The backstory behind Washington's 88-78 win over Seattle on Sunday night is what Romar wants told, where the Huskies were depleted, were forced to use players out of position and still managed to stave off a challenge from their crosstown rival.
"Down the road people will look back and see that we won this game, and I don't think people understand how big a win this was for us and how gutsy and how much of a character win this was," Romar said. "We've had big games on the big stage in the past and come through. In terms of pulling a game out when the chips are really down, our guys never got down on themselves or got frustrated, this is one of the more special wins for me."
C.J. Wilcox led five Washington players in double figures with 22 points and Andrew Andrews added 21 points for the Huskies, who won their eighth straight in the series. Washington (1-0) was playing without forwards Desmond Simmons and Perris Blackwell, and lost Jernard Jarreau in the first 2 minutes to a right knee injury.
The Huskies were down three key contributors to their front court and players were making changes on the fly. Reserves Mike Anderson and Darin Johnson were called upon to play more minutes in different spots. Wilcox defended a new position. Shawn Kemp Jr., the only experienced big guy the Huskies had left, played 30 minutes.
At times Washington played with four or five guards. They were on-the-fly adjustments and changes Romar said his team a year ago could not have made.
"We had to pull together and really see what we were made of early," Wilcox said.
Johnson finished with 16 points and seven rebounds while Anderson had 12 points, eight rebounds and was a pest on defense, especially in the second half when he was switched onto Seattle guard Isiah Umipig. Anderson bothered Umipig, who still finished with 22 points but was 7 of 24 shooting.
Clarence Trent, who started his college career at Washington, added 18 points for the Redhawks (0-1). Seattle was outscored 33-11 at the free-throw line.
"Defensively we did a pretty good job," Seattle coach Cameron Dollar said. "Offensively we missed some shots, but the difference was them getting to the free-throw line and making them."
Washington lost Jarreau with 18:25 left in the first half. He stole the ball at the top of the key and raced toward the other basket. Umipig tried to chase from behind and appeared to clip Jarreau as he went into the air. Jarreau landed awkwardly with his right leg buckling. He was on the court in pain for several minutes before being helped off putting little-to-no weight on his right leg, and Umipig was given a flagrant foul.
Jarreau is scheduled to have an MRI on Monday.
The loss of Jarreau was magnified because the Huskies were already significantly short-handed in the frontcourt. Washington played without Blackwell after he suffered a concussion in the Huskies exhibition win over Central Washington last Wednesday. The school said Blackwell was close to getting clearance but was not given the OK to play in the regular season opener. Blackwell had 21 points in the exhibition victory.
The Huskies are also without Simmons until mid-December after he had knee surgery.
Seattle had its chances early, scoring 10 straight and 15 of 17 points to take a 28-18 lead when Umipig hit his second 3-pointer of the first half. It was an impressive statement by Seattle, only trumped by the Huskies rebuttal.
Washington closed the first half on a 24-5 run, getting contributions from everyone. Andrews hit a 3, Kemp scored in traffic, Johnson knocked down an open 3 and converted a three-point play, and Wilcox came alive. After missing his first five shots, Wilcox hit his last three shots, including a pair of deep 3s and Washington went to the half with a 42-33 lead.
Washington started pulling away midway through the second half. The Redhawks went more than seven minutes with just one made basket. Meanwhile, Kemp was wide open for a dunk, Nigel Williams-Goss hit a floater in the lane and Wilcox capped Washington's 9-2 run with a scoop-shot three-point play for a 59-47 lead with 11:23 left.
Seattle got within 65-58 with 8 minutes left on Deshaun Sunderhaus' three-point play, but Umipig missed an open 3 and an offensive foul kept the Redhawks from drawing closer. Washington scored 10 of the next 14 points to finally pull away.
"We were out there playing at times just on straight scrap and will and determination," Romar said. "Those are the wins that you love."