STANFORD, CALIF. – Just when Washington’s game at Stanford started to seem like a movie that had been seen too many times before, the Huskies provided a surprise ending.
After watching their 15-point lead whittled down to two with a little more than 13 minutes left Saturday, the Huskies played on the road like they so regularly play at home.
Washington, the team that hadn’t won on the road this season, left Maples Pavilion with a 78-61 win over the Cardinal, which hadn’t lost a Pacific-10 Conference game at home.
“We stayed together as a team,” UW senior Quincy Pondexter said. “We’ve been through all types of situations this season on the road, and we didn’t want that sad feeling in the locker room after this game. We buckled down, cleaned up our mistakes, took care of the ball and got the job done.”
After their success, the Huskies reveled in a happy locker room, and Pondexter said he was looking forward to the season’s first happy flight home.
“We’re going to actually be able to talk to each other and actually be in a better mood,” Pondexter said. “I think the flight is going to go a lot quicker because the others seemed like they were going to take so long because we were all sad and thinking about the game. I replay it in my head about 1,000 times. I’m still going to replay it in my head, but it’s going to feel a little bit better.”
If anyone deserved the happy flight home, it was Pondexter, because it was the team captain whom coach Lorenzo Romar had turned to when the Huskies needed to shake off their losing road habit.
Washington had watched a 15-point first-half lead dwindle to two points less than 14 minutes from the end.
At almost the same time, forward Matthew Bryan-Amaning picked up his fourth foul, and less than a minute later, Justin Holiday went to the bench with his fourth.
Taking Holiday off the court was no small thing, because he was guarding Landry Fields, who entered the game as the Pac-10’s leading scorer and one of Pondexter’s chief rivals for conference player of the year.
Under those circumstances, Romar challenged Pondexter to prove himself.
“Coach Romar said, ‘You know what? This is your senior moment: Show them why you are who you are, show them you’re the best player in the country,’ ” Pondexter said. “I didn’t have the perfect game, but I wanted to put this team on my back. He knew I was fatigued, and he knew I had the tough task of guarding Landry down the stretch. He had so much confidence in me to get it done.”
The Huskies instantly answered. Isaiah Thomas and Elston Turner made 3-pointers. Darnell Gant soared his way to a flying tip-in of a teammate’s miss. Thomas hit another 3-pointer.
Suddenly things were going Washington’s way, and Pondexter sealed the deal by making a steal, then diving to the floor for the loose ball and redirecting it ahead to Gant, who threw down two more points.
“You’re a senior. Show us what you’ve got: I know you’ve got it. And he stepped up,” Romar said. “The play he made where he dove for the ball at the end in my opinion was the play of the game. When you get your leading scorer and best player doing things like that, that carries over.”
Soon enough, much of the crowd was heading to exits of Maples Pavilion while UW fans chanted, “Let’s go Huskies.”
With the final buzzer, a very large monkey was finally off the backs of the Huskies.
“It feels great, man,” Thomas said. “This game, we really played unselfish.”
Thomas led all scorers with 20 points. Pondexter had a team-high nine rebounds to go with his 18 points. Bryan-Amaning returned to the starting lineup and provided 11 points and five boards.
Fields managed 17 points – more than five below his average – and shared the Stanford point lead with guard Jeremy Green.
After that happy flight home, Washington will prepare for its final two home games for the season this week against Southern California and UCLA. Then they hit the road for their final three games of the regular season.
“Our guys are fired up,” Romar said. “Fired up that we won a game, won on the road, and that down the stretch we did it the right way.”