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Originally published Sunday, March 2, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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UW Men's Basketball | Wolfinger propels Huskies past Cal

Joe Wolfinger made a name and earned a nickname all in one weekend. "Seven-foot App," fellow Husky Matthew Bryan-Amaning called him in a...

Seattle Times staff reporter

BERKELEY, Calif. — Joe Wolfinger made a name and earned a nickname all in one weekend.

"Seven-foot App," fellow Husky Matthew Bryan-Amaning called him in a happy Huskies locker room after Wolfinger used his long-range shooting ability — reminiscent of UW guard Ryan Appleby — to lead Washington to an 87-84 win at California on Saturday.

The 7-foot sophomore hit all four of his three-pointers in scoring a team-high 17 points in just 18 minutes off the bench. That helped Washington get a win that assures it will finish the regular season with at least a .500 record, which could be critical in earning a postseason bid of some sort.

"I just felt good shooting and they were leaving me pretty much open," said Wolfinger, whom coaches have often said might be the best distance shooter on the team other than Appleby.

His previous career high was 12, which he had matched Thursday at Stanford when he got his most significant playing time in a month. That performance had UW coach Lorenzo Romar planning to use him more against Cal, and foul trouble to Jon Brockman forced the issue. Brockman played just 23 minutes after picking up his fourth foul with more than 16 minutes to go in the second half, finishing with 10 points and four rebounds, each tying season lows.

"The most important thing about this win is us winning with Jon Brockman in foul trouble," Romar said. "That speaks to this team's maturity. The last seven games, we've been playing for the most part the right way, and we continued it tonight."

Not that it happened immediately. Keyed by an energetic performance from senior center DeVon Hardin, who was playing his last home game, Cal grabbed a seven-point lead midway through the first half. But a lineup that included Wolfinger, Bryan-Amaning and sophomore forward Quincy Pondexter up front led an 18-5 run that gave the Huskies the lead for good.

UW led 49-44 at halftime, its most first-half points of the year, with just one turnover and hitting 6 of 8 three-pointers, four by Appleby.

The breakneck pace slowed a bit in the second half. But the Huskies led throughout, despite the efforts of California forward Ryan Anderson, who scored 15 of his 19 after the break.

Wolfinger came up with big plays time and again for UW. His final three-pointer put Washington up by 10 points with 3:14 to play.

California responded by hitting three three-pointers to cut the lead to 83-81 with 40 seconds left, reviving ominous feelings of past UW meltdowns in the Bay Area.

But Patrick Christopher missed on a drive into the lane with 24 seconds left and the Huskies held on.

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"Our team is playing its best basketball of the year right now," Romar said. "We are playing a lot more consistent brand of basketball. I just wish it happened a little sooner."

In Wolfinger's case, there are reasons it didn't.

Wolfinger was a regular in the rotation early in the season, and started against Pittsburgh. But he admits he wasn't ready then to assume a meaningful role, still recovering from missing last season with a foot injury. Only recently has he been able to practice with few restrictions.

"For this period here, he's been able to work after practice and before to get extra shots, so his confidence has improved," Romar said. "So could he have done this a month ago? Probably not, because he hadn't gotten to this point where he had developed this type of confidence."

While Wolfinger has always been able to shoot outside, he also hit two close-in shots against the Bears, turning one into a three-point play, the kind of toughness in the paint that will make him that much more of a weapon.

"I'm getting back into my rhythm and shaking the rust off from last year," said Wolfinger, adding he kept positive throughout lengthy stretches on the bench this season. "I just see I have some potential, so I'm not getting frustrated or anything like that. I know I have a bunch of seasons left, so I can keep working and getting better and doing what they need me to do."

And while the win showed this season may still have some life, Wolfinger's game also gave added evidence to Romar's assertion of a bright future ahead.

"People keep saying, 'Are you going to get a big guy?' " he said. "Well, we kept thinking Joe is going to be good for us, and Matthew is going to be good for us. We are going to be OK."

Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or bcondotta@seattletimes.com.

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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