Hey, Thanks! Huskies Outright Pac-12 Champs Anyway
March 4, 2012
By Gregg Bell
SEATTLE - As for that Huskies' maddeningly up-and-down regular season: All's well that ends well, eh?
Washington is the outright Pac-12 champ, after all.
Stanford's 75-70 upset of second-place California Sunday made the Huskies the outright regular-season league champions for the second time in 59 years.
It wasn't the way the Huskies (21-9, 14-4 Pac-12) wanted to seize their second outright crown in four seasons. But ultimately the only thing UW lost in falling short 75-69 at UCLA on Saturday was momentum.
And in some ways, even that is now somewhat restored.
Stanford's favor gives Washington's postseason - which begins Thursday at 12:10 p.m. at the Pac-12 tournament in Los Angeles against either Washington State or Oregon State -- a timely boost and sense of renewal.
"I think so, with the fact we are the outright champs," coach Lorenzo Romar said Sunday night after winning his fourth conference title in a row - counting the last two league tournament championships. "I think our guys were over the UCLA loss. And now they can see we are actually the champions of the league."
Romar was the most interested among thousands of television viewers in the Northwest Sunday afternoon as Stanford went ahead early. The Cardinal then survived a furious rally by Cal, ensuring the Dawgs wouldn't have to share the conference crown with the Golden Bears.
"Oh, yeah, I was watching. Every second. Pregame and postgame, too," Romar said, chuckling. "With more than a little vested interest."
The Dawgs, winners in 10 of their last 12 games, are the top seed in the Pac-12 tournament this week in Los Angeles and will play their opening game Thursday at 12:10 p.m. They will meet the winner of Wednesday's meeting of eighth-seeded Washington State (15-15, 7-11) and ninth-seeded Oregon State (17-13, 7-11).
The winner of Washington's game will play in the first semifinal Friday at 6:10 p.m. at Staples Center. The Huskies are in the same bracket as fourth-seeded Arizona, No. 5-seed UCLA, and 12th-seeded USC.
Asked about playing either Oregon State or Washington State, past which UW rallied past road victories last month, Romar's shrug could almost be heard through the telephone.
"At this time of the year you deal with whatever comes your way," the veteran coach said.
Stanford's win prompted a burst of celebratory tweets from current and recent Huskies.
"YEAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA. PAC 12 CHAMPS BABYYYYYYYYYYY. Hahahahahaha. Yadiggggggggggg" UW freshman guard Tony Wroten tweeted.
"Yes indeed !!!" wrote senior captain Darnell Gant, who became the only Husky to ever win four conference titles.
"UW BABY!!! Pac12 CHAMPS!!!! ... on top alone!!" Matthew Bryan-Amaning, the inside scorer and rebounder on last season's team, tweeted from Turkey. He is playing professionally there.
Current Huskies also retweeted the congratulations sent by another recent Huskies star, Quincy Pondexter of the Memphis Grizzlies.
As for the bigger picture, the potential for a seventh NCAA tournament bid in Romar's 10 seasons at UW has precedent behind it.
There has been just one team since the league went to an 18-game schedule in 1979 that did not make the NCAA tournament after going 14-4 or better in the conference's regular season. The 1982 UCLA Bruins (14-4) didn't go to the NCAAs because they were on probation.
And you have to go back to 1953 to find the last time a team that finished with the best record in the Pacific Coast/Pac-8/Pac-10 didn't make the NCAA tournament.
"I feel like as champs, or the co-champs, of the Pac-12, having won 10 of the last 12 games, that we should be a slam dunk for the NCAA tournament," Romar said before Cal lost Sunday. "But we will see. I'm not on the committee."
Even with the loss Saturday to UCLA, the Huskies finished tied with the 2004-05 team and the 2008-09 outright league champions for the best conference record in Romar's 10 seasons at UW. Their 6-3 road record in the league was Washington's best under Romar.
And those struggles of the non-conference season and the 6-5 record in December? Those seem like eons ago with how much these Huskies have grown.
"I think we are playing as good of basketball as we've played all year. I felt that during the UCLA game," Romar said Sunday. "And then seeing it on film, boy, we did a lot of good things.
"We had some lapses with not taking care of the ball and we had some lapses on defense. But overall, we've gotten a lot better than we were earlier in the season."
Now, they've also gotten another championship.