They began to grasp the magnitude of this stage upon entering the lobby.
Here at the MGM Grand, a gold lion statue is near the front desk. You can’t miss it. This week, with the Pac-12 tournament being played Wednesday through Saturday at the MGM Grand Garden Arena, that lion is flanked by pennants adorned with the name of each conference team.
That’s what the Washington Huskies saw as soon as they arrived in Las Vegas on Tuesday, the majority of UW’s roster preparing to play in this tournament for the first time.
And that’s when it might have started to sink in a little, UW coach Lorenzo Romar said: “Right away, you could tell our guys were saying, ‘OK, this is it. This is serious business.’ ”
It really is, particularly for the Huskies, whose once-promising season lost its shine amid a series of close, devastating losses in the final few weeks, putting them in the unenviable position this week of needing to win at least three games — probably four, all the way through the championship — in order to advance to the NCAA tournament.
That effort begins at noon Wednesday, when the No. 8-seeded Huskies face No. 9 seed Stanford in the tournament opener. The teams have met once this season, in Seattle on Feb. 20, a 64-53 UW victory.
The winner of that game faces Pac-12 regular-season champion Oregon, the tournament’s top seed, at noon Thursday. Even if the Huskies beat Stanford and then beat the Ducks, they need to win another two games to take home the tournament championship and the automatic NCAA tourney bid that comes with it.
But hey, you know the drill: All they can do Wednesday is try to beat Stanford (15-14, 8-10 Pac-12), then take it from there.
“I think the first time, we fared pretty well against them,” said UW guard Andrew Andrews, who scored 47 points in UW’s last game, a 99-91 victory over Washington State last Wednesday. “We figured out how they worked throughout their zone, actually made them switch the way they played their zone, which suited us a little bit better. We just look (forward) to the next challenge they throw at us.”
If there is any reason to believe the Huskies might be able to win four games in four days here, it’s that they have played a competitive game this season against every team in the conference — a fact that Romar and UW players have repeated after each of their hard-fought defeats.
It’s true, to an extent. If only the Huskies rebounded just a little better against Arizona, they wouldn’t have lost by five points at home. If only they’d rebounded a little better against Colorado, they wouldn’t have lost by one point on the road. If only Stephen Thompson Jr. hadn’t made a miracle 3-pointer at the buzzer a few weeks ago, they wouldn’t have lost by one point at Oregon State in a game that probably killed UW’s NCAA at-large chances for good.
They’re out of time to figure out how to amend the errors that cost them so dearly in those excruciating losses.
“I think it’s going to be important that we make open shots,” Romar said. “Make open shots. We don’t have to be in the zone. We don’t have to go off and have guys get 47 (points), but be able to make open shots. Now, that’s given the makeup of our team and after 30-plus games what we’ve been able to do. We’re going to have to try to do a better job of rebounding, obviously.
“But when you’re playing in these tournament games, as we have seen in conference play, a missed shot here or a made shot there can be the difference, in our case, the difference in being tied for sixth or being in third or fourth place.”
The Huskies (17-13, 9-9) are in the rare position of having an entire week between their most recent game and their Pac-12 tournament opener. Romar took the opportunity to give his players a couple of days off, though they returned to practice Monday and “regained our focus,” Romar said.
“We’ll see what happens,” Romar said. “Noon, 8 at night, midnight, whatever it is, whatever opponent, when it’s tournament time, you just go. You just come and you bring it, whatever the situation is.”
And bring it, they hope, for all four days.
Washington (17-13, 9-9 Pac-12) vs. Stanford (15-14, 8-10)
Noon (PST), MGM Grand Garden Arena, Las Vegas
TV: Pac-12 Network. Radio: 1000-AM, 97.7-FM.
All-time series: Stanford leads, 74-70.
Statistics for 2015-16:
12 Andrew Andrews, G (6-2, sr.): 21.2 ppg, 5.8 rpg, 4.7 apg.
5 Dejounte Murray, G (6-4.5, fr.): 15.3 ppg, 5.8 rpg, 4.3 apg.
4 Matisse Thybulle, G (6-5, fr.): 6.7 ppg, 5.6 rpg.
10 Malik Dime, F (6-9, jr.): 6.7 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 2.7 bpg.
0 Marquese Chriss, F (6-9, fr.): 12.8 ppg, 5.1 rpg.
11 Dorian Pickens, G (6-5, so.): 12.2 ppg, 3.6 rpg.
21 Cameron Walker, F (6-7, fr.): 1.3 ppg, 1.3 rpg.
25 Rosco Allen, F (6-9, sr.): 15.7 ppg, 6.3 rpg.
10 Michael Humphrey, F (6-9, so.): 10.4 ppg, 6.4 rpg.
30 Grant Verhoeven, C (6-9, sr.): 3.2 ppg, 2.1 rpg.
Scouting report: Stanford limped to an 8-10 conference record after being swept by Arizona State and Arizona in the last weekend of Pac-12 play. That was after the Cardinal had won four of its previous five games, with the lone loss in that stretch coming at UW on Feb. 20. … The Huskies won that game 64-53 thanks to 25 points from Dejounte Murray, who attacked Stanford’s funky 2-3 zone and helped UW force Stanford into a different defensive approach. In the first half, the Huskies struggled trying to move the ball against Stanford’s length, but made the proper adjustments after halftime to pull away for the victory. … Senior forward Rosco Allen leads the Cardinal in scoring at 15.7 points per game, and he had 20 points against the Huskies in their first meeting. No other Stanford player scored in double-figures in that game. … A Stanford player to keep an eye on is sophomore guard Dorian Pickens, who scored a season-high 25 points against USC on Feb. 25 and has scored 20 or more points in a game four times this year. … Stanford coach Johnny Dawkins indefinitely suspended guard Christian Sanders for a violation of team rules. … The Cardinal want to play at a slow offensive pace, and because of this, it ranks last in the Pac-12 in scoring offense at 69.7 points per game. Stanford shoots 42.7 percent from the field, 32.7 percent from 3-point range (worst in the conference) and 68.7 percent from the free-throw line. Defensively, Stanford allows opponents to shoot 44.0 percent from the field.