For the vast majority of the nonconference season, the 12th-ranked Washington Huskies have done an exceptional job of embracing the team concept. And that's a hard thing to embrace...

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For the vast majority of the nonconference season, the 12th-ranked Washington Huskies have done an exceptional job of embracing the team concept.

And that’s a hard thing to embrace since it is exactly that — a concept.

Through nine games, UW coach Lorenzo Romar has had a full complement of players for all of 12 minutes. He’ll continue to be short on personnel tonight against Sacred Heart (1-6) and likely Friday against Houston.

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“We have not had a full team for an entire game this year, and our guys have done a good job of handling that,” Romar said of his Huskies (8-1). “Our guys have done a good job staying together through all this.

“And guys have stepped up — Tre Simmons, Bobby Jones and Jamal Williams at times. Joel Smith has been able to get in there in big games against tough teams and hold his own. He should be ready to go. Even Hans (Gasser) has come in lately and done well.”

The Huskies began the season with four players suspended for a game by Romar for playing in an unsanctioned game last spring. One of those four, Simmons, was suspended for the second game as well. Then in the third game, against Oklahoma in the Great Alaska Shootout, junior guard Brandon Roy injured his right knee.

Roy, who needed surgery to repair a meniscus tear, made a remarkable return to the court Sunday, coming off the bench to help the Huskies beat then-12th-ranked and previously unbeaten North Carolina State, 68-64. He’s back, but the team still is without center Hakeem Rollins, who missed Sunday’s game and will possibly miss the next two after arthroscopic knee surgery.

“I think we definitely got better as a team,” Roy said. “We won five games with me out.”

There’s a chance Roy might not play tonight. Romar wants to increase Roy’s conditioning but also doesn’t want to put too much stress on the knee.

“I hate sitting out,” Roy said. “I’m going to anticipate playing.”

Rollins is getting close to returning, but his target date still is Dec. 31, the Pac-10 opener against Cal.

What the suspensions and injuries have done is provide opportunity for the players to build their confidence, as well as develop a larger rotation. The offense is well-rounded, with five players averaging in double-figure scoring and a sixth, Williams, at 9.4.

The team is averaging 19 assists, led by the unselfish play of point guard Will Conroy (6.8). Nate Robinson, the leading scorer at 20.8, is averaging 5.6 assists.

Perhaps the most pleasant team development is that Simmons, stepping in for Roy, not only has shown a solid stroke (16.4 ppg), but can rebound as well. He leads the team with 5.6 per game.

“I think I’ve stepped up big time since last year on the defensive side and rebounding,” said Simmons, a 6-foot-5 senior guard. “I’m just trying to put these different aspects together.

“It (Roy’s injury) gave people the opportunity to show what they can do. Now that they’re feeling comfortable, when everyone else comes back they’ll know what to do.”

It wasn’t as if the Huskies had the benefit of playing easy opponents through this adversity. They won in Alaska, beating Utah, Oklahoma and Alabama, which many believe is a better team than N.C. State. The Huskies also played well in their Dec. 1 road loss against a solid Gonzaga team.

Now comes Sacred Heart, a school of just 2,000 students with only one victory. Will tonight’s game against a decidedly inferior opponent provide ample opportunity for improvement?

“We have to look at them like they’re N.C. State,” junior center Mike Jensen said. “We have to take it to them so that we can be ready for the conference.”

Robinson added, “Like coach says, ‘Don’t get bored of success.’ We just need to keep doing the same things, play team ball and treat every game like we’re playing the top team in the country. We have to come in thinking Sacred Heart is the top team in the country.”

The Huskies have been good at conceptualizing.

“You have to give the guys a lot of credit,” Romar said. “Thinking back to our first year here, if we had one guy that we were counting on go out, I’m not sure how we would have handled it.”

Bob Sherwin: 206-464-8286 or