The Washington Huskies were saying all the right things.
Nearly 24 hours after their hearts were broken by the NCAA selection committee and nearly 24 hours before they would return to the court in the first-round of the National Invitation Tournament, coach Lorenzo Romar and his players vowed they would come out ready and motivated to play.
The disappointment of learning Sunday they didn’t make the NCAA tournament should not weigh on their minds when they step on the floor tonight at Alaska Airlines Arena to play the University of Texas-Arlington Mavericks.
“If you’re passionate about basketball, then you have to get up for this,” Romar said. “If you have a game, you have an opportunity to go play. This is not a charity game. This is winner advances, loser goes home.”
Romar said he believes he has players who are passionate about the game and who are driven by the desire to compete.
“By game time (today), we will be ready,” Romar said.
There were hints of bitterness in the players’ voices before practice Monday when it came to the NCAA selection committee.
“It sucks,” senior forward Darnell Gant said. “You just try to hold your emotions as best you can and try not to let them all out. You got a lot of things going on. You’re upset. You’re mad. You’re sad. There’s a lot of emotions, but you got to hold it together.”
The Huskies say they are ready to move past it.
“We did this to ourselves,” freshman guard Tony Wroten said. “We just got to look forward to the next game and try to win the NIT.”
To win the NIT, or even the first game of the NIT, there can be no question about their motivation.
And the Huskies all pledged to take this game seriously. If there’s a game being played, they want to – and expect to – win the game.
“It can’t really matter where we’re at,” sophomore guard Terrence Ross said. “As long as we have our uniforms on, we have to play hard and play competitively and make sure we win the (rest) of these games from here on out.”
Perhaps the most important reaction was from Wroten. The mercurial freshman was reduced to tears after missing four consecutive free throws late the Pacific-12 Conference tournament quarterfinal loss to Oregon State, spoiling his career-best 29 point performance.
On Monday, he seemed like his old confident self.
“I was born ready,” Wroten said, when asked to talk to the large media group awaiting him.
It wasn’t a pleasant 24 hours for him following the Oregon State loss.
“Of course that day really hurt, but it happens,” he said. “It happens to all of us. It’s just funny how my potentially best game was my worst game on the same day.”
It was one of the toughest moments of his young basketball career – one that won’t be soon forgotten.
“My family helped me out,” Wroten said. “It happens to all of us. Everything happens for a reason. Everybody goes through adversity.”
But that disappointment was made worse by outside factors. Wroten’s Twitter page was bombarded with negative comments about him, his free throw shooting and the Huskies.
“I knew it was coming,” he said. “It comes with the territory for an athlete. The same people that praise you and say how good of a player you are, they are the same people that’s going to say I’m a failure and I’m the reason that we lost. So it comes with the territory.”
And maybe winning today or even winning the NIT title won’t take away the sting of not making the NCAA tournament, but the Huskies are going to try to make the best of the situation.
“Yeah. We’re going to treat this like it’s the national championship,” Wroten said. “Obviously it’s not what we wanted, but since we’re here, we’re going to deal with it and play like we are in the national championship.”
TEXAS-ARLINGTON (24-9) VS. WASHINGTON (21-10)
7 p.m, Alaska Airlines Arena
TV: ESPNU Radio: 950-AM/102.9-FM
Series: This is the first meeting between the two teams.
LaMarcus Reed G, 17.8 PPG, 3.8 RPG, 1.7 APG, 46.8 FG%, 79.7 FT%
Shaquille White-Miller G, 4.7 PPG, 2.2 RPG, 3.6 APG, 38.3 FG%, 70.6 FT%
Bo Ingram F, 12.7 PPG, 4.2 RPG, 0.7 APG, 42.1 FG%, 73.0 FT%
Kevin Butler F, 10.9 PPG, 5.8 RPG, 1.5 APG, 45.4 FG%, 69.9 FT%
Jordan Reves C, 9.2 PPG, 7.8 RPG, 0.8 APG, 54.4 FG%, 76.6 FT%
Abdul Gaddy G, 8.1 PPG, 2.5 RPG, 5.0 APG, 39.6 FG%, 70.0 FT%
Terrence Ross G, 15.3 PPG, 6.5 RPG, 1.4 APG, 45.3 FG%, 72.2 FT%
Tony Wroten G, 16.7 PPG, 5.0 RPG, 3.6 APG, 45.3 FG%, 57.6 FT%
Darnell Gant F, 7.1 PPG, 5.2 RPG, 0.9 APG, 46.1 FG%, 62.3 FT%
Aziz N'Diaye C, 8.0 PPG, 7.6 RPG, 0.3 APG, 53.6 FG%, 37.4 FT%
Scouting report: This isn’t about Xs and Os and scouting reports, it’s about effort and attitude, since both teams would rather be in the NCAA tournament. It’s a matter of which team can put disappointment behind and look at the NIT as an opportunity.
It’s certainly easier for Texas-Arlington. The Mavericks don’t view postseason basketball as a guarantee each season. They are excited to be still be playing.
Shooting guard LaMarcus Reed is a dangerous scorer who will hit from the outside and also attack the basket. Texas-Arlington plays an up-tempo style with a lot of 3-point shots. That should help the Huskies awaken from any doldrums from not making the NCAA tournament.
Huskies coach Lorenzo Romar said his team will be ready. How will you know? Watch the Huskies on defense. If they are getting back in transition, if they are making it tough for the Mavericks to catch passes, if they are contesting shots, it means they are playing defense.
Romar didn’t see those things in the last two losses, to UCLA and Oregon State.
Next: If UW wins, the Huskies will play the Northwestern/Akron winner at home, time and date TBD.