Feb. 28, 2009
Spurred on by Brockman's gritty 19 points and the dynamic talent of diminutive guard Isaiah Thomas, who also scored 19, the 21st-ranked Huskies clinched at least a tie for the Pac-10 regular season championship by rallying for a 83-78 win over Arizona on Saturday.
"I knew this team was capable of it, but all of us questioned a little bit if this team was going to be able to come together as a group," Brockman said. "I'm so proud of these guys and the way we were able to come together. ... It's way more special than I thought."
It's the first time the Huskies (22-7, 13-4) can claim part of a conference title since 1985 when the international duo of Chris Welp and Detlef Schrempf lifted Washington into a tie for the league crown with USC. Washington can claim the outright league title with a win over Washington State next Saturday or if some conference foes help out next Thursday.
That's why the celebration was mostly muted on Saturday, despite a stirring second half rally when Washington raced back from down 10 points, then hit clutch free throws in the final 3 minutes to hold on.
But the Huskies want to be selfish and hold a real party in a week should they be able to claim an outright conference title for the first time since 1953.
"You've got to enjoy it. The way we won, came back and rallied together," Brockman said. "It wasn't pretty by any means. We can celebrate for a little bit."
Thomas' three-point play with 5:25 left gave Washington the lead for good, and the Huskies hit 10 of 12 free throws in the closing minutes, after making just 9 of 23 free-throw attempts to that point. Quincy Pondexter added 12 points and Brockman also grabbed 11 rebounds for the 57th double-double of his career.
Arizona (18-11, 8-8) did its best to ruin the celebratory mood. An arena already full of nervous energy was even more apprehensive and on edge when Chase Budinger's 16-foot bank shot with 12:26 left gave the Wildcats a 56-46 lead.
But Arizona couldn't hold off Washington's surge over the final 10 minutes, despite a courageous 27 points and 10 rebounds from center Jordan Hill, who played the final 4 minutes after spraining his left ankle. Hill scored six points in the closing minutes, but his gutsy effort wasn't enough.
"I was just in that much pain but when I heard the crowd get into it, the adrenaline started flowing and I was like, `oh man, it's time for me to go back out there and help my teammates out,"' Hill said. "So I just taped my ankles tighter and went out there and tried to handle my business."
Budinger added 20 points for Arizona before fouling out in the closing minutes. Nic Wise, who went off for 29 points against Washington in a late January win, was 3-for-15 and finished with 11 points. Arizona has now lost three straight after its seven-game winning streak and could use wins next week over California and Stanford to shore up its NCAA tournament resume.
"This is a tough place to play and they're Pac-10 champs, so to play them like we did today, I was proud of our team," Arizona coach Russ Pennell said. "Right now, I feel as good about our team as I have all year, even though we lost."
It looked good for Arizona early in the second half. Hill and Budinger combined for 10 straight points as the Wildcats built on a 36-32 halftime lead. Budinger's jumper to give Arizona a 10-point lead only put a jittery arena more on edge.
Then Brockman got started. Following Elston Turner's 3-pointer, Brockman finally finished a three-point play for Washington. He then scored on a putback, assisted on Matthew Bryan-Amaning's dunk and followed up Turner's miss to get Washington within 62-60.
Thomas split a pair of free throws, but tracked down the rebound on the miss and Pondexter's tip-in of his own miss gave Washington its first lead since 25-23.
As if losing the lead wasn't bad enough for Arizona, Hill missed a jumper in the lane and landed on the foot of Bryan-Amaning. Hill laid on the floor for several minutes before being helped to the bench. Arizona went back in front on consecutive 3-pointers from Wise and Budinger, but Thomas answered with a three-point play and a sprinting full-court drive and layup to put Washington up 71-68.
The Huskies then stayed in front because of their free throw shooting, and Justin Dentmon provided the final capper with 40 seconds left, hitting a 15-footer for a five-point cushion.
"Everybody is pretty excited that this happened. I think we understood the importance of this game, the magnitude," Washington coach Lorenzo Romar said. "When you win a game and you know you did it the right way, I think that's even more exhilarating, and I think that's what our guys were excited about."