Gaddy steps up, takes charge of Huskies

SEATTLE — They say the opening weekend of the college basketball season is only entertaining to those who enjoy watching cupcakes devoured by big, bad wolves, and yet the University of Washington men’s basketball team quietly took a huge step toward NCAA tournament contention in recent days.

Start with the 13-0 record by Pacific-12 Conference schools — not necessarily a huge shock because of a conquered list that included the likes of Cal State Bakersfield, Central Arkansas and Willamette, but because teams like Cal State Bakersfield, Central Arkansas and Willamette are just the type of programs to bury the Pac-12 in seasons past.

It might be too soon to pronounce the Pac-12 back in its heyday as a legitimate national power conference, and yet it’s encouraging to know that the conference is still breathing. The Huskies can find hope in knowing that the days of one or two Pac-12 bids to the NCAA tournament might be a thing of the past.

Then there’s UW’s convincing win over Loyola (Md.) on Sunday night, which was, at face value, no reason to add a Bracketology app to the iPhone, but encouraging because of the way senior point guard Abdul Gaddy took control of the game.

Gaddy took the role of aggressor late in the first half, scoring 13 of his 17 points during a 121/2-minute stretch that extended past halftime, helping turn a two-point halftime lead into a double-digit advantage. After hitting double figures in just 12 of 35 games last season, he matched his career high of 17 points in UW’s 85-63 win Sunday.

“I want to be aggressive all year,” he said afterward. “But the main thing is, I want to stick to my strength as a playmaker, make plays for everyone else. I’m looking to pass first, score second, but I’m looking to be aggressive and get to the free-throw line.”

The oft-maligned Gaddy displayed a senior confidence and appeared to take on a more significant role in terms of scoring now that go-to weapons Terrence Ross and Tony Wroten are gone. The consensus No. 2 point guard in the nation while playing at Bellarmine Prep in Tacoma, Gaddy has never averaged more than 8.5 points per game at UW, where he has started 78 of 85 games played.

He seems to be flourishing under the new high-post offense, which allows him to give up the ball to a big man near the free-throw line and move into position to score. Perhaps Gaddy’s best move of the night came on a missed shot at the end of the half, when the Huskies cleared out for him, and Gaddy went by two defenders — one with an around-the-back dribble — to the basket.

He looked like a go-to scorer on that move, and during several other moments in Sunday’s win.

And yet Gaddy’s coach and teammates didn’t seem overly surprised with his offensive outburst Sunday night.

“That’s how he’s been playing,” coach Lorenzo Romar said Sunday night. “That game was nothing out of the ordinary tonight.”

Added senior Scott Suggs: “It’s not really different to me. I’ve been playing with him in the summer, so I’ve seen him being aggressive. Now he’s that senior leader point guard, so he’s playing like he’s always played.”

Sure, it was only Loyola. But much like Pac-12 teams have been known to bow to the competition this time of year, Gaddy has also been known to fade into the background at times against lesser teams.

The Huskies are hoping that Gaddy can be a bigger factor on offense this season. And maybe UW and the rest of the Pac-12 can continue to prove that the conference is ready to get back to getting four, five and six tourney bids come March.

“I’m confident that we can be an NCAA tournament team,” Gaddy said. “We just have to make sure to give 100 percent every day, starting in practices and going into games.”

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