Dawgs Reach the Top of the Pac-10 Mountain
Washington beat the Cal Bears 79-75 to win the Pac-10 Tournament and get the automatic invite to the NCAA Tournament. Cal will wait to see what happens on Selection Sunday, but I believe that the Bears are definitely in. Their low RPI, their regular season Pac-10 title, their tough schedule and the fact that Theo Robertson (who led Cal in defeat with 25 points) was out for all but one of their tough non-conference losses, make them an at-large shoe in.
It was an epic battle, as both teams made intimidating runs and players on both sides were literally worn down with foul trouble and just plain exhaustion. In the end it was the Huskies depth, as Elston Turner came off the bench to score his only 5 points in the last 3:45 to turn a 68-66 Cal lead into a three point lead that the Dawgs would never relinquish.
After the Dawgs forced Robertson into a turnover, Washington called time-out, then executed a smart looking play in which Venoy Overton looked as if he was thrown a poor pass on an off the mark “Oop” attempt then saved it to Justin Holiday for a wide open 12 foot jumper from the baseline.
Patrick Christopher (who finished with only 11) then hit a three off a deft assist from Pac-10 Player of the Year Jerome Randle, who was held to only 12 points, mostly on 5-5 from the free throw line. After working the clock down to 2:02 the Huskies freshman post man Tyreese Breshers successfully sealed off the defender and got the received the ball down low. He was unable to score, but was fouled and coolly went to the line and made both shots.
Up 4 the Dawgs were then able to avoid giving any of the Bears prime time shooters a good look at the hoop until the Bears settled for a Jamal Boykin three which was off the mark. Boykin scored 20 in a terrific game, but in this game of attrition it was the Husky bench players with their fresh legs that prevailed after the Husky stars had given all they had during this hard fought contest.
The Bears 4 seniors are a great team and I believe that they will fare well in the NCAA tournament where guard play and experience are in high demand, but it was Washington’s depth that tipped the scale for the Dawgs. Quincy Pondexter led the Dawgs with 18 and followed Boykin’s missed three with a brilliant turn around jumper in the lane that demonstrated the sheer will that Q had to dig deep to summon with 1:06 left. That gave the Dawgs a 77-71 lead, but it was not over.
Both Quincy and Isaiah Thomas, who (like Pondexter) scored one below his season average with 16, looked a bit winded and missed shots right before the closing stages of the contest. Randle succeeded in getting free for an open three to bring Cal within three with 0:52 to play and the Huskies were unable to do anything but run off the clock to the 20-second mark. After a Cal time out with 10-seconds to play, Washington smartly put the fresher and taller Turner on Randle and he nearly was able to get a steal at the top of the key.
After knocking the ball away from Jerome cleanly, Turner was called for the foul going for the ball with 5-seconds to go. Randle made the 1st but deliberately missed the 2nd and was called for a lane violation as he crossed the foul line long before the ball hit the rim. Cal was not over the limit and the Dawgs ran two inbounds plays before Venoy Overton was sent to the foul line with 2.1 seconds remaining.
Like he had so many times this season, Overton, who also came off the bench and finished with 10 points, coolly hit both shots as the Huskies stayed far away from the Bears to avoid a foul on the rebound. It was a great victory for Lorenzo Romar and his team, who will now wait to see where they are seeded on Sunday.
Thomas was chosen as the first-ever Pac-10 Tournament Most Outstanding Player and joined Pondexter on the All-Tournament team. Washington has now won 12 of its last 14 games and seven straight, reminiscent of the 2003-2004 team which won 12-14 to unbelievably make the NCAA Tournament after a 0-5 start in Pac-10 play.