Feb. 4, 2010
SEATTLE (AP) - Quincy Pondexter and his Washington Huskies knew they'd get back in the Pac-10 race to truly defend their conference title.
Well, at least they hoped so.
"We had a feeling it would come back to us, with how wacky the Pac-10's been this year," Pondexter said late Thursday night.
The league has done just that.
The Huskies' leader scored 30 points on an array of post moves and Venoy Overton sank six free throws in the final minute to vault Washington back into a wild conference race with an 81-75 victory over co-leading Arizona.
Overton made his deciding free throws in the final 50 seconds for the Huskies (15-7, 5-5 Pac-10) after the Wildcats (11-10, 6-4) had battled back from 10 points down to within 73-71 with 33 seconds to go.
"I think we're starting to get the feel of what it's like to compete at a high level and win a championship," said Pondexter, remembering his team was at the bottom of the jumbled Pac-10 just two weeks ago. "That's our goal, and we are only one game away."
California, the conference's co-leader entering Thursday, lost at Southern California. So victorious UCLA and Arizona State are in a four-way tie with the Wildcats and Bears for the Pac-10 lead at 6-4. Eight games remain in the regular season.
The Huskies host the Sun Devils on Saturday night.
Washington, 0-6 on the road this season, improved to 33-2 at home since the start of last season.
"Everyone's confident now," Overton said. "I feel like we're going to make a strong run in the Pac-10."
Freshman Lamont Jones had 14 points for Arizona, which had won its last four games. Leading scorer Nic Wise was just 4-for-17 from the field for 12 points. And second-leading scorer Derrick Williams fouled out with three points without even playing 8 minutes of the foul-filled game, which has become typical of Pac-10 play this season.
They watched Pondexter pour in the same number of points Wise had dropped on Cal last weekend to put the surprising young Wildcats into first place this late in a season for the first time since 2005.
"I thought he was fantastic," first-year Arizona coach Sean Miller said of Pondexter. "I think he's one of the best forwards that plays college basketball."
A fan threw something on the floor from the upper rows of the arena just as the game was getting taut, with Washington leading 53-52 midway through the second half. Huskies coach Lorenzo Romar stomped out of a huddle and berated the man, throwing his arms up and yelling, "C'mon!"
The man was led out of the arena by police. Pondexter responded for him.
He scored on a jump shot. Then Wise threw away a pass, and Washington's Scott Suggs tipped the ball to Pondexter for a breakaway two-handed slam that got the crowd roaring. Pondexter added two free throws and a tip-in off a carom high off the backboard. Presto - eight consecutive points had the Huskies up 61-52 with 8:52 left.
Pondexter got a rude bump in his joyride with 5:42 left when Arizona's Kevin Parrom, his primary defender all night, elbowed him in the ribs while fighting through a screen. Pondexter rolled on the floor for a painful moment but stayed in the game.
So did Arizona.
The Wildcats went on a 14-3 run to get within 71-69 with 1:19 left on a 3-pointer by Wise and one of two free throws by Kyle Fogg.
Arizona's Alex Jacobson got the rebound on Fogg's miss, but Wise air-balled a long, rushed jumper that would have tied it.
"I wish I could have that possession back," Miller said. "That was the one time I thought we could seize control of the game."
Instead, Overton then made two free throws with 50 seconds remaining to put the Huskies up 73-69. The 77 percent free throw shooter made four more and finished 9 for 10 from the line to seal the win.
Pondexter scored just seven points in Washington's 17-point loss at Arizona on Jan. 10. Justin Holiday didn't even make that trip because of academic technicalities.
Holiday, a 6-foot-6 junior long on arms and tenacity, drew the defensive assignment on Jamelle Horne after Horne had a career-high 22 points against the Huskies in Tucson.
Horne took just two shots and scored two points Thursday while saddled with foul trouble.
Holiday did everything but place Arizona on its team bus to begin the second half. He blocked Wise inside, then twice fed deft passes to Tyreese Breshers on the other end for scores. Holiday also blocked Kyryl Natyazhko inside, despite giving up 4 inches to the Ukrainian center, as Washington turned a six-point halftime deficit into a 48-41 lead in just 5 minutes.
"He's everywhere. You see that?" Pondexter said of Holiday. "He does so many other things, you can't calculate it."