No. 21 UW men ready to start Pac-12 hoops play at Cal
UW’s 11-1 record ties the best start for a Lorenzo Romar-led team, matching the 2005-06 squad.
Seattle Times staff reporter
UW @ California, 7 p.m., Pac-12 Networks
BERKLEY, Calif. – Given a second chance to forecast the Pac-12 men’s basketball race, most prognosticators would likely move Washington and California a little higher in their projections.
The 21st-ranked Huskies were picked sixth in the preseason media poll, one point ahead of the Golden Bears at seventh.
Both teams have been two of the early surprises in the conference due to unexpected fast starts. They also suffered humiliating and humbling home defeats to mid-majors in their nonconference finales, which spoiled their bids to make history and took a little luster off Friday’s 7 p.m. Pac-12 opener between UW and Cal at Haas Pavilion.
“We’re excited to start league play,” coach Lorenzo Romar said. “Obviously we would have liked the outcome to have come out different the other day, but again because of the whole body of work and the way we practiced the last couple of days, we’re excited.”
The start of a new year is no better time to hit the reset button for the Huskies and Golden Bears.
Washington won its first 11 games before falling 62-57 in Sunday’s stunner to Stony Brook. Still, UW’s 11-1 record ties the best start for a Romar-led team, matching the 2005-06 squad.
Meanwhile, under the direction of new coach Cuonzo Martin, California began 10-1, which was the best start since the 1959-60 season.
However, the Bears (10-3) dropped their next two games, against then-No. 6 Wisconsin (68-56) and Cal State Bakersfield (55-52).
Still, a 10-3 start is somewhat remarkable for a Cal team considering the uncertainties when Martin took over last April after Mike Montgomery retired.
The Bears returned three starters, but the front court lacks size and experience and there were serious questions about who was going to replace departing senior point guard Justin Cobbs, a three-year starter.
Martin moved Tyrone Wallace, a 6-5 junior, from the wing to point guard, which has been nothing short of brilliant.
Wallace increased his scoring average by nearly 10 points from a year ago and ranks second in the Pac-12 at 19.2 points per game. He also ranks third in the league with an 8.8 rebounding average. And his 4.1 assist average is eighth in the conference.
Wallace is the only Pac-12 player to rank in the top 10 in all three categories.
“He’s always been a great player,” said Washington’s Nigel Williams-Goss, who paired with Wallace in the backcourt for the Los Angeles-based AAU team Double Pump in 2011. “I think now he’s finally getting the recognition that he deserves.”
While Wallace has drawn praise for his rebounding, Williams-Goss said his former teammate has made the biggest strides improving his perimeter shooting. Wallace is shooting 44.1 percent (15 of 34) on three-pointers. During his first two years at Cal, he shot 28.0 percent behind the arc.
“He was always a capable three-point shooter, but now the consistency is really starting to come in,” Williams-Goss said. “Aside from his three-point shot, everything you see him doing now he’s been doing it.”
Washington’s No. 1 priority is containing Wallace just as California must try to corral Williams-Goss, who leads the Huskies in scoring (13.6 average), assists (6.7) and is tied for third in rebounding (5.3).
“They have one of the best point guards in the country as far as his ability to rebound and score the ball, facilitate the offense and have a demanding presence on the floor,” Martin said referring to Williams-Goss. “That’s probably one of the best teams in the country.”
Certainly, Washington and Cal have proved to be among the better teams in the Pac-12 two months into the college basketball season.
However, it remains to be seen if they can cash in on their fast starts and finish the season in the NCAA tournament.
• Sophomore guard Jahmel Taylor, who appeared in just 20 games the past two seasons, is transferring. He averaged 1.3 points and 3.7 minutes with the Huskies. He sat out the last eight games.
• California sophomore guard Jabari Bird, a McDonald’s prep All-American averaging 11.7 points, will miss Friday’s game due to a stress fracture in his left foot.