The what-if game isn't one Washington basketball coach Lorenzo Romar likes to play. He knows better than anyone that the Huskies were 2-6...
The what-if game isn’t one Washington basketball coach Lorenzo Romar likes to play.
He knows better than anyone that the Huskies were 2-6 in games decided by four points or less this season, and that if just two or three of those had gone UW’s way, the Huskies (who finished 16-16) might not be playing off-Broadway this March.
But that’s about as far as his daydreaming goes.
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“We were close, but we didn’t get it done, so we weren’t good enough,” he said this week.
Where he does find meaning is that three of those losses came in UW’s last four games, two on the road against teams that are No. 4 seeds or higher in the NCAA tournament — Washington State and Stanford.
“We needed to be a little better, and we were the second half, down the stretch,” Romar said. “If that team would have played all year, we would have been in the NCAA tournament, despite the lack of free-throw shooting.”
That’s an assertion Romar and the Huskies get a chance to back up beginning tonight in the new College Basketball Invitational.
Washington, the No. 1 seed in the West Region, will host No. 4 seed Valparaiso in a first-round game at Edmundson Pavilion at 6 p.m. UW is a 10-point favorite.
Washington’s placing as a top seed is due in part to a willingness to host games — and pay $60,000 to the CBI for the privilege. But it also speaks to a general feeling that the Huskies have an edge as members of the Pac-10 and one of just two CBI teams from so-called power conferences (Virginia of the ACC being the other).
And winning the tournament may be what it takes for the Huskies to feel good about the CBI.
“Right now, it’s still kind of tough that we didn’t make the NCAA tournament and we were just .500,” said UW guard Ryan Appleby. “So it would probably put a little better taste in your mouth if you can come out at the end and win it.”
If the Huskies can get by the Crusaders they should be at full strength for the rest of the tournament, though they may not be tonight.
Forward Jon Brockman, still recovering from a sprained left ankle suffered March 8 at WSU, is officially listed as a game-time decision tonight. He said Monday he was confident he would play. But he didn’t practice Tuesday and is considered questionable, at best, to play tonight. He’s expected to be ready for a second-round game if UW wins.
Sophomore forward Quincy Pondexter started in place of Brockman in the Pac-10 tournament loss to California and will start again tonight. He scored a season-high 23 points against Cal, the kind of performance he will need for UW to win tonight. Romar pointed to Pondexter’s play against the Bears as a sign of the team’s improvement.
“I think we got mentally tougher and guys individually stepped up more down the stretch,” Romar said.
The real key tonight, however, could be defense. Valparaiso had its greatest moment 10 years ago this week when Bryce Drew — the son of coach Homer Drew — sank a last-second three-pointer to beat Mississippi in the first round and eventually advance to the Sweet 16 as a No. 13 seed.
“It seems like yesterday,” Homer Drew said. “It’s a wonderful part of our history and it seems every March it’s voted one of the one, two or three best shots [in tournament history] so it’s a nice moment for us. We keep telling our players we are ready for the next person to hit a shot like that.”
Valparaiso hasn’t won an NCAA tournament game since, but remains a consistently winning program centered on the three-point shot.
The Crusaders rank 11th in the nation in three-pointers made (9.3 per game) and 24th in three-point percentage (39.1). Most dangerous is senior forward Shawn Huff, who is second in the nation in three-point percentage (48.4).
“They can shoot the lights out,” Romar said.
If they do so tonight, it could be lights out on UW’s season. The Huskies need a win in this tournament to avoid their first losing record since 2003, Romar’s first at UW.
But the Huskies are hoping for a deep run, which Romar says “would be a great momentum-builder” for a team with just two seniors.
Romar, however, says the focus remains solely on the present. .
“We’re not going to experiment,” he said. “We’re trying to win.”
• A UW official said Tuesday afternoon that about 2,000 tickets had been sold. Officials estimate they need to sell about 5,000 to break even, considering the $60,000 guarantee the Huskies must pay to the CBI as a host team. But UW officials said they are anticipating a big walk-up sale because the game isn’t part of any season-ticket packages. The last games played here not part of season ticket packages were when UW hosted the Black Coaches Association Classic in 2005. None of the three games drew more than 3,976 for a team featuring Brandon Roy as a senior. Tickets are $15 for the public and $5 for students.
• Valparaiso’s fourth-leading scorer, guard Samuel Haanpaa, remains out with mononucleosis. He averaged 10.0 points this season, shooting 43 percent on three-pointers.
Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or firstname.lastname@example.org