January 20, 2010

Holiday's defense has been the missing ingredient

Admittedly not a good baker, Huskies coach Lorenzo Romar said that junior guard Justin Holiday[/db[ was the not-so-secret ingredient to a pair of blow-out wins against Stanford and California this weekend.

"It just so happened that Justin had that mindset and always had that mindset," Romar said. "We're baking something and it needed cinnamon. This thing was blah - it tasted like a handkerchief. You put cinnamon in there and 'that's what it is.' We needed energy, we needed hustle and we needed defense, and Justin's got energy, he hustles and he plays defense."

Holiday was inserted into the starting lineup, immediately after suffering losses to both Arizona and Arizona State two weeks ago while he was back in Seattle dealing with academic issues. The move has cemented the rotation and could be a season defining moment. Romar had been saying since Christmas break that his team lacked the intensity needed to win tough games, but it didn't really ugly head until the beginning of Pac-10 play a week later.

"We've made a lot of progress in that regard, because I don't know if we didn't know what we should do, we just didn't do it," said Romar when asked about how the new starting lineup that included Isaiah Thomas, [db]Quincy Pondexter, Abdul Gaddy, Tyreese Breshers and Holiday helped everyone understand their roles. "I think if you quizzed our team about what needs to be accomplished, they'd answer about the same thing I would, but they were thinking 'maybe I can do it a little bit this way.' When we got to Arizona, we found out, well maybe we can't."

Pondexter, the team captain, said that he knows that Holiday's intensity has a rippling affect on the Dawgs.

"What he brings to the team isn't just scoring, but it's an all-around game," Pondexter said. "hen he's active on the defensive end, we have no choice but to follow suit."

Pondexter went so far as to say that Holiday deserved the Pac-10 Player of the Week award - which was awarded to him.

"I felt that Justin Holiday, as well as Isaiah (Thomas) deserved it just as much, or more than I did," Pondexter said. "They provide so much energy and so much for this team to help us get those wins this weekend."

Perhaps the most telling tale about Holiday's tenacity is his unavailability to talk Tuesday, as he was recovering from a mild concussion of which nobody seems to know the origin. Nevertheless, he was going to try to practice and will definitely be in the starting lineup Thursday against UCLA, playing in front of his friends and family.

Of course, the addition of Holiday meant that Darnell Gant had to relinquish his starting role, something Romar said gone smoothly.

"His body language and his effort would suggest that he's fine in that role," Romar said. "I know that just like everyone else, Darnell would prefer to be a starter, but in the last couple of games he's in a relief pitcher role in that not quite sure when he's going in, but he's ready to go."

It was obvious that somebody needed to wake up a Huskies team that lost three straight games for the first time in more than a year, as they looked lethargic and didn't apply any kind of pressure on either Arizona or Arizona State. Holiday was unavailable for both of those games due to what was thought to be a stomach flu. Pondexter said the loss of Holiday was felt defensively.

"In the Arizona State game, I don't think (Rihards) Kuksics probably wouldn't have had the game he did and I just don't see any guys score a lot on Holiday," Pondester said. "He's so smart that he can really take a good player out of his game. We really missed him on that trip and glad he's with us the rest of the season."

Kuksics went 5-for-8 from beyond the arc to the tune of a career-high 27 points during the 68-51 Washington loss.

Perhaps not having a sweet tooth, Pondexter didn't agree with cinnamon as the ingredient to describe Holiday, but did say he was needed nonetheless.

"I don't know if I'd use cinnamon as a spice, but, what else goes good with everything?" he asked.

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