March 13, 2013
By Gregg Bell
UW Director of Writing
LAS VEGAS - Nothing - not even a 19-point lead with 15 minutes left, nor a 15-point one with 8½ to go - comes easy for these Huskies.
With the score somehow tied at 62, 1:25 left in this first-round game of the Pac-12 tournament and Washington without a basket for 7-plus minutes, Abdul Gaddy was looking for C.J. Wilcox and the scorching Scott Suggs. Washington State knew that, and they took UW's two top shooters away.
What WSU didn't know, though, was that Gaddy and Desmond Simmons had agreed to an improvisational play coming out of the preceding timeout.
"I told Abdul I was going to dive down (the lane). Usually on that high-post play I am picking and popping," Simmons said, "but I didn't want to get outside in the way of our shooters."
After Simmons picked for Gaddy, the senior point guard found Simmons in his new place in the low blocks. He sent in a perfect pass. Simmons dribbled to the center of the lane, stopped and scored the basket with 1:17 to go that proved to be the winning points of a wild, tense finish as the sixth-seeded Huskies outlasted the 11th-seeded Cougars 64-62 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena late Wednesday night.
Lorenzo Romar has been a college head coach for 17 seasons. He played two more as a Huskies guard and then five seasons in the NBA. He can't recall ever winning a game in which his team scored just one bucket in the final 8½ minutes.
"That's a great one," Romar said of the astounding-but-true fact while in a hallway walking past poster of Mike Tyson title fights held in this casino arena.
"We're just fortunate. We dodged a bullet."
Washington (18-14, 9-9 in the Pac-12 regular season) advanced into Thursday's second round against third-seeded Oregon (23-8, 12-6) at about 8:30 p.m.
The Huskies lost twice to the Ducks in the regular season, 81-76 in Eugene in late January and 65-52 in Seattle last month.
The task is tall. But if Washington can play like it did over the first 25 minutes against WSU, it'll be a Dawg-Duck battle royale for a place in Friday's conference semifinals.
"Oregon's a very good basketball team," Romar said. "They were one weekend away from winning our league (in the regular season)."
Scott Suggs continued his late-season transformation with 19 more points, including 13 early when Washington ran out on Washington State like greyhounds. He has 90 points in his last five games, the most prolific five-game stretch of his five years at UW. Gaddy finished with nine points, 11 assists and two turnovers in 31 minutes, missing his second career double-double by a point. And redshirt freshman Andrew Andrews came up huge by standing his defensive ground in front of Brock Motum, forcing an off-balance miss with 3 seconds left by WSU's leading scorer.
Simmons then found Wilcox breaking deep with a long pass that Wilcox caught over his shoulder at the opposite foul line like Kasen Williams on a football field. That is how the final 2.7 seconds expired.
Only then did the Huskies exhale. Gaddy pumped his fist and Suggs roared to the ceiling as the final horn sounded. But they didn't celebrate much immediately after that, walking off the court with looks of relish if not astonishment that the game got that close.
"Up 19, I kept telling the guys, `Just keep playing.' But it's the hardest thing when you are up 19 and you have so much time left," Gaddy said. "All of a sudden you get into this chill mode."
Suggs continued his end-of-season reinvention by scoring 13 points in the first half while making four of six from 3-point range. That was one short of his career high for makes in an entire game. Suggs, previously somber and almost seemingly disinterested in games, was again strutting and pumping his fist and talking to WSU defenders after his makes.
Then he swished consecutive 3-pointers after halftime. Those put Washington ahead 62-47 with 8:35 remaining, and it seemed the Huskies would cruise into Thursday's second-round showdown with Oregon.
Silly us. We forget about early January, when UW led by 17 early and Pullman and then had to hang on to escape with a five-point road win over the Cougars.
While Suggs' 3 was UW's last points for 7-plus minutes, WSU inexplicably scored the next 15 points. When Motum hit a 3 and then Royce Woolridge drove past Suggs to score at the rim with 2:49 left, the game was incredibly tied at 62.
"It's unbelievable," Romar said. "Regardless of how the game starts against them it often ends up that way."
After Gaddy found Simmons inside for the go-ahead score, WSU had two chances. Woolridge threw the first one into the high rollers sitting in row one on the frontcourt sideline. Gaddy missed a 3 for UW with 21 seconds left to keep it a 64-62 game.
Then with Washington having a foul to give before WSU free throws, Suggs picked up Motum. WSU screened at the foul line extended and the Huskies switched on defense. That left Andrews on Motum, who was 10 for 18 with 28 points in his final college game to that point.
"I'm thinking, `No threes,'" Andrews said. "I was going to let him drive and foul him. I gave him the layup lane, and he didn't take it."
So Andrews jumped on the left-handed Motum's left shoulder to get in his way on the 3-point try. Motum committed to the shot with Andrews still in front of him. When Motum lost his balance and leaned in trying desperately to draw a 3-shot foul on Andrews, the redshirt freshman from Portland coyly leaning back and away from the would-be contact.
All Motum could do is flick up a shot that was well short.
With 2.7 seconds left and after a timeout, Simmons threw the home-run pass about 75 feet to a breaking Wilcox to drain the clock, and Washington advanced after all.
"It's a confidence boost to win that first game, yeah," Simmons said.
"But we've got a whole different game (Thursday)."