SEATTLE - Despite putting themselves in a 14-point halftime hole, the Washington Huskies used a…
Beach's Bits: Cal State Fullerton
"Man, we know he's capable of doing that every night," Wilcox said of Simmons. "And we knew coming in, especially in the first half when he rebounded well and he took it upon himself to come in and get every offensive rebound he could…that's what we're used to seeing."
After a mostly unspectacular first six games of the season, the stars finally aligned for the Vallejo, Calif. native. Other than a 14-point, 12-rebound performance against Seton Hall, Simmons' sophomore season had begun relatively quietly, averaging 6 points and 5.7 rebounds a game. His role has fluctuated early in the season as the team continues to adjust to a new offense and a steady stream of injuries. At one point, UW Head Coach Lorenzo Romar even experimented with Simmons at the small forward position. But while the Titans' smaller front court gave Aziz N'diaye fits, Simmons took maximum advantage of the absence of big bodies and got back to doing what he does best; out-hustling his opponents in the paint.
Simmons' career night carried the otherwise listless Dawgs to victory on a night when nothing was clicking. His 14 points tied a career high for the Salesian High School star, but it was his rebounding that really made the difference. The 6-7 forward grabbed a career best 18 boards, easily surpassing his previous best of 12 versus Seton Hall. It wasn't the eye popping rebounding numbers that stood out, but the way he did it. Using his raw physicality to wrestle the ball from the undersized Titans, Simmons relentless energy saved the Huskies from a loss that could have prematurely ended their NCAA tournament aspirations - and he did all that by coming off the bench as UW's sixth man.
"My mindset is to come in and rally my team up the best way I can," Simmons said. "The best way I can is leading by example, when they see me getting offensive rebounds and traffic rebounds and kicking it out, I feel like they feed off of that."
It was the kind of performance Husky fans haven't seen since Jon Brockman patrolled the paint several years ago. And it portends to bigger things in the future.
"That's a huge compliment," Simmons said. "Playing against Brock, he is a load to rebound. Even a compliment like that means a lot to me."
With Scott Suggs and Shawn Kemp still sidelined, the Huskies needed someone other than Wilcox to win a game for them, and Simmons gave his team a lift when they needed it most. Obviously Washington faces some severe offensive challenges, particularly with Suggs out. Performances like Simmons' along with freshman Andrew Andrews who played 36 critical minutes and closed out the game at the point with Gaddy sidelined by cramps, will play big dividends later in the season.
"I didn't even know that he was out; I was waiting for him to come back in! I was like…I went up to him after the game and I was like, 'What happened to you?' I thought he fouled out at the end of the game, I didn't even know," Andrews said. "I just got to the moment where I just started playing. Everything came to me."
Over the next couple of weeks, Washington should return to full strength. But until that time, every game, no matter how good the opponent, will likely be a fight to the finish. Sunday night, the Huskies proved they could grind out a win despite having all the chips stacked against them on a night when their fate was left in the hands of the supporting cast rather than their stars.
"This may have been I don't think any question, the biggest win for us of our preseason because we are starting to get our team back, get our players back," Romar said. "I don't know for sure if they will, but I think some of the guys will attempt to start to practice this week, in terms of Scott and Shawn, attempt to practice and see if they can go. We had to get over this hump of this game here. Somehow we survived it, we are ready to move on."
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