Dawg-gone! Huskies Rally From 13 Down, Beat WSU
Feb. 25, 2012
By Gregg Bell
PULLMAN, Wash. - Isaiah Thomas, NBA starter, was standing behind the Huskies' bench as the most accomplished UW cheerleader around.
Wearing a black Huskies cap, he kept roaring "YEAAAH!" and "AND ONE!" as the Dawgs kept scoring while getting fouled late. He was jumping up and down. He was even coaching freshman successor Tony Wroten and his former Washington teammates from behind that bench during dead balls.
"Get it and GO!" Thomas kept telling UW's guards.
Ultimately, they went. And he was hugging everyone in sight after this wild, improbable rally ended - with the Dawgs still atop the Pac-12.
"There were some butterflies walking into this arena," said Thomas, who could have been anywhere on his NBA All-Star weekend off as a Sacramento Kings rookie, but chose to be on the deserted Palouse with his boys instead. "I'm just proud of how they fought back, how they stuck with it. That just shows their character, their maturity.
"It was so great."
Dawggone great, actually.
Wroten scored 21 points largely behind 9-of-12 free-throw shooting, C.J. Wilcox added 16 including the two clinching free throws with 10 seconds remaining, and the Huskies rallied from 13 down with 11 minutes left to beat clanging Washington State 59-55 on Saturday before raucous, garbage-throwing, then stunned Cougars fans inside Beasley Coliseum.
"YEAAAAH BOY!" Thomas screamed from behind the Huskies' bench, piercing the silence as this one ended.
"They were playing for pride," senior captain Darnell Gant of the Cougars. "We were playing for a championship."
Washington (20-8, 13-3 Pac-12) got supreme leadership from Gant, some of the best, most aggressive play from Abdul Gaddy and a lot of help from the Cougars to stay tied with California atop the league, pending the Bears' game Sunday at Colorado.
"Man, our guys really stepped up in some adverse circumstances," coach Lorenzo Romar said, after his team that was derided for losing its first five games away from Seattle this season won for the fifth time in six road tests.
"Earlier in the year, the game would have gotten up to (a) 20(-point deficit). We are a lot more mature now.
"This is a testament to our guys' resiliency. We just kept getting stops. ... Very gratifying."
The Huskies finish the regular season at USC and at UCLA next week. They are two wins from perhaps taking their second outright conference title in more than a half century, or at least a share of their fourth consecutive league crown.
This is the first time in 110 seasons of Husky basketball that UW has had four consecutive 20-win seasons.
And this is the first time since 2005's Sweet 16 team that Washington has started conference play 13-3. The only other time since the league expanded to an 18-game schedule 33 years ago that UW has been 13-3 was in 1984.
The last time a team with 13 or more conference wins didn't make the NCAA tournament? 1982, when UCLA didn't get in with a 14-4 record in the Pac-10.
"It's about that time," Wroten said. "There are two games left. Every game is championship time."
How improbable was this comeback? The Huskies won despite getting just two points from Terrence Ross before he fouled out; Ross scored a career-high 30 in UW's win over WSU Jan. 15 in Seattle. They won despite going 16 total minutes without a field goal over two different, dismal stretches in each half.
"We went 16 minutes without scoring?" Gant asked, incredulously. "Dang!"
They won despite a technical foul for a dead-ball forearm push by Austin Seferian-Jenkins into a Cougar while down 11 midway through the second half. And despite getting dominated on the boards all day largely because Ross and 7-footer Aziz N'Diaye were in foul trouble from the game's opening minutes.
"We've got a lot of weapons," said Wilcox, who made four consecutive 3-pointers to keep UW in it during its cold-shooting first half.
"It can happen. It just did."
Honestly, the Huskies' 12th victory in 14 games came with help -- a lot of it.
WSU was 6 for 20 from the foul line in the second half. After the technical with 13:11 to go, the Cougars made just one of four ensuing free throws, flubbing the chance to blow the game open. That also ruined a chance to get the frenzied crowd, which kept chanting vulgar taunts at UW and once threw debris into its huddle during a time out, from going completely bonkers.
"With this whole environment against us, this was a great way to get a win," Wroten said. "We never gave up on it. We all stayed together."
"They couldn't score. It was just a matter of time until we came back."
That time came faster and harder than the cold winter wind across the Palouse, freezing the Cougars in place like trophy cats on a hunter's wall for 3 decisive minutes.
It was 47-34 Washington State when WSU's leading scorer Brock Motum drove for a layup with 11:07 remaining.
"They were smiling and laughing like they had the game won already," Gant said. "But they hadn't taken our best punch."
Not even close.
WSU's 13-point lead came seconds after Romar yelled to Gaddy while putting the point guard back in the game, "We need you!"
Washington scored the next 13 points, with Gaddy the maestro of the mammoth comeback. The junior 13 months removed from reconstructive knee surgery fed Wilcox for a score at the rim. He drove hard off a high screen and got fouled, converting both free throws. Then out of a WSU timeout, he lobbed a pass that Ross dunked for his only points on a play called by Romar.
Consecutive 3-point plays by Wroten and Aziz N'Diaye - a 37-percent foul shooter coming in - had Thomas screaming "AND ONE!" and the Huskies within 47-46. A free throw by senior Darnell Gant tied the game at 47 with 7:50 left.
Gaddy forged the game's eighth tie with another drive and score with 4:29 left. On UW's next possession, he dashed inside yet again and was fouled. His two free throws gave the Huskies as 54-42 lead with 3:43 to go.
Washington State never led again.
And when Gaddy took a pass from Wroten to score at the rim with 2:17, Washington had the lead for good at 56-54.
"I just wanted to be aggressive and make plays," said Gaddy, who finished with 10 points, four assists, three turnovers and two steals in 35 gritty minutes.
Gaddy said the Huskies decided to go at WSU with on-ball screens near the foul line because the Cougars were lax handling the picks at that spot on the floor.
"We knew they were not aggressive on the switches," Gaddy said.
As the Huskies came all the way back faster than you can say "Coug-ed it," WSU (14-14, 6-10) missed six consecutive free throws plus a layup.
The Cougars made one field goal over the final 5:50. They were 2 for 4 from the line and committed two turnovers in the clutch.
"We knew it. We got all these opportunities to come back," Gaddy said. "We had to take advantage."
Wroten and WSU's Reggie Moore traded free throws, keeping UW ahead 57-55. Then WSU inserted Patrick Simon into the game for the first time with 19 seconds left. Sure, Simon is a deep-shooting threat that the Huskies noted during the timeout just before he entered. But he had sat for the first 39:41 of the game, plus the Cougars' seven previous idle days since their last game.
Sure enough, WSU got the ball to Simon in the deep corner. His potentially game-winning 3 with 13 seconds left wasn't even close to going in. Wilcox grabbed the rebound and made the clinching free throws to keep the Huskies on the road to a conference title.
"I thought about coming to this one for a long time," Thomas said, before heading home with the team on its flight then saying goodbye at SeaTac Airport to return to the NBA. "When I saw it was at Wazzu, I knew I had to come.
"But, man, that was stressful."