March 20, 2010
Postgame Press Conference Audio | Post Game Highlights
In their wake, the weary New Mexico players huffed and puffed to the bench, their shoulders sagging.
The rest of the NCAA tournament's East Regional had better listen to all that barking. When these surging Huskies are running in unison, they're no ordinary 11th seed -- and not even third-seeded New Mexico can keep up.
Pondexter scored 18 points, Thomas added 15 and Washington extended its incredible late-season roll all the way to the regional semifinals with an 82-64 second-round victory Saturday.
Matthew Bryan-Amaning had 15 points and nine rebounds for the Huskies (26-9), who have won nine straight, including the Pac-10 tournament and wins over two higher-seeded opponents at the Shark Tank.
Washington ran right past the Lobos (30-5), who simply couldn't keep up with the breakneck offensive pace in their second loss in three games, falling behind by 23 points midway through the second half.
"We did a great job of forcing our tempo on them," said Pondexter, who didn't need another last-second tiebreaker as he did in beating Marquette two days earlier. "We wanted to show that we have another level of fast break and defensive intensity. That's what really wore them down."
The Huskies have become the epitome of a talented team peaking at tournament time. Washington began the season in the national rankings, but their season seemed sunk in late January at 12-7 before this stellar finish.
"When I kept saying in January, 'Don't panic,' it was for a reason," Pondexter said with a grin. "We still had a lot of time to come together and make a push like we are now."
Washington advanced to next week's regional semifinal in Syracuse, N.Y., against the winner of second-seeded West Virginia's meeting with Missouri on Sunday. The Huskies are in the round of 16 for the third time since 2005.
Dairese Gary matched his career high with 25 points and Darington Hobson had 11 points and nine rebounds for New Mexico, which had a 15-game winning streak and a No. 8 national ranking before losing in the Mountain West tournament final last weekend.
The Lobos, who barely beat 14th-seeded Montana in their opener, have never won consecutive games in the NCAA tournament, missing their chance to make the round of 16 for the first time since the field was expanded to 64 teams in 1985. Hobson, slowed by an injured left wrist, was left seething after predicting a long tournament run by New Mexico.
"They played the best game of their life tonight," Hobson said. "They're not even that good. They just played a good game tonight. We weren't ready, and they beat us."
Despite the pregame plan of Lobos coach Steve Alford, who wore a bright red blazer on the sideline, New Mexico inexplicably played the first half at the uptempo pace favored by the athletic Huskies. Washington ran the Lobos' seven-man rotation off the court, jumping to a 12-point halftime lead in front of a friendly West Coast crowd.
"We knew they had seven players that were going to be tired, and we knew by the end of the game they would be exhausted," Thomas said. "We did a good job of getting them running. ... We have a lot of dudes who like to run, so that's to our favor."
Already up 48-36, Washington scored nine straight points early in the second half, capped by Pondexter's layup in traffic with less than 14 minutes to play. While Pondexter grinned broadly and Thomas pounded his chest, Gary and Hobson hunched over, breathless.
"It's just a really good basketball team that's playing really well," Alford said. "They've won nine in a row, so Lorenzo (Romar) has got them playing at a very high level. It's kind of scary, and that's what we ran into today. That's hard to compete against."
The game was seen by some fans as a referendum on the relative strengths of the Mountain West, which sent four teams to the NCAAs, and the Pac-10, which sent just two. But it also matched two surging programs: New Mexico had won 16 of its last 17 games, while Washington was 13-2 since late January.
Hobson led the Lobos in points, rebounds and assists, but the junior hurt his left wrist and back on a first-round tumble to the court. He insisted he could play through the pain, but appeared to be favoring the wrist in pregame warmups -- and he went 1 of 3 in the first half, failing to score after a 3-pointer in the opening minutes.
New Mexico senior Roman Martinez was badly cut over his left eye with 12 minutes left in a collision with a teammate. He returned in a different jersey and finished with 10 points.