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March 22, 2006
SEATTLE - Cancun. Cabo. Key West.
While many University of Washington students have escaped to the spring break party zones this week, the basketball team has dashed to its own paradise - Washington, D.C., for its NCAA regional semifinal against top-seeded Connecticut.
To the tested, toughened Washington veterans, their trip looks and feels better than Mexico, Florida and the Caribbean combined.
''Last year it was crazy. We all had never been there,'' senior Mike Jensen said of his then top-seeded team's regional semifinal flameout against Louisville. ''This year is so much more exciting - and we're getting to enjoy it more.''
Three full days more.
Coach Lorenzo Romar figured his players didn't have anything better to do than idling around campus without classmates or classes to occupy them beyond practices and scouting reports. So his Huskies (26-6) flew to the nation's capital on Tuesday afternoon - even though their game against those other, top-seeded Huskies isn't until late Friday night.
True to the spirit of spring break, the early arrival has some recreational purposes.
Romar, who was born 48 years ago in California and played for Washington, knows only one of his players is from east of Nevada. Freshman point guard Justin Dentmon is from Carbondale, Ill.
''It took me a while before I was able to get out to D.C. in my lifetime, and be able to see some of the history that evolved around this country,'' said Romar.
''I thought it would be a good idea to make sure our guys get a chance to see that.''
One thing Romar's men might want do while seeing the Capitol, the monuments and the cherry blossoms: grow.
Connecticut (29-3) is perhaps the tallest of Washington's 32 opponents this season.
Wingman and leading scorer Rudy Gay is 6-foot-9. Denham Brown is 6-6. He is listed as a forward but usually is on the perimeter with Gay and Marcus Williams, who is a puny 6-3. The front line has 6-10 Josh Boone and 6-11 Hilton Armstrong.
UConn's sixth man is sharp-shooting guard Rashad Anderson. He's 6-5.
And as Romar kept saying this week, all can run and jump and shoot as well as anyone in the country - perhaps better than any team Washington has seen yet. UConn's 81.2 points per game this season is just behind Washington's 81.7. Duke is the leader among remaining NCAA tournament teams at 81.9.
''They have six potential pros on their team,'' Romar said while listing UConn's individual strengths. ''We can go on and on.''
Roy called Connecticut, which spent part of the regular season ranked number one, ''probably the best team in the country.''
This creates Washington's own March Madness as it tries to win three consecutive games in an NCAA tournament for the first time: How do we guard these guys?
The Huskies often stymied smaller, opposing backcourts this season with the smothering, man-to-man defense of 6-6 Pac-10 Player of the Year Brandon Roy or 6-7 Bobby Jones. Friday, Roy and Jones will alternate with the 5-11 Dentmon trying to match up with these towering UConn guards.
Denton versus Gay or Brown might be more like David versus Goliath.
''Rudy Gay and Denham Brown ... that is a tough mismatch,'' Romar said. ''If Brandon or Bobby has to guard Marcus Williams, then Justin has to guard Rudy Gay or Brown. So we're discussing that right now.''
That doesn't even consider the front lines. Washington's has the 6-8 Jensen, 6-6 power forward Jamaal Williams and rugged freshman Jon Brockman, who is 6-7. Again, Washington is outsized in every potential matchup.
Yet Romar said his study of UConn showed it has had problems with smaller lineups on the other end of the court, with dribble penetration. That is what Dentmon daringly used to rally Washington to its biggest wins this season against Gonzaga, UCLA and last Saturday over Illinois in this tournament's second round.
Despite the mismatched appearance, Washington's Huskies see some advantages over UConn. One is their obscurity compared to their perennially prime-time opponent.
''Rudy Gay, he's probably seen me half a game total, on highlights,'' said Roy, who has burst into national prominence in the last week with dynamic NCAA games that echoed his do-it-all regular season. ''They've probably never seen us. We've been watching them all year ... We dissect them all the time.''
Then there's Roy himself. The Pac-10's best has scored 20 or more points in 18 games this season. He has been above 30 three times. He also averages nearly six rebounds and over four assists, and provides that shutdown defense.
To Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun, Roy alone could equalize UConn's height advantage.
''We have no one like Brandon Roy,'' Calhoun said. ''Nobody does.''? Get the latest from the Rivals.com Tourney Tracker