With just over a minute remaining in the Washington Huskies’ 76-63 win over Stanford on Saturday, the raucous student section began chanting, “It’s all over! It’s all over!”
No offense to the always creative and prescient “Dawgpack,” but this game was all over long before that. Coach Lorenzo Romar could have started celebrating his 300th career victory earlier in the contest.
The Huskies’ win, along with Washington State’s upset of California in Pullman, propelled Washington (12-7 overall, 5-2 Pacific-12 Conference) to a half-game out of first place, behind the Bears and Oregon (6-2).
“We’re in a good position,” said junior guard Abdul Gaddy. “We feel like we could be in a better position, but these are the cards we have. Now we have to go on the road and get two big ones.”
In perhaps their most complete performance, the Huskies did something they hadn’t done this season – grab a lead, gain momentum and put a team away.
About three minutes into the second half, the Huskies started an 11-5 run that had the 9,794 fans in Alaska Airlines Arena on the brink of hysteria.
The sequence featured three buckets from senior Darnell Gant, who didn’t make a single shot in a loss to California on Thursday night.
But it was his 3-pointer from almost the identical spot he missed a potential game-tying bucket two days earlier that forced Stanford coach Johnny Dawkins to call a timeout with 13 minutes, 7 seconds to play in the game to try to quell the Huskies’ momentum.
“I wasn’t going to go through that for another night,” said Gant, who finished with 17 points and seven rebounds. “In the second half, the shots just ended up falling.”
Earlier in the season, a timeout might have been enough to slow the Huskies. But it didn’t work this time. After Chasson Randle scored a driving bucket to cause a momentary pause in the frenzy, the Huskies came right back.
Tony Wroten threw a perfect lob pass to Terrence Ross for a crowd-pleasing alley-oop. The highlight-reel play began a 15-1 run that pushed the lead to 63-41. Not even another timeout by Dawkins could make it stop.
“We got going and we are dangerous when that happens,” Gaddy said.
With over nine minutes remaining, the game was basically over. Stanford simply didn’t have the firepower to come back.
“I thought that was a huge potential turning point for our team because that hasn’t happened very often this year,” Romar said. “We’d get a 10-point (lead), then it goes down to six or five and maybe we win by one or two, or we lose the game.”
At some point this season, the Huskies needed to figure out how to extend a lead. As Wroten pointed out, it’s a little bit more important when there isn’t an arena full of fans on your side.
“If that happens on the road, we’ve gotta be able to put our foot on their throat,” Wroten said. “Because they will get some calls, and some baskets and be right back into it.”
It also helps to not be playing from behind for three quarters.
After slogging its way through mediocre first halves in the past two games, Washington came out and played with passion, intensity and a little physicality, thanks in part to the first minutes of action for football star Austin Seferian-Jenkins.
“It happened tonight, our guys came out in the first half and did a nice job,” Romar said.
More importantly, Washington carried that intensity all the way through.
“For us, something we can really grab a hold onto after this game was how hard we played,” Romar said. “I thought we played very physical. I thought we were alert. I was proud of our guys focus and approach.”
Wroten led the Huskies with 21 points, while pulling down five rebounds and dishing out four assists. Ross added 18 points – 16 of them in the second half. Seferian-Jenkins had seven rebounds, an assist and missed his only shot attempt. He also set about a half-dozen bone-jarring screens and fouled out with 7:06 to play.
“He didn’t score a point, but with what he does I think he can be effective in most games,” Romar said. “He’s an energy guy that plays aggressive and physical.”
As for his personal milestones, Romar, who also recorded his 100th conference victory, joked that the secret was “don’t get fired.”
But, in all seriousness, he said, he was thankful.
“I think from coaching staffs, to administration, to players we’ve had, I think we’ve had good people around me,” Romar said. “Fortunately, I’ve been able to last long enough to get to that point.”