A fast pace will favor the Washington Huskies in their first-round NCAA tournament game against Marquette.
SAN JOSE, Calif. — So how good is Washington?
Or better yet, how tough are the Huskies?
They blew out teams at Edmundson Pavilion by an average of 17.7 points and won games by as many as 56, 47 and 35 points.
They dominated the last third of the regular season, winning 12 of 14 games, and powered through the Pac-10 Conference tournament to win the title and automatic NCAA tournament bid.
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But you can argue Washington hasn’t really been tested other than its last game against California when UW had more motivation than the Golden Bears.
At the very least, the 11th-seeded Huskies have not faced a team like No. 6 seed Marquette, their opening-round opponent Thursday.
“We’re going to be facing one of the most mentally tough teams, if not the most mentally tough, that we’ve faced all year,” coach Lorenzo Romar said. “They are a scrappy bunch. Coming out on the short end of the stick just doesn’t occur to this team that we’re playing. They play 40 minutes and they’re going to give you everything they got until that buzzer sounds.
“We’ve not played anyone that puts five guys on the floor that can knock threes down consistently. People ask who can you compare them to? No one. We’ve not played anyone like this team.”
In some ways, Marquette, the shortest team in the tournament, resembles Cal because it has a lineup featuring 6-foot-6 Lazar Hayward, its tallest starter, and two guards 6 feet or shorter.
Both teams are also exceptional at shooting three-pointers.
“Best team we played is Cal and they got three (three-point specialists), but this team has everybody on the floor that can shoot the three,” said UW guard Isaiah Thomas. “We’ve got to be dialed in on the defensive end.”
When describing the Golden Eagles (22-11) this week, Romar used the word “tough” 13 times during a 16-minute interview.
He noted Marquette’s seven-man rotation, three consecutive overtime victories and its habit of winning close games.
“They’re relentless,” Romar said. “They’re mentally tough. They don’t go away. They stay at you the entire time. It’s like with Nate Robinson. He was the only one that didn’t know he was short. Everyone else noticed it, but he didn’t.
“And I don’t mean that as a reference to their size. They just don’t take no for an answer. They sprint after balls. They get after loose balls. That type of team. That type of relentless energy.”
The Golden Eagles embrace their blue-collar label. Hayward said the descriptions are apt for a team that hails from rust-belt Milwaukee.
“I’ve always been a pretty hard worker,” he said. “Now those guys go when I go. They feed off of my energy. They look into my eyes to make sure everything is OK.”
When the national pundits describe Washington (24-9), the adjectives used are “high energy,” “erratic” and “finesse.”
“I can’t stand it,” Washington senior Quincy Pondexter said. “When you go out and you play those guys at different times or your team plays against those guys, you realize that, man, we’re pretty tough, too.
“That same criticism came last year when we played against Mississippi State. The experts thought Mississippi State, (because) they come from the SEC, that they were going to beat us up, but it was the other way around.”
In some ways, the UW-Marquette game is a chance to contrast styles between the Pac-10 and Big East.
Marquette coach Buzz Williams studied Washington this week, and he saw a combination of many teams he’s faced this season.
“Relative to the Big East, this is how I would compare them,” he said. “They drive like Villanova. They play fast like Syracuse. They offensive rebound the ball like West Virginia, and they play with great energy and great pace like St. John’s.”
Williams and Romar agreed the game will be a test of wills. Washington wants to run and get to the free-throw line, while Marquette favors a slow tempo to run set offensive plays for its shooters.
“If Washington is playing like us, then I like our chances,” Williams said. “If we’re playing like Washington, it will be a blowout.
“We have to make them play the way we play and turn it into a contest.”
Percy Allen: 206-464-2278 or firstname.lastname@example.org