March 7, 2007
By Justin Chartrey
In the year 2000, before he ever donned the purple blazer or fist-pumped the Dawg Pack, Lorenzo Romar was in the midst of one of the most unlikely conference tournament runs in the history of college basketball.
The Saint Louis Billikens had to win the Conference USA tournament to make it into the NCAA tournament, a tall order with the No. 1 team in the country--Cincinnati--up second.
Saint Louis won that game and went on to take the tournament championship, earning the automatic bid.
Flash forward to Washington's situation this year. After ending the season as the seventh team in the conference, the Huskies (18-12 overall, 8-10 Pac-10) have almost destined themselves for the NIT. The only way to stop such a path is to win the Pac-10 tournament.
There is little similarity between the Saint Louis team and the Huskies, but Romar uses that example to prove one thing: It can be done.
"I could show the guys movies like Miracle or Remember the Titans for inspiration," he said. "But why do that when I've lived it?"
The first test starts tonight when the Huskies take on Arizona State at the Staples Center. The game will follow the matchup between California and Oregon State, at 8:42 p.m.
The Sun Devils (8-21 overall, 2-16 Pac-10) had a rough year under first-year coach Herb Sendek, but have at least earned the respect of Washington after hanging around in both games earlier this season.
"The better they defend, the harder they play," Romar said. "I've never, ever seen Arizona State with their heads down. They've had zero quit in them at all."
That was evident last Saturday, when the Sun Devils faced California. The Bears were celebrating their Senior Day in front of a home crowd, but still lost to the Sun Devils 42-41.
"We have to approach this game like the UCLA game," said UW captain Jon Brockman. "They are going to give us their best shot."
ASU will look to utilize the services of team leader and second-leading scorer Jeff Pendergraph. Now in his second season, Pendergraph is averaging 12.2 points and 9.1 rebounds per game. The latter number ranks second in the Pac-10 -- behind Brockman.
In their last game, the Huskies were able to shut down the sophomore forward, holding him to 11 points in 37 minutes. According to Spencer Hawes, the best way to shut him down is to "keep the ball out of his hand. We did a good job of that down there and it was effective."
As far as the Huskies' chances go, the team is riding one of its best streaks of the season. Last weekend, they swept both Los Angeles schools, both of which were ranked in the top 25, and enter the postseason with some positive momentum.
"I always knew we could do it," Brockman said. "But [the wins] create a little more excitement about it. Two top 25 wins can create a little momentum and a little confidence. If there was any doubt before, then there is none now."