Nov. 21, 2008
SEATTLE - In 1953, coach Tippy Dye's second-ranked Washington Huskies won their first three NCAA Tournament games and earned the right to play a "neutral site" game against the University of Kansas in the Final Four at Municipal Auditorium in Kansas City, Mo.
Now, 55 years later, the two teams will face each other for the ninth time ever when they match-up in Monday's second semifinal game in the O'Reilly Auto Parts CBE Classic at the Sprint Center in downtown Kansas City. Florida and Syracuse will play the first semifinal game. The two winners will play in Tuesday's championship, while the other two teams will play in a consolation contest.
Long-time Washington basketball fans remember 1953 as the year consensus All-America Bob Houbregs and Dye led the Huskies to the NCAA Final Four in Kansas City.
The UW entered the semifinals with a sparkling 27-2 record and #2 national ranking before dropping a 79-53 decision to the hometown-favorite Jaykawks. Washington defeated LSU 88-69 in the consolation game. Houbregs was the tournament's top scorer, amassing 139 points in the five NCAA games.
"We picked a bad night to play our worst game in three years," Houbregs later told the Seattle Times' Blaine Newnham. "I had four fouls in the first half, and I hadn't fouled out in a game that year."
Three minutes into the second half, Houbregs was on the bench with his fifth. The next night, in the third-place game, Houbregs scored 42 points as the Huskies beat LSU and future NBA legend Bob Pettite.
However, that was 55 years ago and history might not play a big factor when the Huskies and Kansas take the floor.
Washington enters the game with a 2-1 overall record and a two-game win streak after knocking-off Horizon League favorite Cleveland State (78-63) and Florida International (74-51) in its first two CBE Classic matchups at Bank of America Arena.
Senior forward Jon Brockman, a national player of the year candidate, leads the Huskies with a 20.3 per game scoring average. The nation's leading returning rebounder and two-time Pac-10 leader on the boards, Brockman is averaging 11.3 rebounds per game and is shooting .595 from the field.
Senior guard Justin Dentmon scored 21 points against FIU and is currently averaging 15.0 points per game. Freshman sensation Isaiah Thomas is scoring at a 12.3 per-game clip and is the team leader in assists with 10 in the first three games. Both standing under 6'-0" tall, Dentmon and Thomas combine to average six rebounds per game.
Following a disappointing six-point season-opening road loss at Portland, Washington has taken convincing victories in its last two games. But, they have each come in directly opposite ways. Against Cleveland State, the Huskies bolted out to a 24-point first half lead before allowing the Vikings to come back to within three points midway in the second half.
Against FIU on Thursday, UW allowed the Golden Panthers a three-point first-half lead before Thomas hit a jumper just :03 seconds before the halftime buzzer to cut the lead to one point. After FIU stretched their lead to five points coming out of the break, the UW went on a 25-10 run to break open the game and ended-up winning by 23 points.
"Our ongoing goal is to focus for 40 minutes and that is something that we have not been able to do in our first three games," said Washington coach Lorenzo Romar. "If we can get our team to focus and play at a high level for 40 minutes, we have a very good chance to be successful.
"We have made progress on the defensive end and we are rebounding the ball well. And, we did a good job of executing offensively. I thought we did the same thing for a half against Cleveland State. So, there are a lot of bright spots for our team. If we can have a consistent effort and take care of the basketball, I really like where we are at this stage (in the season)."
With KU's Phog Allen Fieldhouse just 42.31 miles away and nearly 75,000 Jayhawk alumni living in the Greater Kansas City area, it is a pretty safe bet that the 18,000-plus capacity of the Sprint Center will be filled with a partisan KU crowd cheering on their defending national champions.
The Jayhawks enter the game with a 2-0 overall record and a 15-game overall win streak dating back to last season after they defeated Missouri-Kansas City (71-56) and Florida Gulf Coast University (85-45) in their first two CBE contests. KU is limiting its opponents to just 26.5 percent shooting from the field and is winning the battle on the boards by an average of 11 per game.
Junior guard Sherron Collins scored a career-high 25 points against FGC and averaged 20.5 points in the team's first two games. Sophomore center Cole Aldrich is scoring at a 12.5 per-game clip and is blocking four shots per game. Freshman forward Markieff Morris is averaging an eye-opening 10.0 rebounds per game.
Entering the season, Kansas lost all five starters and returned less than 20 percent of its output from last year's team that went 37-3 and overcame a nin-point deficit to earn a 75-68 overtime victory over Memphis in the national title game.
"(KU's) system is their system. But when you lose Darrell Arthur, Mario Chalmers and Brandon Rush all in the same year, you are going to (expect) a bit of a different team," said Romar. "They are different, but they still have their same system."