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Wilcox Smooth, Blackwell Shines In 1st Scrimmage

Oct 26, 2013

A Pac-12 officiating crew calls fouls galore during the 32-minute, game-like scrimmage – then explains this is how it’s going to be when the games get real beginning for UW on Nov. 10.

By Gregg Bell

UW Director of Writing

SEATTLE – The Huskies’ first full scrimmage of the preseason offered five glimpses of the season ahead.

Four were enticing.

One was ominous.

C.J. Wilcox looked smooth, healthy and most sharp five months following foot surgery. Now-eligible transfer Perris Blackwell looked dominant and dynamic inside and while running the floor like a guard – or a track sprinter.

Freshman point guard Nigel Williams-Goss controlled his teammates, the floor and most of the scrimmage with cool poise and heady passes -- just as the McDonald’s All-American was advertised to be. And UW’s ability to score has improved exponentially from last season.

With former Dawgs Will Conroy and Abdul Gaddy courtside, coach Lorenzo Romar divided his Huskies into two teams for two, 16-minute halves with game-like timing Friday afternoon. The Gold team of Williams-Goss, Wilcox, Blackwell, Desmond Simmons, Shawn Kemp Jr., Jahmel Taylor and Mike Anderson beat the Purple team with Andrew Andrews, Darin Johnson, Hikeem Stewart, Jenard Jarreau, Gilles Dierickx and Robert Upshaw 78-55.

The ominous aspect of the scrimmage, 12 days before Washington hosts Central Washington in its lone exhibition game: Three Pac-12 officials — Jimmy Casas, Tom Spitznagel and Jeff Kent — were at the closed session at Alaska Airlines Arena, calling fouls.

Many fouls.

So many it exceeded even the Pac-12’s well-known standard of prodigious whistling. One Husky who shall remain nameless was called for 10 fouls in the 32-minute scrimmage.

More than once Williams-Goss, the freshman point guard and McDonald’s All-American from Findlay Prep outside Las Vegas, asked the officials to explain why they had called fouls on him far from the basket.

"Just so I know for the future," Williams-Goss said to one of the striped shirts.

Williams-Goss was frequently guilty of hand-checking dribblers — placing his hand in their chests or stomachs as if to size them up and keep them within arm’s reach.

Concerned with a decrease in scoring and increase in rough play over the last several seasons, the NCAA men’s basketball rules committee is demanding this season that game officials crack down on how teams defend. They will be extra tight calling hand checking, arm bars, forearm bracing and just about any other form of contact with a ball handler — or anyone else on offense, for that matter.

That’s how the officials called the scrimmage. Rarely did the teams string together more than two consecutive possessions before a foul came, and usually it was far from the basket.

The biggest take away from watching the Huskies in a game-like situation for the first time since practice began Oct. 1? Players, coaches and fans need to brace for halting, long and perhaps even maddening games early this season. Starters may be headed to the bench early and often because of foul trouble. Teams that can develop a productive bench right away may win the most in November and December.

And the Huskies are far better off with depth than they were this time last season.

"Do know, we feel your frustration," one of the officials told the somewhat baffled and/or bemused Huskies after the scrimmage ended. "But this is what they want us to call."

He explained that officiating crews have been told to call any contact that affects the rhythm, speed and balance of an offensive player.

"It’s going to be a frustrating time," the official said.

"As we get used to this," a second member of the crew said, "we are going to err on the side of calling a foul."

Oh, joy.

Romar approved of the way the scrimmage was called — if only because he wants his guys to know this is how it will be starting next month.

"This is how it’s going to be in games, so we want the full effect," Romar said after the practice.

Romar has had officials calling most of the Huskies’ practices this month. Earlier this week in a more limited scrimmage than Friday’s, the players got noticeably frustrated and even angry over the incessant whistles.

Friday, Romar was pleased to see that anger subsiding and the adjustments beginning.

"The first time was tough. They were frustrated," the coach said on the eve of his 12th season at UW. "Now they are beginning to get accustomed to what is a foul (this season).

"Now that we are at a point we know how they are calling it, we are moving on to learning to be in better position and to not foul."

Wilcox, who had surgery in May to repair a stress fracture in his foot, looked smooth. He flashed his signature, outside shooting and his more-recently developed game of driving to the basket.

Three times Williams-Goss coolly split the defense at the foul line, drove the lane and fired a kick-out pass to a wide-open Wilcox. Twice Wilcox swished 3-pointers from the corner. The third time the fifth-year senior drove from the left of the lane past three Purple defenders for a slashing layup, showing a dimension he added last season.

Williams-Goss directed Gold teammates around the floor to create better spacing, constantly found the open man and also made open jumpers. He looked like anything but a teen, or the youngest player on the floor.

Blackwell was outstanding. He ran the floor ahead of the Purple defense three defense times for easy lay-ins. He caught and turned into the lane for jump-hook scores and outside for turn-around jumpers. And he found Wilcox, Kemp and other Gold teammates in the lane for more scores.

Once when Blackwell beat everyone down floor yet again for a dunk, assistant coach Brad Jackson yelled “GREAT job, Perris!”

Blackwell showed a dynamic inside-scoring presence the Huskies have lacked the last two seasons. The 6-foot-9, 275-pound power forward said a couple weeks ago “I like to score, and that while at San Francisco for three seasons he was limited by the system from showing off all his scoring talents.

"Oh, it’s huge. He runs the floor. He catches — and then can do something with it," Romar said of his second-team All-West Coast Conference transfer, who is eligible for just this season at UW. "And he can pass."

With Anderson, Johnson, Williams-Goss and Blackwell — as well as Dierickx, a 7-foot transfer from Florida International also eligible this season, showing a mid-range jumper — the Huskies have multiplied their offensive options since last season. It will no longer be up to Wilcox almost alone to carry the bulk of the scoring responsibility.

Defensively, the Huskies are talking a lot more and helping each other. That could translate into fewer blown assignments and better fits on the floor. Romar did not allow his players to switch on defense through screens during the scrimmage, reinforcing the need for quick feet to stay in proper position in front of the ball.

With the improved depth, this season’s team will be able to play more of the pressure defense picking up at half and three-quarters court that Romar has used most of his time at UW — but was hindered from doing last season.

The Huskies will be able to play that way, that is, if officials don’t foul all of them out first.

The season begins real on Nov. 10 against Seattle University.

"At this point, we are jacks of all trades and masters of none," Romar said after three weeks of practice. "But we are definitely headed in the right direction.

"We definitely have more guys who can make more plays."