Washington has a fearsome foursome at guard
The UW guard quartet of Abdul Gaddy, Terrence Ross, Tony Wroten Jr., and C.J. Wilcox have learned to come together as teammates and friends.
Seattle Times staff reporter
Great guard teams in conference lore1996-97 Arizona
Record: 25-9 Finish: Won national title
• Michael Dickerson, Miles Simon, Mike Bibby, Jason Terry
Combined average points per game: 61.4
Record: 32-7 Finish: Lost in NCAA title game
• Arron Afflalo, Jordan Farmar, Josh Shipp, Cedric Bozeman
Combined average points per game: 48.2
Record: 29-8 Finish: Lost in Elite Eight
• Aaron Brooks, Tajuan Porter, Bryce Taylor, Malik Hairston
Combined average points per game: 57.7
Record: 19-8 Pac-12: Tied for first
• Tony Wroten Jr., Terrence Ross, C.J. Wilcox, Abdul Gaddy
Combined average points per game: 53.6
Miles Simon didn't see the similarities early in the season, but given a second look he noticed Washington shared common traits with his 1997 Arizona team that marched to a national title.
"I watched last week's game against Arizona and they kind of reminded me of how we played," he said. "They were fast-breaking and getting up and down the court.
"We did that. We were a tough matchup and that's what I see in Washington. Not many teams can put four guards on the floor and each of them has the ability to take over the game. That's pretty special."
Conference basketball fans have been looking for the reincarnation of the Wildcats — the last Pac-12 team to win the NCAA tournament — ever since their famous guard foursome carried them to prominence.
Arizona had four future NBA players in Simon, Michael Dickerson, Mike Bibby and Jason Terry, the former Franklin High standout.
Washington is led by guards Tony Wroten Jr., Terrence Ross, C.J. Wilcox and Abdul Gaddy.
"In my mind, Wroten is Jason Terry," said Simon, a college basketball analyst. "The speed they have with the ball is incredible. Plus Jason was a big steals guy like Tony. Gaddy is like Bibby. Just so good with the ball. Good passer.
"Ross is a tremendous athlete, a la Dickerson. Both of those guys can score in bunches."
"He's a better shooter than I was," Simon said, laughing.
It remains to be seen if Washington's quartet can carry the Huskies as far as Simon's crew led Arizona.
Still, there's no debating the impact UW's backcourt has had this season on the Pac-12.
Wroten (16.5 points per game) and Ross (15.6) are third and sixth respectively in the conference in scoring. Ross is fifth in rebounding (6.8). Wroten is second in steals (2.0).
Gaddy is third in assists (4.7) and assists-to-turnover ratio (2.3). And Wilcox is second in free-throw shooting percentage (.875) and 10th in three-point percentage (.405).
"It's hard to guard all four of us," Wroten said. "If one of us, two of us or even three of us have a bad game, the other person isn't. Terrence and C.J. can go out and get 30. Especially if C.J. is hot from three-point. He and Terrence are unstoppable.
"I just feel we can throw a lot at a defense. If we're playing right and we're focused, we can beat any team in the country. I really believe that."
When they got together in training camp, they were unsure how it would work and, admittedly, the chemistry is still far from perfect, even though Washington (19-8 and 12-3 Pac-12) has won 15 of its past 19 contests.
There's an inherent problem when a team's top four players are guards.
Off the court, Ross shares a place with Wroten while Wilcox lives with Gaddy.
During road trips, Wilcox rooms with Wroten and Gaddy bunks with Ross.
They're friends and refer to each other as family.
"Those guys are like my brothers," Gaddy said. "All of them. We play like that on the court. We may battle it out on the court. We may be competitive and fight, but at the end of the day we're always brothers."
Still, they needed time to blend their talents and form a cohesive unit.
When trouble came early in the season, each of them took it upon themselves to bail the team out.
It's not as if they didn't trust each other, but they had different concepts of what it meant to be a team.
"We learned that it's a team sport and we all need to work together," Wilcox said. "You can practice all you want, but sometimes you only learn those lessons in a game. That's one of the reasons we struggled at times."
Conceptually, the roles were easily defined.
Ross is the scorer. Wroten the slasher. Wilcox the shooter. Gaddy the passer.
Still, it's one thing to have a label fixed to your name and something entirely different in making the roles mesh into a functioning unit.
"Basically we had two problems," Gaddy said. "Finding where who likes the ball in what spots and on the defensive end finding what guys can guard what positions.
"Once we got that figured out and coach got the rotations down, we started getting better when we got in the conference. Once our defense started to pick up, our offense started to pick up."
Wroten and Ross emerge
To make their chemistry work, everyone had to accept Wroten and Ross emerging as Pac-12 Player of the Year candidates while Gaddy and Wilcox needed to make sacrifices.
"I feel like Gaddy has done an amazing job at just leading and getting everybody in the spots where they need to be," senior co-captain Darnell Gant said. "He may not say it, but he had to take a step back I feel in the scoring department because it's what's best for the team.
"Maybe he could score more points, but he's leading us in other ways and we need that from him."
Gaddy's scoring is down to 7.8 points a game from 8.5 during his abbreviated sophomore season. However, he's averaging 4.7 assists, which is up from 3.8 last season and a team-high 33.6 minutes, 10 minutes more a game than the previous season.
Convincing Wilcox to accept a reserve role was just as important as getting Gaddy to embrace becoming a distributor.
Wilcox averaged 19.3 points and 4.7 rebounds during a three-game season-opening tournament and earned Pac-12 Player of the Week honors. Three games after scoring 22 points against Duke, he was benched to make room for Wroten.
"I never saw it as a demotion or anything like that because I still play a lot of minutes," said Wilcox, who averages 13.7 points and 28.3 minutes. "You never have to worry about me buying in or anything like that. It's going to be team first for me until I'm done here."
Coach Lorenzo Romar is hesitant to compare his four guards with the 1997 Arizona team.
He said the UCLA team that advanced to the 2006 national championship game and the Oregon squad that made a run to the 2007 Elite Eight were among the best guard quartets in conference history.
As it pertains to Washington's backcourt, Romar said its legacy is still being defined.
"This group can be outstanding as we continue to grow and continue to get better defensively and play with each other," he said. "Right now we're pretty good, but when you talk about those teams at Arizona, UCLA and Oregon, those teams were special.
"We'll see about this group. Certainly the components are there."
Percy Allen: 206-464-2278 or email@example.com.
On Twitter @percyallen