Robert Upshaw

Robert Upshaw (Getty Images)

Washington kicks talented shot blocking big man off the team

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Washington suffered a major loss on Monday night as the school announced the dismissal of junior big man Robert Upshaw.

The 7-foot transfer from Fresno State was averaging 10.9 points and 8.2 rebounds per game in nearly 25 minutes a contest for the Huskies. Averaging an astounding 4.4 blocks per game, Upshaw is one of the most talented rim protectors in the nation and is a major defensive loss for the Huskies.

Without Upshaw on the team, Washington (14-5, 3-4 Pac-12) is likely an NIT team as they’ve struggled in Pac-12 play so far. Upshaw’s loss leaves an already thin front court without its most talented big man and the junior was also shooting 59 percent from the field.

The former four-star recruit was also dismissed from Fresno State in Aug. 2013. Upshaw was twice suspended during his freshman season with the Bulldogs and also battled a knee injury.

This might be the last time we hear from Robert Upshaw in college basketball. The 7-footer has an elite skill that NBA teams covet as a shot blocker and Draft Express currently has him as the No. 19 pick in the first round of their 2015 mock draft. A second dismissal from a team might significantly hurt Upshaw’s NBA Draft stock but there is no doubting his talent and upside as an interior defender.

Despite poor shooting night from Tyrone Wallace, Cal downs No. 21 Washington

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Entering halftime, Tyrone Wallace was 2-of-13 from the field, as a team Cal was shooting 32 percent while its defense allowed No. 21 Washington to convert of 54 percent of its attempts. Given all that, the Golden Bears should have considered themselves lucky to only trail by five.

In the second half, the shots still didn’t fall for Wallace, though, they didn’t have to. Jordan Mathews and David Kravish carried the load offensive, combining for 52 points — 34 of which came after halftime — as Cal kicked off Pac-12 play with an 81-75 win over the ranked Huskies.

Mathews was one-point shy of matching his career-high of 32 points. Kravish set his own career best with 21. Although Wallace was his season-worst 4-for-20 from the field, he still managed to finish with 19 points, doing the bulk of his damage from the line, hitting 10 free throws with under three minutes to play.

Nigel Williams-Goss had 19 points, eight rebounds and nine assist for the Huskies, followed by Robert Upshaw with 16 points and eight boards.

The Golden Bears shot 61 percent from the field in the second half, and for the night only coughed up the ball four times. The Huskies committed 13 turnovers, which Cal took advantage, turning those miscues into 15 points. In Washington’s upset loss to Stony Brook at home on Sunday, the Seawolves created 19 points off 12 turnovers to help erase a double-digit deficit.

Another area where Cal took advantage of was on the glass. Despite being outrebounded 33-21, the Golden Bears turned eight offensive rebounds in 13 second-chance boards.

If you’re Cuonzo Martin, you have to feel encouraged after your first Pac-12 game. Wallace had a terrible night shooting the ball, but still contributed offensively, Cal’s second-best scorer, Jabari Bird, is still sidelined and the Golden Bears were still able to get a win over a ranked opponent.

Washington, however, has a short turnaround before another challenging, conference road game. The Huskies are at Stanford on Sunday night.

The top 15 most improved players in college basketball

Ty Wallace (AP Photo)
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Ty Wallace (AP Photo)

 MORE: The rest of our New Year’s Resolutions | Midseason catchups

Ty Wallace, Cal: I’m firmly entrenched on the Ty Wallace bandwagon, having said repeatedly that there is no player in the country as underrated as Cal’s star point guard. Look at this stat line: 19.3 points, 8.8 boards, 4.2 assists and 46.9 percent shooting from three.

Justin Anderson, Virginia: Anderson’s emergence into Virginia’s leading scorer has been the biggest surprise of the season for me. Always known as a great athlete and teammate, Anderson is now averaging 15.1 points and shooting 60.0 percent from three. He’s not a go-to guy, but he’s been Tony Bennett’s most valuable weapon thus far.

Willie Cauley-Stein, Kentucky: Cauley-Stein is starting to live up to his potential this season, becoming the nation’s most versatile defender while anchoring on college basketball’s best defense. A 7-foot-1 center, he can switch ball-screens and has been tasked with stopping an opponent’s best wing scorer at times this season.

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Robert Upshaw (Getty Images)

Robert Upshaw, Washington: Washington’s emergence as a top three team in the Pac-12 can almost entirely be credited to Upshaw, who has become the nation’s premiere shot-blocking presence. He’s averaging 4.6 blocks in just 20 minutes and has completely changed the way that Washington is able to defend. I’d argue he’s one of the ten most valuable players in the country right now.

Christian Wood, UNLV: Wood is playing like a first round draft pick, averaging 13.9 points, 9.6 boards and 3.0 blocks for the Rebels. He had 24 points and 10 boards in UNLV’s win over No. 3 Arizona on Tuesday night.

Terry Rozier, Louisville: Rozier has done much of what was expected of him this season. His scoring is up to 16.5 points from 7.0 as a freshman, and while he’s not shooting quite as well from the perimeter this season, his percentages are up overhaul and he’s turned into one of the nation’s best, and most important, secondary options.

Rakeem Christmas, Syracuse: Someone had to become a scorer for Syracuse this season, and thus far in the year it’s been the senior big man that’s done it. He’s averaging 16.5 points and 8.7 boards, a bright spot in an otherwise frustrating season for the Orange.

Zach Auguste, Notre Dame: Auguste has always had the potential to be a big-time scorer in the paint for the Irish, and he’s finally reaching it this year. Auguste’s averaging 14.8 points through the first month, although it will be interesting to see what happens when the Irish start to play some tougher competition.

Levi Randolph, Alabama: Randolph has become a go-to guy for Alabama as a senior, as he’s now posting some impressive numbers: 16.5 points, 4.9 boards and 3.1 assists for the 8-3 Tide.

Dylan Ennis, Villanova: Who saw this coming from Ennis? He’s Villanova’s leading scorer, their most dangerous three-point shooter and one of the best defenders on the roster.

Stefan Nastic, Stanford: With so much of Stanford’s front line graduating, Nastic’s role has been dramatically increased this year, and it’s paying off. Nastic is averaging 14.5 points and has become one of the better low-post scorers on the west coast.

Justin Moss, Buffalo: As a sophomore, Moss averaged 3.8 points and 3.2 boards playing behind Javon McCrea. As a junior, those numbers have bumped up to 17.3 points and 10.2 boards. Oh, and he did this.

Malcolm Hill, Illinois: Hill started a handful of games as a freshman, but as a sophomore he’s moved into a major role for John Groce. His scoring has bumped up to 12.8 points this year, as the Illini look like they could contend for a spot in the NCAA tournament.

Damian Jones, Vanderbilt: Jones has developed into the star we expected him to be as a sophomore, averaging 16.5 points and 7.1 boards.

Denzel Valentine, Michigan State: The Spartans have been a disappointment through the season’s first month, but Valentine has been terrific. These numbers are nothing to joke about: 14.5 points, 5.5 boards, 4.3 assists, 50.0 percent from three.

Weekly Awards: Marquette’s new addition, a shakeup in Pac-12’s power structure ?

Robert Upshaw (Getty Images)
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PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Luke Fischer, Marquette

Marquette may have found their season’s savior. Through the first eight games of the year, the Golden Eagles were 4-4, having lost to Nebraska-Omaha at home, barely hung on to beat NJIT and got pushed around by Ohio State, Michigan State and Wisconsin. That was before Deonte Burton transferred out of the program. It looked pretty safe to say that Steve Wojciechowski’s first season in Milwaukee would be full-on rebuilding mode. It was bad enough that I had started just ignoring Marquette games when they popped up on the channel guide.

And then Luke Fischer got eligible.

The 6-foot-11 transfer from Indiana played his first game of the season against Arizona State last week, and he put on a show, finishing with 19 points, nine boards and five blocks. To follow that up, Fischer posted 22 points against Alabama A&M. In his two games this season, Fischer is shooting 17-for-19 from the floor, which, if you can’t tell, is pretty good. Will this turn the Golden Eagles into an NCAA tournament team? It’s probably too early to tell. But Fischer fills a gaping hope in Wojo’s lineup, which makes Marquette markedly better.

THE ALL-THEY-WERE-GOOD-TOO TEAM

  • Terry Rozier, Louisville: Rozier scored 26 of his game-high 32 points after Montrezl Harrell was ejected on Saturday, ensuring that the Cardinals would not have their unbeaten season ended by Western Kentucky.
  • Troy Williams, Indiana: Williams played his best game as a Hoosier on Saturday, going for 22 points, 11 boards, three assists, two steals and two blocks in a win over Butler.
  • JayVaughn Pinkston, Villanova: Pinkston had 25 points and 10 boards, making a number of huge plays down the stretch as Villanova erased a 14-point second half deficit in an overtime win over Syracuse.
  • Rayvonte Rice, Illinois: Rice made sure Braggin’ Rights remained in Illinois, hitting this game-winning three to beat Missouri. He finished with 19 points.
  • Snoop White, Ole Miss: White scored 16 of his 26 points in the second half as Ole Miss came from 17 down to beat a good Coastal Carolina team. The win keep Ole Miss from playing for an NIT bid in the SEC.
  • Juwan Staten, West Virginia: A preseason all-american, Staten had his best game of the young season on Saturday, going for 24 points (on 10-for-17 shooting), six assists and two steals as WVU beat N.C. State in NYC.
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Robert Upshaw (Getty Images)

TEAM OF THE WEEK: Washington Huskies

If anyone thought that struggling against Eastern Washington somehow proved that the Huskies weren’t “for real”, they squashed that theory on Saturday when they knocked off Oklahoma in Las Vegas, 69-67. Washington was up by as much as 20 in the first half, surviving late with a couple of critical defensive stops.

I don’t know if I’m ready to say that Washington is the second-best team in the Pac-12, not as long as Utah is still playing like a top 15 team. But the Huskies aren’t all that far behind. It starts with Robert Upshaw, a seven-footer that comes off the bench yet averages 4.5 blocks in less than 20 minutes per game. He changes to tone of what Washington can do on the defensive side of the ball. Throw in Nigel Williams-Goss, one of the nation’s most underrated point guard, and Andrew Andrews, and you have what may be Lorenzo Romar’s best team since the 2009 that featured Isaiah Thomas, Quincy Pondexter and Jon Brockman.

THEY WERE GOOD, TOO

  • Virginia: The Cavs took care of a pretty good Cleveland State team during the week before absolutely embarrassing Harvard on Sunday, beating them 76-27 and setting an NCAA record by allowing just one field goal in the first half.
  • Kentucky: The Wildcats had a better first half against UCLA than Virginia did against Harvard, jumping out to a 24-0 lead and heading into the break up 41-7 en route to an 83-44 win.
  • North Carolina: Marcus Paige still hasn’t busted out of his funk, but Brice Johnson and Kennedy Meeks are playing well, and Joel Berry is getting better, too. The Tar Heels won at UNC-Greensboro and knocked off Ohio State this week.
  • SMU: The Mustangs got two huge results this week: they won at Michigan, and they got Markus Kennedy back from his suspension.
  • Notre Dame: The Irish made a statement on Saturday. They beat Purdue 94-63, and they did it despite the fact that Jerian Grant was 3-for-13 from the floor.

SET YOUR DVR

  • No. 5 Wisconsin at Cal, Mon. 9:00 p.m.
  • Stanford at No. 9 Texas, Tue. 7:00 p.m.
  • Georgetown vs. Indiana, Sat. 12:00 p.m. (NYC)
  • No. 1 Kentucky at No. 4 Louisville, Sat. 2:00 p.m.
  • No. 8 Gonzaga at BYU, Sat. 6:00 p.m.

No. 16 Washington hangs on to beat No. 15 Oklahoma in Las Vegas

Lorenzo Romar
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Despite having one of the best shooters in the country in C.J. Wilcox, Washington wasn’t all that consistent last season as they posted a record of 17-15 (9-9 Pac-12). Two issues stuck out for Lorenzo Romar’s team a season ago: they didn’t have much in the way of size in the front court, and offensively the ball didn’t move as freely as it tends to for successful teams.

Through ten games the 16th-ranked Huskies have shown signs of progress, with their most recent victory being a 69-67 win over No. 15 Oklahoma at the MGM Grand Showcase in Las Vegas. Of course there are concerns in the aftermath of this game, most notably the fact that they nearly squandered a 20-point first half lead, but their returnees have performed well and the Huskies are a deeper team than they were a season ago.

During Washington’s 26-7 first half run multiple players stepped forward, including reserves Donaven Dorsey, Darin Johnson and Robert Upshaw, and starter Mike Anderson knocked down a couple shots as well. All eight players who saw action for the Huskies scored at least six points, with Jernard Jarreau scoring 12 to lead the way. Those contributions helped the Huskies hang on despite leading scorers Nigel Williams-Goss and Andrew Andrews combining to score 14 points on 4-for-16 shooting from the field.

Last season, a similar performance from either of those two (or Wilcox for that matter) was highly unlikely to result in a win because Washington didn’t have enough contributors capable of picking up the slack.

But back to Upshaw, who has been the most important reserve for the Huskies this season. Not only did Washington lack size in the front court last season but they also lacked a player capable of making a difference defensively, which ultimately impacted the way in which they defended both in the post and on the perimeter. Now that Washington has a player capable of blocking and changing shots in the middle, their guards can get back to the aggressive perimeter defense that has been a staple of Romar’s most successful teams in Seattle.

Outside of Isaiah Cousins, who scored 17 points on 8-for-11 shooting from the field, Oklahoma’s guards (sans Frank Booker, who remained home due to a back issue) weren’t all that efficient Saturday night. Buddy Hield scored 17 as well but he needed 13 field goal attempts to do so, and Jordan Woodard accounted for seven points (3-for-9 FG) and five assists.

As a team Oklahoma shot just over 42 percent, but they were able to work their way back into the game with increased intensity on the defensive end in the second half. The key for Oklahoma moving forward is to make sure the energy is consistent, because that wasn’t the case int he first half.

How good can Washington be? Despite some asking questions regarding the overall strength of their schedule, the Huskies do have some results that will look good as the season wears on. The wins over UTEP and Oklahoma may have come on neutral courts, and their win over San Diego State came at home, but those are results that can make a difference come March.

Most importantly the results give Washington confidence that they can be a factor in the Pac-12 race, something few people outside of Seattle expected back in October.

Washington will need Fresno State transfer to step forward in 2014-15

Lorenzo Romar
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Last season the Washington Huskies didn’t have much in the way of front court depth, especially with Jernard Jarreau suffering a torn ACL in the season opener and Desmond Simmons missing time early in the year as a result of his own knee issues. With leading rebounder Perris Blackwell out of eligibility and Simmons having transferred to Saint Mary’s, Washington will need its remaining front court options to step forward if they’re to improve on their 9-9 conference record (17-15 overall) of a season ago.

One option in the paint for Washington is Fresno State transfer Robert Upshaw, who sat out all of last season after joining the program. Upshaw was a highly-regarded recruit when he decided to join Rodney Terry’s program, but disciplinary issues stunted his growth and ultimately led to his dismissal from the Fresno State program.

One of the big questions this offseason: is Upshaw ready to not just join the Washington rotation but be a significant contributor? In an interview with Percy Allen of the Seattle Times, Washington head coach Lorenzo Romar spoke about the redshirt sophomore’s work to improve his standing within the program, as there were some questions at the end of last season regarding whether or not Upshaw would be on the team this season.

(After the season-ending loss to Utah in March, you were unsure if Upshaw would be with the team this season. But it sounds like you’re confident about him playing now.) “I would say this to Robert’s credit there were some things that we had talked about. There were some expectations and I think he’s worked hard at trying to do the right thing. As a result, we’re all in this together now.”

There were also questions about what kind of player Upshaw could potentially be for the Huskies this season, and while the talent was acknowledged there’s also the need to exercise caution when it comes to what’s to be expected of the 6-foot-11 center from a production standpoint.

(Just from the little bit that I’ve seen, he’s jaw dropping, but you see him every day. Is he someone that can be consistent, to show up and give you whatever he’s got. It seems the gamble is can you bank on him to be consistent for 30 games and not just games, but practices, meetings and getting wherever you need to be. Can you count him over the course of a season?) “That’s one of the things we’re going to find out. You look at how many players you can count on for that in general. Secondly, how many young players bere they’ve actually played and proven themselves. When you think about it, Robert missed quite a few games his freshman year and then he sat out last year and he did not play his senior year in high school. I would hope people wouldn’t think that he comes in from Day 1 and he’s setting the world on fire. He hasn’t played organized basketball in college on a consistent basis in three years. So in fairness to him, it may take him a little while to get going. But the talent is there.”

Having Jarreau back in the rotation will help Washington, as he was expected to be a key figure for the Huskies last season. But there are also some significant questions to answer in the front court. Can Gilles Dierickx take a step forward after playing in just 14 games last season? More will be needed from Shawn Kemp Jr. as well, and guard Mike Anderson proved to be a productive option despite being undersized at just 6-foot-4.

On the perimeter the Huskies have a talented base in sophomores Nigel Williams-Goss and Darin Johnson, and junior Andrew Andrews. But whether or not they make a move up the Pac-12 standings will depend on their front court, and whether or not that group can account for the loss of Blackwell and Simmons. If Upshaw proves capable of stepping forward, the Huskies will have a chance to improve on last year’s 17-15 record.