Ross Rallies Sluggish Dawgs Into 2nd Round of NIT
March 13, 2012
By Gregg Bell
SEATTLE - It seemed almost inevitable. Yet it was still not acceptable.
The Huskies' disappointment from being the first regular-season champion of a major conference to not make the NCAA tournament lasted into the first half of this opener in that "other" tournament, the NIT.
"I think we're fine now, but the thing was in the first half we had to get over the fact we are in this tournament," UW co-captain and point guard Abdul Gaddy said Tuesday night. "Our captain (senior Darnell Gant) got on us. He said at halftime, `I don't want to go out like that, losing to a team we should beat.'"
He didn't. Neither did his Dawgs.
Terrence Ross scored 11 points in under 3 minutes to keep the slogging Huskies tied into halftime. Then Ross scored 12 more after the break despite hip pain to lead still-smarting Washington past Texas-Arlington 82-72 in the first round of the 75th National Invitation Tournament at one-third full Alaska Airlines Arena Tuesday night.
"We got through it," Huskies coach Lorenzo Romar said, fittingly.
Ross made nine of 15 field goals for his 23 points, his sixth 20-plus-point game this season. C.J. Wilcox added 15 points off the bench. Gant had 13 points in 10 rebounds beginning his fourth postseason in as many years at UW. And Tony Wroten had nine points and eight assists and two steals, controlling the game in other ways than scoring for top-seeded Washington (22-10).
The Huskies, who lost at UCLA in the regular-season finale and then by 2 to Oregon State in the Pac-12 tournament quarterfinals on Thursday to miss the NCAAs, trailed by one with 9:56 left Tuesday. But then they restored order, going on a 19-6 run that included eight points on two 3-pointers plus a block by Ross to put away eighth-seeded Texas-Arlington (24-9) of the Southland Conference.
The regular-season Pac-12 champions will host fourth-seeded Northwestern on Friday at 7 p.m. in the second round of college basketball's oldest tournament. A win by Washington would keep it home for next week's quarterfinals -- with a chance then for a trip to New York's Madison Square Garden for the semifinals.
"It's just something you have to get your mind adjusted to. We still have a lot to play for," said Ross, who felt pain in his hip at halftime and was limited to playing only 1:25 of the final 6-plus minutes. "It still can be for fun for us at the end."
Romar said Ross had a hip-flexor injury and will get checked out Wednesday. The sophomore guard, UW's second-leading scorer at more than 15 points per game, said "it's OK" and vowed to play Friday.
Gant knows the process of getting past missing the NCAAs will accelerate between now and Friday when Northwestern, which has beaten NCAA No.-1 seed Michigan State this season, arrives.
"Yes, we're trying to embrace the fact we're in the NIT now... And we've extended my senior season. I'm not going home yet," Gant said.
"I feel like we are going to be ready Friday to bounce back from this."
Romar stomped off the floor following the halftime buzzer, seconds after a tip-in by Texas-Arlington's Stuart Lagerson beat the horn and tied the game at 37. The coach was angered by the lack of defense on the ball by his Huskies. Mavericks kept dribbling past them from the wing and foul line, forcing other Dawgs to come over on help defense to stop drives in the lane. That domino effect was slow rotations and thus UW being out of position for rebounds.
UT-Arlington had a startling 25-12 rebounding edge in the first half, including 13 offensive boards, on the team that spent most of the season at the top of the Pac-12 in rebounding. UTA had a 12-0 advantage in second-chance points in the opening half.
The Mavericks had zero put-back scores after halftime.
How animated was Romar at halftime? Well, Ross' hip pain wasn't the only thing sharp in the Huskies' locker room.
"It was great. He was animated," Gant said. "Oh, I wish you guys could see it. It's funny."
Washington led 32-24 with 5:45 left in the first half because Ross scored 11 consecutive points in under 3 minutes. The final of those were on a soaring dunk off an alley-oop feed from Wroten that had the sparse crowd of 2,801 as loud as it was all night.
But then UTA scored 10 of the game's next 12 points to forge a tie. Four of those points were after more offensive rebounds by the Mavericks.
A steal at half court by Wroten's quick hands and a nifty pass to Wilcox for a slam plus a free throw by Gant had Washington up 53-46 with 13:51 remaining. But UT-Arlington went on a 13-5 run to take its only lead of the second half, 59-58 with 9:56 left.
But then the defense finally got stops on consecutive possessions. The Huskies began keeping Texas-Arlington out of the lane by going to a 2-3 zone defense, even with Aziz N'Diaye (seven points) out for nearly 13 minutes because the 7-footer picked up his fourth foul with 15½ minutes left.
And the Dawgs, as Romar so aptly put it, "got through it."
"We talked about how every game you win in this tournament," Romar said, "it gets a lot more fun."