March 24, 2012
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Unleashed: NIT Run Latest Example Of Romar's Brilliance
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UW Director of Writing
NEW YORK - Aziz N'Diaye kicked off his sneakers and stretched his 7-foot frame across three seats of row 10 on the Huskies' MD-83 charter jet.
Once that landed, Darnell Gant led a players' debate on how tall the Empire State Building really was, as they passed it in the team's bus.
They passed through Times Square, passed the throngs of people that included ever-present Naked Cowboy, in full costume on the 55-degree night. They pased the Minskoff Theater where they had seen The Lion King musical four months ago. Passersby gawked at the tall guys wearing new, black, Air Jordan, Pac-12 champions sweat suits as they checked into the Marriott Marquis in Times Square.
Yeah, this NIT isn't so bad for the Huskies - even with an early (for West Coasters, anyway) bed check on a Saturday night in Manhattan.
Washington (24-10) arrived back in the Big Apple Saturday for the second time in four months. This time, it's to win the oldest national championship there is in college basketball, the 75th National Invitation Tournament at Madison Square Garden. The mission begins with Tuesday's 6:20 p.m. (Pacific time) semifinal against Minnesota (22-14) on ESPN2, the Washington IMG College radio network, Westwood One national radio, here on GoHuskies.com with another exclusive chat from courtside, and on espn3.com.
It will be Washington's first postseason game at The Garden since the 1936 U.S. Olympic trials tournament months before the Berlin Games.
"Big-time game. Big-time moment. Madison Square Garden. I live for moments like that," Wroten, the Pac-12's freshman of the year, said. "We're excited, humbled. We can't wait to get out and play against a great Minnesota team."
Two weeks after their season bottomed out when they became the first champion of a major, "power" conference to be left out of the NCAA tournament, Washington is back on Broadway.
The disappointment from the NCAA snub is still there. But the pain that stayed with the players for days if not a week or so is gone, left back across the country in Seattle for what it is: no use to these moved-on, motivated Dawgs.
"We all have our heads on right," said Terrence Ross, who has been electrifying in this tournament by averaging 26.3 points in home wins over Texas-Arlington (82-72), Northwestern (76-55) and Oregon (90-86). "We are playing for a championship. Even though it's not the NCAA tournament, we've got to play like it is."
Or as coach Lorenzo Romar put it: "No one is having a pity party right now. We're excited to be in this."
The Huskies lost at the buzzer to Marquette and by six after a late rally to Duke in two games inside "The World's Most Famous Arena" in early December. That week-long trip was a Husky-sized chomp into the Big Apple. The team visited the 9-11 Memorial in lower Manhattan. It went to two Broadway plays as part of an unprecedented, for-credit drama class. Players visited the production set of TV crime series and had soul-food lunches and dinners in Harlem.
This trip is, as Gant put it, "all business." The itinerary has the Huskies going back to the Landmarc restaurant at Columbus Circle off Central Park and perhaps returning to Dinosaur Bar-B-Que in Harlem for another dinner. There is time set aside Sunday night for a movie or some other team event.
But other than that it's daily, two-hour practices at Baruch College, the same Division-III school along Lexington Avenue where the Dawgs worked out before the Marquette and Duke games December 6 and 10. Monday will bring media and NIT events before and after practice, including a tournament welcome dinner for UW, Minnesota, Massachusetts, and Stanford at the Loeb Boathouse in Central Park.
UMass and Stanford play the first semifinal here. The winners Tuesday play Thursday night for the NIT championship.
"We're just excited to be back in New York," said Gant, the first Husky to win four conference titles who wants two more games in his college career. "We get to play in Madison Square Garden again - everyone wants to play there.
"We know we have a championship on the line. We know it's big."