LOS ANGELES – Before the Washington Huskies took the court at Staples Center on Thursday, the gates to the championship game of the Pacific-10 Conference tournament seemed to swing open wide.
When seventh-seeded Stanford defeated No. 2 Arizona State, all that separated the Huskies from the title game was a pair of sub-.500 teams they’d already swept: Oregon State and Stanford.
But the path started with the Beavers, who forced UW to rally from 11 points down to grind out a 59-52 victory.
“Their game plan you could see was to pack it in, make us shoot from the outside,” coach Lorenzo Romar said. “They hardly went with their 1-3-1, just pack it in, and make us shoot it over the top. We hit a couple early and it was fool’s gold, and it took us a half to recover from that. Then we started to move the ball.”
After a few minutes of even sparring, Oregon State opened daylight with a 11-1 run to get their lead into double-digits midway through the first half.
That tossed the Huskies into a desperate game of catch-up.
Part of the problem was Washington’s difficulty in adapting to Oregon State’s shift from its traditional 1-3-1 defense into something more like a fluid, shifting 2-3.
The Huskies trailed 31-22 at halftime, quickly slipped behind by 11, and then began the long climb back.
Washington finally drew even, 37-all, about 12 minutes from the end when Isaiah Thomas drilled a 3-pointer.
Then they nosed ahead, 40-37, with a follow-up trey from Elston Turner about a minute later. Then they opened a little daylight, 44-37, when Thomas drilled another. Quincy Pondexter built on that with an old-fashioned three – scoring on a putback, being fouled and hitting the free throw – to increase the lead to 46-39.
Meanwhile, the Huskies were putting the clamps on OSU. The Beavers scored only 10 points over the first 13 minutes of the second half.
Oregon State stabilized in time for one last run, and pulled to within two points down the stretch.
Washington held on, with a tip-in by Turner seeming to seal the deal in the final minute.
Thomas led the Huskies with 15 points. Matthew Bryan-Amaning and Turner had 10 each, and Pondexter added nine.
“I told my teammates our shots are going to fall,” Thomas said. “We just had to stay confident.”
Oregon State (14-16) was led by Roeland Schaftenaar with 17 points – including a 3-pointer that pulled the Beavers back to within three in the final seconds. And Jared Cunningham had 15 before fouling out with 35 second left.
Today, the Huskies (21-9) head to the semifinals, facing Stanford at 8:40 p.m. The game will be shown on FSN.
During the regular season, Washington defeated the Cardinal 94-61 in Seattle and 78-61 at Stanford.
The winner of this one will play for the tournament title at 3 p.m. Saturday against the winner of today’s 6 p.m. semifinal game between No. 5 UCLA and No. 1 California.
Don Ruiz: 253-597-8808