It was not the NCAA tournament, but for the better part of Tuesday’s game, the Washington Huskies played in an atmosphere worthy of a championship. And now they’ll head to New York to play for one.
C.J. Wilcox buried six consecutive free throws in the final 30 seconds as the Huskies held on to beat rival Oregon, 90-86, in the National Invitation Tournament quarterfinals.
With the win, the Huskies (24-10) advance to the semifinals next Tuesday at Madison Square Garden. Washington will play the winner of today’s Minnesota-Middle Tennessee State game.
It wasn’t the postseason tournament the Huskies had envisioned when the season started. And even after the spirited win, the players admitted it doesn’t erase the Selection Sunday sting.
“We’re still upset we didn’t take care of business when we could have,” said Terrence Ross, who scored a game-high 24 points in perhaps his last home game for the Huskies. “We’re just focusing on this new championship that we were after.”
But with easily the most boisterous crowd of the season, a sold-out Alaska Airlines Arena and a Pacific-12 Conference rival in town, there was little question whether the Huskies would embrace their situation.
The only problem for Washington was that the Ducks (24-10) were equally invested.
What followed was 40 minutes of basketball played seemingly at 80 miles per hour with bodies on the floor, plenty of points on the scoreboard and the final outcome not decided till the very end.
“That was an outstanding basketball game,” Huskies coach Lorenzo Romar said. “I think both teams were playing pretty efficient basketball. There were a lot of big plays made. It was one of those ‘well, somebody has to lose’ games.”
In a game where no team seemed to be able to take control, Washington was finally able to gain some semblance of it near the end.
With nine minutes, 28 seconds remaining, Terrence Ross rattled home a turnaround jumpshot and drew a foul. He completed the three-point play to push the lead to 69-65.
The normally reserved Ross pumped his fist and let out a scream.
“It was just a big play, especially in a big game like this,” Ross said.
The play ignited a 9-0 run, punctuated by a Wilcox 3-pointer.
“That was a killer for us,” Oregon coach Dana Altman said. “We just really gave into it there. No communication, read certain screens wrong, made too many mistakes.”
While the 75-65 lead wouldn’t hold up entirely, it was enough of a cushion to force Oregon to play with a little desperation.
Still, Romar never felt comfortable.
“They are too good of a shooting team and too explosive,” Romar said. “You are never comfortable with a team like Oregon.”
A Garret Sim 3-pointer with 3:36 remaining brought the Ducks within two possessions, at 80-74.
And like most Huskies games this season, nothing would be easy from there on out.
Oregon whittled the lead down to 82-79 on a Sim drive with 1:41 left.
The Ducks got the ball back with a chance to tie. But Abdul Gaddy, who played perhaps his most complete game of the year, stepped in front of E.J. Singler and took a charge to give the ball back to the Huskies.
“We weren’t getting any calls tonight and they were getting all of them,” Sim said of Singler’s foul. “Apparently if you flop you get a foul called, for them.”
On the ensuing possession, the Huskies made a miscue against the Oregon press, sending a loose ball toward half court.
Ross collided with an Oregon player, and then punched the ball forward to Tony Wroten, who picked it up and went for a dunk to push the lead to 84-79.
But in less than seven seconds, Oregon inbounded, advanced the ball to the other end of the court and scored when Devoe Joseph buried a 3-pointer from the wing to cut the lead to 84-82 with 42.4 seconds remaining.
After not getting the initial steal off the inbounds, the Ducks were forced to foul. Unlike the Pac-12 tournament, the Huskies made their free throws.
It helped having Wilcox, an 89 percent shooter at the line, with the ball. He buried two with 29 seconds left. And after a pair of missed Oregon three-point attempts, Wilcox was forced to the line on the next two possessions, where he made four more.
It was a bit of revenge for the Huskies, who were trounced by Oregon, 82-57, back in February down in Eugene.
“Last time, they embarrassed us,” said Wroten, who scored 22 points and broke the single-season freshman scoring record of 541, previously held by Isaiah Thomas. “To get a win like this, it’s big.”
Wroten also had seven rebounds.
Ross got his 24 points on 9-for-18 shooting, including three 3-pointers.
Wilcox had 17. Gaddy played maybe his best floor game of the season, scoring 11 points, dishing out 10 assists and pulling down seven rebounds.
“That’s almost a triple-double,” Romar said of the Bellarmine Prep graduate’s effort. “And he also played good defense on Devoe Joseph.”
Joseph, Oregon’s leading scorer throughout the season, was limited to 12 points on 4-for-15 shooting from the field.
“I was just trying to use my length to my advantage,” Gaddy said. “I was just trying to make it tough on him.”
The Ducks shot 53.3 percent (16-for-30) from the field in the first half, with Singler scoring 15 points.
Washington was able to slow the Ducks down to just 38.5 percent shooting in the second half, with Singler scoring just four more.