josh Shipp, posted 10 points in his first start Thursday. Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, a 6-foot-7 forward, has been a steady rebounder, but either fellow Cameroonian Alfred Aboya or Canadian Ryan Wright, also freshmen, will get their first start in place of Mata. Seven-foot senior center Ryan Hollins has been cleared to play after missing six games with a strained groin, but his minutes are expected to be limited.
"This is a great win for us with all the adversity," Howland said after the Cougars rallied from 17 points down, but fell short in the final seconds, 63-61.
Darren Collison, a freshman reserve guard, went coast-to-coast for the deciding layin with 19 seconds left. The Cougars' Kyle Weaver tried a similar feat but his layup rolled off the rim at the buzzer. It was the second straight game UCLA has won at the horn, and its fourth win of the season decided by two points or less.
After struggling to stop WSU's Josh Akognon, who had 25 points, all in the second half, the listing Bruins must now try to slow B-Roy, who's averaging a league-leading 30 points per Pac-10 contest, and B-Jones, who stopped, popped, and swatted his way into the Trojans' nightmares. Roy's 23 points and 12 rebounds Thursday represented his fifth double-double of his UW career, while Jones fell one board shy of his sixth. Since injuring his ankle in the New Mexico game, Jones had been in a month-long funk-averaging just 7.3 points and 2.8 rebounds-that coincided with the Huskies' slump. His resurgence was a reminder of what was lacking from the Dawgs' demeanor.
"When Bobby's playing with that energy it makes us an entirely different team," coach Lorenzo Romar said after the victory at USC. "He gives us a whole new look. He brought it tonight. Him and Brandon combined for some huge numbers in a great night for both of those guys.
"Bobby just put it upon himself to get lost in the game. And it's amazing when you get lost in the game and just give everything, how things just fall in your lap," said Romar, a UCLA assistant from 1992-96, sounding more optimistic than he has in weeks.
The ball kept falling in the Trojans' lap, beneath the basket, as Bobby and Brandon drained 6-of-12 3-point attempts. BJ, who was 4-of-8 behind the arc, had previously slid to 6-of-27 from triple-town this season in large part because he was having trouble fully elevating. Roy, of course, has been off the charts from three in the four conference games, hitting a staggering 78 percent (14-of-18). His scoring surge in Pac-10 play has not been as a result of indiscriminate gunning. He's shooting at a 58-percent clip in conference, impressively efficient for a leading scoring. With 27 points in 26 minutes versus Wazzu, Roy now has six games on the year scoring 20 or more points.
The fact that Jones scored more than 12 points for the first time since the Gonzaga battle is good news to Roy's ears. Having the kid from Compton back as a third consistent scoring threat, along with Jamaal Williams, gives the Husky offense another gear against the likes of UCLA, who sits atop the Pac-10 standings, and next week's visitors, the Beavers. Oregon State knocked off their second straight contender with a 75-65 stiff arm of the No. 24 Wildcats.
In the two losses, Washington displayed a slight tendency towards standing and watching Roy do his thing. "That was some of what I was afraid of was that they'd kind of start to rely maybe a little too much on me," Roy said before the road trip. "In the Arizona game I was like, 'Man, I feel like I'm shooting on every play.' Nobody else wanted to shoot. That's just them having faith in me, but at the same time I've got to restore confidence in them."
Having adjusted to a more perimeter role and overcome the injury, Jones looks like he's back to the mid-season confidence of last year. In the previous meeting with UCLA last February at Hec Ed, Jones dropped in 17 points, including 3-of-5 shooting from the arc. Roy added 20 points as the No. 13 Huskies downed the Bruins 82-70. They'd like to make a name for this year's squad with a win in Bruinville.
"I do look at it as my last go-around," said Jones, a four-year starter. "That should also give me motivation to leave my stamp on the place (Pauley) before I leave and hopefully we'll get a win at the same time."
Jones is aware that he hasn't always had his best games in Los Angeles and knows there's room for improvement. The ankle looked like it buckled twice when he came down with defensive rebounds versus SC, and he had seven turnovers in the game, a couple coming on charge calls. The turnovers have been one of the few blemishes on his season, as he has a team-high 40 so far. Some of those stem for the hesitation that comes with a bad wheel.
Justin Dentmon also had seven turnovers at Troy and he'll need to show more poise against UCLA's sophomore standouts, point guard Farmar, who's one of the Pac-10's best, and Arron Afflalo, who carried the Bruins again on Thursday with 18 points. Slowing those two, both of whom are nursing injuries, will be the key for the Huskies. Roy indicated earlier he'll step up in that regard and Jones' regained quickness will be important in keeping Afflalo under 25.
Dentmon acknowledged their talent and importance. "They are very fast guards. You've got to keep them in front of you," he said Friday.
If the Huskies can hold UCLA under 75 points-they're averaging less than 70-and win the rebounding battle, Washington has a strong chance of picking up their first L.A. sweep since the Reagan era. The Dawgs are 10-0 when holding teams under 75.
Granted, the wins at Pauley come once in a blue moon. But there's a full moon tonight and with Jones and Roy on the rise, it's high time they painted it purple.