March 18, 2006
SAN DIEGO (AP) - The Washington Huskies somehow got labeled as being soft while on their way to finishing second in the Pac-10 Conference.
No one would dare say that to the Huskies now.
Brandon Roy helped bring Washington back from an 11-point deficit in the second half and the Huskies beat Dee Brown and the Illinois Fighting Illini 67-64 on Saturday in a second-round NCAA tournament game that featured wild scoring swings.
Roy, the Pac-10 player of the year, is taking the West Coast's Washington (26-6) to the Washington Regional, where it will face the winner of Sunday's game between Kentucky and top-seeded Connecticut.
"It's a special feeling," said Roy, whose fame is sure to grow if the Huskies keep winning. "A lot of people wouldn't have guessed that we could make it this far. I think we're just coming together as a team."
This will be the second straight trip to the regionals for Washington, and its fourth overall. The only problem is, they've never won once they got there. Last year they were a No. 1 seed but lost to Louisville in the regional semifinals. They're a No. 5 seed this time.
While Illini star guard Dee Brown had his career end, Roy continued to pad his resume, scoring 21 points and grabbing seven rebounds. He might not be quite the national name as Brown and other guards, but has the chance to be.
Roy ended up with the ball in his hands after Brown missed a 3-pointer at the buzzer, setting off a wild Washington celebration.
"Man, I'm glad he missed it," Romar said.
Brown and the fourth-seeded Fighting Illini (26-7) came up short of making the regionals for the third straight year. Illinois reached the national championship game last year before losing to North Carolina.
The Huskies won despite shooting 38 percent from the floor. They made up for it by making 28 of 39 free throws. Roy was 11-of-14 from the line.
Back to that toughness thing - Romar said the only two times the Huskies weren't the tougher team this season were in losses at Washington State on Feb. 4 and in an upset loss to Oregon in the Pac-10 tournament. In between, the Huskies won eight straight, including the second of their two wins over UCLA, which won the Pac-10's regular-season and conference titles.
"I continue to tell my wife, you can't judge a season or a career on one or two games," Romar said. "For whatever reason, everybody ran with that and said maybe we're a soft team. We're not a soft team at all. You can't manufacture toughness. If that wasn't in us, we couldn't have won that game today if we weren't a tough team."
Forward Bobby Jones chafed the most at the soft references.
"I hope this game proved to everybody that we're not soft," Jones said.
Illinois found out the hard way.
"I guess we didn't understand the high level of intensity and how physical they were going to play," Illini coach Bruce Weber said.
Roy scored five points during an 18-7 run that brought the Huskies back from a 53-42 deficit with 12 1/2 minutes to play. Roy made a layup to tie the game at 60 with 3:27 left, setting up a thrilling finish.
Washington freshman Justin Dentmon - who's from Carbondale, Ill. - scored nine of his 13 points in the late surge. He had a four-point play with 4:12 left to pull UW to 60-58, then had three free throws in the final 2:20.
Jones made three free throws in the final 15.5 seconds to give the Huskies a 67-64 lead. He hit one of two with 12.8 seconds left, and Illinois rebounded his miss to set up a final shot. After a timeout, Brown got the ball and missed a 3 at the buzzer.
Dentmon finished with 13 points and Jamaal Williams had 10.
James Augustine led Illinois with 19, Brown had 15 and Rich McBride 13.
Illinois was called for 28 fouls and the Huskies 17.
"They were physical. They were banging me," Roy said. "I came off screens and they were grabbing me."
Said Brown: "We were hacking more. We were undisciplined on defense."
Illinois had an unfathomable start, when it missed 21 of its first 25 shots and fell behind 28-14.
Then in the span of 3 minutes, 39 seconds, the Illini went from almost desperate to ecstatic. Augustine got hot and the Illini outscored Washington 19-7 to close the first half. Brown swished a 3-pointer at the buzzer to pull the Illini to 35-33, then celebrated by chest-bumping with Brian Randle in front of the bench.
The Illini extended the run to 31-9, scoring 12 of the first 14 points of the second half to go up 45-37.
But Illinois stumbled into another shooting slump and also hurt itself with fouls and turnovers.