The Huskies will sleep soundly tonight not worrying about whose bubbled popped and which team might have stolen an at-large berth.
Washington is in the NCAA Tournament. And the Huskies are Pac-10 Tournament champions.
Both accomplishments are major achievements for a team that many on this blog had given up for dead more than a few times this season.
Remember when the Huskies were 1-3 and dead last in the conference standings? Remember the 0-7 road record?
All of it is forgotten now. That’s what a 79-75 win over California, cutting down the nets and holding up a tournament trophy will do. It gives you amnesia. And it wipes away the blemishes on a season that started slowly for the Huskies before picking up in late January.
And now they’re on a roll. Winners of 12 of the past 14 games. Now anything seems possible.
No one inside the Staples Center locker room talked about a deep run in the tournament, perhaps learning from a early season lesson when players predicted a Final Four appearance.
Photo credit: Getty Images – Jeff Gross
Maybe they’re taking their cues from leaders Quincy Pondexter and Isaiah Thomas, who refuse to look past the next game.
Thomas is prone to saying: “On to the next,” which is his way of putting the last game behind him and focusing on what’s ahead.
Pondexter also doesn’t dwell on things that aren’t directly in front of him. Tonight, he talked about getting back to practice next week and getting a scout on the team UW plays in the first round.
Lorenzo Romar (above) believes the Huskies matured just in the nick of time. He compares this group to the 2004 team that started 5-8 before winning 14 of the next 17 games. That team made a spectacular late-season run to earn an at-large berth in the tournament. It was sent to Columbus, OH as the eighth seed and lost 102-100 to No. 9 UAB.
The Huskies would be thrilled to receive another eighth seed, and quite frankly there’s some concern where the selection committee will slot UW.
Some players thought they’d swap places with Cal, which was considered a 7-9 seed before today. Washington had been projected as an 11-13 seed.
I haven’t found any updated brackets on the major sites, but rumors quickly spread in the Staples Center that the committee may reward UW and send them to Spokane. It’s all conjecture at the moment and we’ll find out more 3 p.m. Sunday.
— Thomas (right) is UW’s first player to claim the Pac-10 Tournament’s Most Outstanding Player award. In three games, he averaged 16 points, three rebounds and two assists this week.
Each game was different for Thomas.
Against, Oregon State he took a career-high 12 three-pointers and bombed away from the perimeter.
Against Stanford, Thomas attacked the middle, went to the free throw line seven times and connected on all seven.
And against Cal, he had a bigger defensive presence while holding Jerome Randle to 11 points on 3-for-11 shooting. Thomas collected two steals in addition to scoring 16 points.
“I was just worried about winning this tournament and getting to the tournament,” Thomas said. “All of that other stuff, I’m just thankful.”
— Pondexter (left) was named to the All-Tournament team and was probably in serious contention for the MOP award. The last Husky named to the tourney team was Brandon Roy in 2006.
We noted before the game that Pondexter needed to be 100 percent in order to beat the Bears. He said the effects of the cold has diminished he’d improved from early in the week.
Against Cal, Pondexter got his mid-range going early. He scored 12 of his team-high 18 points in the first half and led UW to a 41-37 halftime lead. Pondexter was too much for Bears sophomore F Omondi Amoke. Cal shifted the bigger 6-8, 240 pound Jamal Boykin on Pondexer in the second half and seemed to slow him down at times.
Late in the game, Pondexter made a critical turnover when Nikola Knezevic stole the ball from him with 11 seconds left. The miscue wasn’t fatal and Pondexter wore the widest grin of anyone after the game.
He’s made it his personal mission to lead the Huskies back to the tournament and one time he said he’d consider his job as captain a failure if that didn’t happen. In the past two games, Pondexter averaged 18.5 points, 5 rebounds and 2 assists.
— The Huskies nicknamed Venoy Overton ‘Mr. Clutch’ for his ability to make late-game free throws. He did it at Oregon State and against Arizona. And tonight, Overton nailed a couple of foul shots with 2.1 seconds left that sealed the game.
Aside from one horrible pass that seemed to slide off his hand, Overton ran the team with efficiency at guard. He finished with 10 points, five rebounds and two assists.
Overton also nailed a big three-pointer late in the game. He said he’s been working with assistant Jim Shaw after practice ever since the second OSU game when he drained three of three treys.
— Choppy game for Matthew Bryan-Amaning. He was scoreless in the first half and spent a lot of time on the bench, which had nothing to do with foul trouble because he had just one. AFter the break, he seemed to return to form and scored nine points before getting into foul trouble.
— When Bryan-Amaning faltered, Tyreese Breshers and Darnell Gant stepped up admirably. They combined for 19 minutes and Breshers had his best game in a while, finishing with six points and four blocks.
— Justin Holiday led UW with seven rebounds. He also had eight points. Defensivley, he had his hands full with Theo Robertson, who scored a game-high 25 points.
— And finally, if not for Elston Turner’s late-game heroics the Huskies don’t win. He only played 13 minutes and scored five points, but each basket was huge. When UW trailed 68-66, Turner scored on a dribble drive layup and nailed a three-pointer to put the Huskies up 71-68.
His biggest play came in the final seconds when he stripped Randle at the top key. Cal was down 77-74 with 10.7 seconds left. Turner was planning to foul when the clock got under five, but he poked the ball away from Randle and during the scramble for the loose ball more time ran off the clock.
When the Bears resumed possession, only 4.4 seconds remained.
Even before the play, folks on press row thought it was a strange choice to have Turner on Randle, the Pac-10 MVP, for the final play considering UW has two All-Defensive team members in Overton and Holiday.
Afterward Turner admitted he doesn’t have a defensive reputation, but said: “I can play D when I have to.”