• UW 83, Arizona 78
There is a banner that hangs in Hec Edmundson Pavilion listing the University of Washington’s men’s basketball championships.
The banner doesn’t differentiate between outright conference championships and shared championships.
However, the current Washington Huskies do.
This team earned its spot on that banner Saturday with a come-from-behind 83-78 win over Arizona.
After the game the Huskies hugged. They soaked in the cheers of a sold out home crowd of 10,000. And then they reminded anyone that they are holding out for more.
“If we don’t (clinch the outright title later this week) and remain co-champs, I’ll say that’s a special, special accomplishment for our program,” coach Lorenzo Romar said. “But at this time, we’re not settling for that. That’s all there is to it.”
Washington (22-7 overall, 13-4 Pacific-10 Conference) could win the outright conference championship in front of a TV set on Thursday, if UCLA loses a home game to Oregon State.
Or the Huskies could win it on the court Saturday by beating Washington State in the regular-season finale.
But their path to immortality in the Hec Ed rafters would have become much more complicated if they hadn’t been able to belatedly launch themselves past Arizona (18-11, 8-8).
The primary problem was overcoming the Wildcats’ big three: Jordan Hill, who had a game-high 27 points; Chase Budinger, who added 20 before fouling out in the final minutes; and Nic Wise, who added 11.
Hill also gave his teammates a significant lift when, after leaving with a sprained ankle about seven minutes from the end, he returned from the locker room about three minutes later.
“I really didn’t think (I could return),” Hill said. “I was in that much pain. But when I was out there and hearing the crowd getting into it, adrenaline starts flowing and I said, ‘Man’s it’s time for me to get out there and help my team out, so tape my ankles tighter.’ ”
Hill’s effort wasn’t enough because Washington finally raised its effort to match the high stakes of the game.
The Huskies started by missing seven of 11 first-half free throws. They also were outrebounded for much of the game. They trailed by four at halftime and then watched as the Wildcats increased their lead to 58-48 less than 12 minutes from the end.
“We weren’t doing our job,” senior forward Jon Brockman said. “It took Venoy (Overton), I think, coming in and giving us that energy that he gives us. He came in and lifted us on defense. All of a sudden we were out on the break. Isaiah (Thomas) got a couple of steals and a couple of (3-point plays) and all of a sudden we were off.”
Brockman and Thomas led UW with 19 points each. Quincy Pondexter and Justin Dentmon also scored in double figures. Brockman added 11 rebounds. Overton had eight points, six rebounds, three steals and nailed three out of four free throws in the final seconds to settle it.
“This is a tough place to play, and they’re the Pac-10 champs,” said Arizona interim coach Russ Pennell, whose team’s streak of 24 straight NCAA tournament invitations is in increasing jeopardy. “So to play them like we did today, I was proud of our team. Right now, I feel about as good about our team as I have all year, even though we lost.”
At the final buzzer, the crowd cheered Washington’s first Pac-10 title since 1984-85. The players shook hands, hugged and then headed happily for the locker room.
However, Brockman reminded everyone that the Huskies view this as only a preliminary celebration.
“We’re not done yet,” Brockman said. “We’re going to be a little greedier than that, so if we can celebrate like two-thirds of what we’ve got to get done, but we’ve still got a big one-third finishing this thing off.”
Don Ruiz, 253-597-8808
blogs.thenewstribune.com/uwsports GAME IN REVIEW: WASHINGTON 83, ARIZONA 78
Star of the game: UW forward Jon Brockman had a game-high 11 rebounds, tied with Isaiah Thomas for UW’s scoring lead with 19 points, and provided senior leadership down the stretch.
Key stats: The Huskies held Arizona guard Nic Wise to 11 points on 3-of-15 shooting. Wise had gone off for 29 points when the Wildcats won the first meeting in Tucson, Ariz. UW shot 35 free throws, while Arizona shot 14. … The teams were even in rebounds at halftime, but UW took control of the boards in the second half, 22-16.
Key run: Washington went on an 18-4 run in the middle of the second half to go from 10 points down to four points up. Over that stretch, Brockman provided eight points and an assist.
Observations: UW claimed its first Pacific-10 Conference men’s basketball title since 1984-85. However, the Huskies say their primary goal remains winning their first outright conference title since 1952-53 and their first outright conference title since the Pac-10 became a 10-team conference. That could happen with a win over Washington State on Saturday or a loss by UCLA in either of its games this week. … Isaiah Thomas of Tacoma inched ahead of Justin Dentmon for the UW season scoring lead.
Quotable: “The crowd, you talk about a sixth man, our crowd was unbelievable today and just helped will us to a victory.” – UW coach Lorenzo Romar on the sellout crowd of 10,000.
Next: 8 p.m. Tuesday vs. Seattle University, Hec Edmundson Pavilion; FSN. Tickets remain available.
Don Ruiz, The News Tribune