The regular-season champion Golden Bears and the third-seeded Huskies advanced to today’s Pac-10 tournament championship game with semifinal wins Friday at Staples Center.
After watching Cal’s come-from-behind victory over UCLA, the third-seeded Huskies overcame an offensively inert start before rolling to a 79-64 win over seventh-seeded Stanford.
“Early on in the game we were real aggressive, but we were too much in a hurry,” coach Lorenzo Romar said. “We missed a lot of easy baskets. We settled down, and I thought defensively we did a really nice job.”
Washington’s prize is a place in the final at 3 p.m. Saturday before a national audience on CBS.
“Huge opponent we’re playing against,” Romar said. “Cal right now is playing like a machine. UCLA, I thought, played one of their better games this year and yet Cal was a team that just came out and was the superior team. We’ve got to come out and play at a high level.”
The winner of that game gets an automatic bid into the NCAA tournament. The lose gets an uncomfortable night to toss, turn and wonder whether it did enough to merit an at-large bid come Selection Sunday.
Despite the stakes Washington could hardly have gotten off to a slower start tonight. More than five minutes in, the Huskies were up 4-2. More than 10 minutes in, it was 10-6. Shot after shot – many from deep in the paint – rolled off the rim or clanged off of it.
Eventually, the Huskies slowly starting putting some distance between themselves and the Cardinal. By halftime, their lead was up to 28-19.
However, Washington started the second half with a burst. Pondexter scored on the first possession and was fouled for a three-point play. Isaiah Thomas nailed a trey. Then a Thomas pass to Justin Holiday was relayed along to Pondexer, who dunked it home.
Finally, Washington had something like breathing room. And when Matthew Bryan-Amaning threw down what might have been the dunk of the season on Stanford’s Andrew Zimmerman in the final minutes, the Huskies were on their way to a 15-point victory to go along with their 33- and 17-point romps over Stanford during the regular season.
Three players scored in double figures for the Huskies: Pondexter (19), Thomas (17) and Holiday (11). Bryan-Amaning had 11 rebounds. Landry Fields led the Cardinal with 20 points and 14 rebounds, both game highs.
Stanford’s record fell to 14-18, as the Cardinal’s run of 16 consecutive postseason tournament appearances may have reached its end.
16:29/2nd: Huskies opened the second half strong, and have moved ahead 41-26.
Halftime: Huskies lead, 28-19, but they left a lot of points out on the court. Lots of trouble getting the ball to drop from inside the paint ... close inside the paint.
7:48/1st: Still looks like there's a lid on the rim, but Huskies inching ahead, 14-8. Overton has drawn a couple of charges and is playing nice D.
Note: For anyone watching at home, I would have caught the swatted ball, except I had a pen in my hand. Really.
14:44/1st: Shots not going down early on either side. UW up, 4-2. Justin Holiday off to a nice start defensively.
Tipoff: Huskies going with usual starting lineup: Thomas, Gaddy, Pondexter, MBA and Holiday.
Pregame: Washington and Stanford will tipoff around 8:40 p.m. at Staples Center, and the game will be on FSN. The winner will move on to the Pac-10 tournament championship game against California at 3 p.m. Saturday on CBS.
Huskies are wearing white, the Cardinal cardinal.
Warming up, it appears Isaiah Thomas is going without the protective glove that he wore on his left hand last night.
Once again, the late start and tight deadlines may limit our in-game reports. However, we will have updates and then notes and quotes and comments after the game.