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Sunday, March 20, 2005 - Page updated at 12:00 a.m.

Robinson's game steady and spectacular

Blaine Newnham / Times associate editor

Enlarge this photoROD MAR / THE SEATTLE TIMES

Nate Robinson rises for a shot yesterday in Boise, Idaho. He had a team-leading 23 points and seven rebounds in the Huskiesí second-round NCAA win.

BOISE, Idaho — He led cheers before the game and danced after it. In between, he was as good as any college player in America.

Just at the right time, there is more substance than show to Nate Robinson's game, a maturity in both him and his game that could allow him to be a dominating figure even at the Sweet 16 level and beyond.

Especially at the Sweet 16 level and beyond.

Robinson rocketed through Pacific yesterday, making spectacular layups over two or three taller players, making pinpoint passes to waiting teammates, diving on the floor to scour for loose balls, leading Washington not only in scoring with 23 points, but in rebounding with seven.

"That's what I like to do — rebound with the big boys," said Robinson, who isn't 5 feet 8, let alone his listed 5-9.

"The bigger the game," said his coach, Lorenzo Romar, "you almost see him grow before your eyes."

After his high-wire act of last season, there was talk that Robinson has had an off year, that he hasn't helped his chances in the NBA, that Brandon Roy or Bobby Jones is the best player on the team.

"Whenever someone comes in to watch Nate, they are expecting to see a show," said Romar. "He might score 18 points, get eight rebounds and four steals — a heck of a game — but people say, 'Yeah, but he didn't get any dunks.'

"There is so much hype around him, people are looking for the moon."

They got against Pacific as complete a game as a player can give.

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Robinson went to Romar early in the second half.

"I said, 'Coach, I can take these guys anytime.' And he said, 'Take them, but make sure you make the right decisions.' "

Robinson did both. Getting past the Pacific guards might have been easy, but weaving through the European timber near the basket caused Robinson to make a string of spectacular shots.

"He's slowing down and letting the game come to him and taking opportunities when they are there," said Huskies assistant coach Ken Bone. "Before, he wanted to force the issue."

In terms of his approach to the game, Robinson admits he is more about the team this season and less about himself.

"I'm selling out for my team," he said, "being more of a team player. I want to be known as a player who doesn't care about anything but my team and winning."

There is no question he makes better decisions. But there is also no question that he has become a much better outside shooter.

"His shot is phenomenal right now," said Bone. "He's worked hard on it."

Robinson uses the same legs that propel him above the rim to get him high and square to the basket on his shot.

As far as numbers go, he was 10 of 14 from the floor against Pacific. For the season he is shooting 46 percent. Despite the pace at which the Huskies play, he has twice as many assists as turnovers.

Yesterday, he handled the ball like a point guard but made only one turnover. Defensively, he chased David Doubley, the Big West player of the year, to the bench. Doubley ended up with nine points, but six came when Robinson was out of the game.

"When we did make a run," said Pacific coach Bob Thomason, "Robinson just took over the game and showed what type of player he is. He made some very difficult shots and made them look easy."

Robinson squarely rebuffed talk about his future and an early go at the NBA draft, but you get the sense that he surely understands the significance of the present.

"I'm building my own legacy," he said. "I can tell my son what I did playing basketball for the Huskies, and I can tell him that his grandfather played football and did it his way.

"Hopefully, my son goes to the U-Dub and plays baseball or track or something else, or all three. And then he can have his own legacy."

Any coach who scouted Washington yesterday would say that to beat the Huskies, you have to control Nate Robinson.

Any overt plan to stop him, of course, only gives the green light to so many others.

The Huskies are about being unselfish, sharing the ball and the glory.

"Nate's been a better playmaker than a scorer," said Roy. "A couple of plays down the stretch he made great passes. That's because he is maturing as a player."

But as surely as Robinson fits in to what Romar is doing, he can also stand above the rest. Especially now, with two wins left to make it to the Final Four.

"Having a star player like Nate distills confidence in the others," said Bone. "They know that if things aren't going well, Nate is there to score or rebound or do whatever he has to."

Robinson doesn't get the tip dunks he got a year ago because he isn't sneaking up on anybody. He doesn't crash the boards as much because he's getting back on defense.

But with the world that cares watching next week, look for a show that is as steady as it is spectacular, and a man to match the moment.

Blaine Newnham: 206-464-2364 or bnewnham@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2005 The Seattle Times Company

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