It remains to be seen if the Huskies have moved past the anguish of being left out of the NCAA tournament. But Washington players say they're excited to play in the NIT. "Obviously it's not what we wanted," guard Tony Wroten Jr. said. "But since we're here, we're going to deal with it and play...
Lorenzo Romar gave the Washington men’s basketball team two days to digest the disappointment of missing the NCAA tournament.
If the players needed to vent or grieve, they had 48 hours to get it out of their system.
The coach told them their tears, frustrations and regret had better be gone before Washington met Texas-Arlington on Tuesday night at Edmundson Pavilion in the 75th annual National Invitational Tournament.
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“By 7 o’clock our guys will be motivated to go play,” Romar vowed.
When asked how he could be so sure, he said: “I think I understand our team.”
It remains to be seen if the Huskies have truly moved past the anguish of being left out of the Big Dance. But if Monday’s practice was any indication, UW could be making a deep run in March.
As they emerged from the locker room and stepped on the Edmundson Pavilion court, Washington players spoke about how excited they were to play in the NIT.
“Obviously it’s not what we wanted,” guard Tony Wroten Jr. said. “But since we’re here, we’re going to deal with it and play like we are in the national championship.”
It was the first time Wroten addressed the media since the Huskies’ 86-84 loss to Oregon State on Thursday in the Pac-12 tournament quarterfinals.
Wroten set a UW freshman scoring record with 29 points, but he also missed four critical free throws in the final 18 seconds.
He buried his face in his jersey and held his head in his hands as he walked off the court at Staples Center. Afterward he sat in his jersey in front of his locker and declined to answer questions.
On Monday, Wroten said it took him a day to get over the defeat.
“Of course that day really hurt, but it happens,” he said. “It happens to all of us. It’s just funny how my potentially best game was my worst game on the same day.”
Wroten said he held out some hope that the NCAA selection committee would smile kindly on the Huskies and squeeze them into the 68-team tournament. When that didn’t happen, reactions were mixed.
“You got a lot of things going on,” senior co-captain Darnell Gant said. “You’re upset. You’re mad. You’re sad. There’s a lot of emotions, but you got to hold it together.”
Said Terrence Ross: “Everybody was just quiet, just waiting for the coaches to say something and tell us what we were going to do next.”
Romar told them that day that if they needed to cry or scream, do it then.
He said it was important they understood that at least one more game remained on the schedule. He told them that the NIT final four is played at New York’s Madison Square Garden.
And finally, he made a plea to the competitor inside each player.
“All of the guys on our team talk about their love of the game, their passion for the game of basketball,” Romar said. “This is not a benefit game, a celebrity game or a charity game we’re about to play. This is the NIT, where you have a chance to go back and play in the Garden again if you’re successful enough.
“If you’re passionate about basketball, after you get past what happened about not being in the NCAA tournament, then you got to get up for this.”
That’s what Romar was told by good friends Ken Bone and Randy Bennett.
Bone led Washington State to the NIT semifinals last year, and Bennett coached Saint Mary’s to a pair of wins in 2009.
“We’ve reached out to some people already,” Romar said. “The tournament can be a good experience if you embrace it.”
Success in the NCAA tournament often is determined by seeding, matchups and location. But teams that do well in the NIT are the ones that are thrilled to be in a postseason tournament.
In 2008, Washington hosted a first-round game in the inaugural College Basketball Invitational and lost 72-71 to Valparaiso.
Romar admitted some Huskies gave a halfhearted effort, but believes that won’t be a problem this time.
Like Washington (21-10), UT Arlington (24-8) had designs on the NCAA tournament. The Mavericks had a 16-game win streak during the season and won the Southland Conference regular-season title before falling in the second round of the league tournament.
Coach Scott Cross is also trying to get his players excited about playing in the NIT.
“Getting our players to embrace this tournament is probably the most important thing at this time of year when guys are not making the NCAAs,” Cross said. “My assistants taught with the coaches at (2011 NIT champion) Wichita State, and that’s what they said.
“They embraced it and some of those other teams didn’t. They felt like that was a big reason why they were able to win it.”
Percy Allen: 206-464-2278 or firstname.lastname@example.org