It was a game that had all the makings of the bad, old days. An arena devoid of energy, a team playing a meaningless March game. But while it may...
The Washington Huskies resist the theory that they aren’t going anywhere this season.
But Thursday night, when the No. 23 USC Trojans tried to bully their way through the Huskies on what they hoped would be a direct route to second place in the Pac-10, standing pat was just what Washington wanted to do.
“I think they were trying to punk us,” said UW guard Justin Dentmon of USC’s physical play early in the game.
“And we were just saying we weren’t going to be punked. They could do all the pushing they wanted. We were still going to be here at the end.”
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And when the end came, it was the Huskies who were left standing, 85-70 victors in what might have been their most impressive win of the Pac-10 season.
“We still know it’s there,” said UW forward Jon Brockman. “After winning that game, we know anything can happen in the Pac-10 tournament.”
The win clinched the No. 7 seed at the tournament for UW (now 17-12 overall, 7-10 in Pac-10 play), ensuring the Huskies will play Arizona State in the first round next Wednesday at 8:42 p.m. in Los Angeles.
And that opens up what may be a more navigable road to what is Washington’s only path to the NCAA tournament — winning the Pac-10 tournament — by avoiding UCLA until the final.
Against USC, the Huskies showed there are some reasons for hope.
When USC left Washington’s guards open early to concentrate on taking the big guys out of the game, the Huskies responded, hitting 9 of 13 three-pointers in the first half to take a 44-30 halftime lead.
In the second half, when USC adjusted, the Huskies slowed the pace, got the ball inside, and went to the line where they hit 18 of 22 free throws (23 of 31 for the game).
Throughout, the Huskies took uncommonly attentive care of the ball, losing just 10 turnovers, their fewest since committing nine against LSU on Dec. 20.
The win snapped a four-game losing streak for UW, which had been its longest since an 0-5 start to Pac-10 play in 2004.
“The thing we talked [about] at the beginning of the week is how good we can get in the next two weeks,” said UW coach Lorenzo Romar.
“To come out and play this way may show that we made a little progress tonight, and hopefully we can make a little more on Saturday (against UCLA) and next week make enough to where we can reach our goals.”
USC hoped a sweep of the Washington trip would give it sole possession of second place. But any thought USC had that the Huskies would back down evaporated when Dentmon snapped out of a long slump by hitting three early three-pointers to put UW ahead 15-11.
Washington then opened up significant breathing room with a 19-7 run that turned a 25-23 lead into a 14-point lead.
Things grew heated when Quincy Pondexter and USC guard and Rainier Beach High grad Lodrick Stewart each drew fouls during a brief tussle late in the half. Then, a few minutes later, Ryan Appleby — who led UW with 22 points — hit a three-pointer as Pondexter was called for a foul away from the ball while again locked in combat with Stewart.
USC coach Tim Floyd — already livid with his team’s play and upset the three counted — was hit with a technical foul.
The four-point play gave UW a 44-30 lead with 3:14 left.
“It was just everybody playing rough,” said Stewart. “No big deal. Just everybody was playing physical.”
Things cooled from there. UW built a 58-41 lead three minutes into the second half.
USC junior swingman Nick Young then led a Trojans charge that cut the lead to 69-64 with 6:42 left. Young, who appears headed for the NBA, led all scorers with 26 points.
But with UW’s offense running stagnant, Artem Wallace made 3 of 4 free throws after having made just 2 of 6 earlier in the game and steadied things for the Huskies.
“Those were big free throws,” Romar said. “The bad news was that he was 5 of 10 from the free-throw line. The good news is that he doubled his average [Wallace was 9 for 27 entering the game]. We told him we were going to start letting him shoot technicals.”
It was sweet turnabout for the Huskies, with Brockman noting that “we felt when we were down there [in Los Angeles] we had the game.” Instead, USC beat UW 86-79 in double overtime on Dec. 28, putting the Huskies on their road to mediocrity.
But the Huskies were again home Thursday night, where they are now 16-2 this season, compared to 1-10 outside of Seattle.
“A lot of guys are just in their comfort zone at home,” said Appleby.
Alas, just one home game remains: Saturday against No. 2 UCLA.