By Bob Hertzel
For the Times West Virginian
In the final analysis, Washington Coach Lorenzo Romar knows Bob Huggins and Bob Huggins’ basketball about as well as any coach in this country, certainly more than most coaches with as low a profile as he has as he leads his team against West Virginia into the Sweet 16 at 7:27 p.m. Thursday in Syracuse.
He has watched Huggins coach up close and personal, coached against him, and spent hours looking at film of Huggins’ teams.
He also knows that all of it doesn’t mean much.
He remembers what a former coach once told him about a team he was about to play.
“They’re easy to scout,” the coach said. “They’re hard to play.”
“I think West Virginia fits that,” Romar said.
Indeed, WVU isn’t fancy. It is basic in its approach, relying on athleticism and strength, defense and rebounding to beat you.
The Mountaineers are what they are, and while it may not be exactly the way Huggins would have it at its finest, it’s pretty good.
As for Romar, well, his Huskies are seeded 10th in the East Region, which probably underrates them quite a bit because the Pac-10 really is a better conference than it has been given credit for.
“We said it many times before, early on in non-conference play the Pac-10 suffered some losses that were looked upon as not very good losses,” Romar explained. “But you have to understand, the conference was playing without some players who were injured or not quite ready to go. They came back and the league played better.
“Then, the league lost 21 players to the NBA. It was a young league and got better as they matured. The non-conference losses gave the league a label. People already made an assumption what the league was. I think the league was better than it was given credit for.”
Certainly Washington was.
“They won 26 games. You don’t win 26 games if you aren’t good,” Huggins said.
Back, though, to the connection between Huggins and Romar.
Early on in his basketball life, Romar found himself in Cincinnati, playing for Athletes in Action, a traveling team that often plays college teams, while attending UC.
Huggins was the coach and it was during his glory days at the school.
“I was playing then and I took classes with some of their players. I saw his practices, went to the basketball banquet, got close to their conference,” Romar said.
He saw the Kenyon Martin team that probably was Huggins best and he saw the Nick Van Excel team, teams that made history at Cincinnati.
And then he coached at St. Louis as the 20th century became the 21st, playing in the same conference with Huggins.
The matchup with Washington is an interesting one, to say the least, for the Huskies like to score and WVU likes to snuff scorers.
“Their defense triggers their offense,” Romar said of the Mountaineers. “They’re also a team that hits the glass well. I remember the teams they had in Cincinnati in the early 1990s, they were piranhas on the boards.”
He knows that this team is little different.
“This team is close to the ones he had in Cincinnati,” Rormar said.
Huggins isn’t one to compare teams.
“Larry (assistant coach Larry Harrison) keeps saying this reminds him of the ‘92-93 team because they enjoy it so much, but they don’t play like those teams. They pressed all over the floor and had a lot of good players. I guess as far as having fun and knowing when to go for it and when to enjoy the experience, they are alike,” Huggins said.
E-mail Bob Hertzel at firstname.lastname@example.org.