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Originally published February 11, 2011 at 5:28 PM | Page modified February 12, 2011 at 5:19 PM

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Washington freshman Terrence Ross is catching on for Huskies

Better defense means more minutes for UW freshman guard Terrence Ross. And more minutes means more points.

Seattle Times staff reporter

Saturday

Stanford @ Washington, 5:30 p.m., FSN

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Almost every freshman struggles to grasp Washington's defensive concepts.

In his nine seasons with the Huskies, coach Lorenzo Romar remembers two players — Bobby Jones and Justin Holiday — who walked into the program from high school and made a seamless transition.

And the rest?

"It takes awhile," Romar said. "Right about now, midway into the (Pac-10) season they start to get it."

In Thursday's 109-77 victory over California, freshman Terrence Ross had a couple of a-ha moments.

The 6-foot-6 guard made a terrible gaffe early in the second half when he fouled Cal's Jorge Gutierrez and still gave up a fast-break layup.

Otherwise, Ross played inspired defense while blocking two shots, collecting three defensive rebounds and throwing his body in front of the basket to draw charges.

The good defense didn't go unnoticed.

"He's made huge strides," Romar said. "Just understanding what we're trying to do offensively and defensively. He's come a long ways.

"Before he was just playing on talent, which is pretty good. But now he's understanding more how things work. He's understanding help defense better. He's understanding rotations better. All of that is making him a better basketball player, and a better basketball player for our team. There's no question about his ability. His ability is off the chart."

Ross averages 16.2 minutes, ninth among the Huskies. However, he's fifth in scoring at 8 points per game.

A lack of attention on defense created the disparity.

"He's become a functional defender," Romar said. "He's not a lockdown guy, but he's a functional defender. If you're a liability on defense, then that hurts your minutes."

In the past four games, Ross is averaging 21.3 minutes. More minutes means more production offensively.

He has scored in double figures in three of the past four games, including 11 points in his last outing. He's playing his best basketball since a four-game stretch five weeks ago that included a career-high 25-point performance against Oregon.

Romar won't make a lineup change when Washington (16-7, 8-4 Pac-10) hosts Stanford (13-10, 6-6) at 5:30 p.m. Saturday. Still, there's a chance Ross could become a starter before the season ends.

"No doubt about it," Romar said.

Ross received liberties that few other freshmen have ever had at Washington. Romar has given the shooter the green light, and the quick-trigger guard rarely passes up an open shot.

He has taken a three-pointer in every game and 88 for the season, which is the third most on the team. He has hit 37.5 percent of his three-point attempts.

Against the Golden Bears, Ross became a playmaker for the first time. He created scoring opportunities for teammates and finished with a career-high six assists.

"He was about as patient as I've seen him," Romar said. "I don't know if he would have had six assists a month ago. He was quietly a stat-stuffer last night. He rebounded. He assisted. He blocked shots. He scored. He did a lot of things out there."

Thursday's game featured two of the best freshmen in the Pac-10. Cal's Allen Crabbe is the favorite to win the Freshman of the Year award, while Ross is making a strong bid to be included on the all-freshman team.

He'll probably get a vote from Cal coach Mike Montgomery.

"Ross is terrific," Montgomery said. "He is a starter at any other school. He can really shoot the ball."

Percy Allen: 206-464-2278 or pallen@seattletimes.com

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