I.T., Q-Pon ... Which Husky Will Star Next in L.A.?
March 6, 2012
By Gregg Bell
SEATTLE - Isaiah Thomas did it last March while playing all but 90 seconds of three games. That included an overtime period of the championship final he won with a swish at the buzzer in a Los Angeles weekend for the ages.
A supremely motivated Quincy Pondexter did it at Staples Center in March 2010. He scored 19 points in a semifinal win. Then in the title game he outplayed Jerome Randle, the California Golden Bear that won the conference player of the year award Pondexter thought should have been his that season.
These Huskies, the Pac-12's regular season champions, begin the conference tournament in Los Angeles Thursday lacking the singular, dominant personality that has willed them to the last two league tournament titles.
"This year it's different," senior captain Darnell Gant said before Washington (21-9, 14-4 Pac-12) left for Los Angeles Wednesday and learned whether it was playing eighth-seeded Washington State (15-15, 7-11) or ninth-seeded Oregon State (17-13, 7-11) Thursday at 12:10 p.m.
"Now I am going to have to take on that role, plus Tony (Wroten), Terrence (Ross), (Abdul) Gaddy."
Yet whether with multiple individuals or an entire committee, Gant believes "we are still on the right track."
Fox Sports Network is televising the first three rounds of the tournament. The Washington IMG College radio network has Washington's games. And if you are stuck at work without a television Thursday afternoon, the web's only play by play, analysis and pictures from courtside will be here on another exclusive GoHuskies.com game chat.
There is at least one similarity to these Huskies and those Thomas and Pondexter led through the last two league tournaments: Ross is motivated in much the same way Pondexter was.
Monday, the Pac-12 announced its coaches voted Cal's Jorge Gutierrez as the conference's player of the year over Ross.
"I am a little surprised, but congratulations to Gutierrez. He is a great player and has helped Cal out a lot. You can see it in their record," Ross said.
Ross, second to Wroten on the Huskies averaging 15.3 points per game, said he is honored to be first team All-Pac-12. Asked Monday after the player-of-the-year voting was announced if he could use not winning that as motivation the rest of this month, Ross shrugged.
"I am going to have to do that," he said. "I feel a little snubbed but you can't really think about that stuff."
Asked if the voting might motivate Ross, Huskies coach Lorenzo Romar said: "It was for Quincy. And we won the tournament that year."
There are multiple scorers that could lead UW through L.A. this time: Ross; fellow All-Pac-12 scorer Wroten; C.J. Wilcox, whose shooting is warming up as his leg stress fracture heals; the recently re-emerging Gaddy at point guard; or a committee of them all.
And they need someone to push them deep into the conference tournament. The Huskies believe their second outright regular-season league title in 59 years won't be enough on its own to make another NCAA tournament.
"We need to win some games," Romar said Tuesday. "I don't know if we are a slam dunk for the tournament."
Romar believes the Huskies, winners 10 times in the last 12 games, deserve a bid. And history sides with him. The last time the team that finished with the best record in the conference did not make the NCAA tournament was 1953. The Pacific Coast Conference was in two divisions then and Oregon State (11-5 in the league back then) lost a best-of-three playoff to USC (8-4), giving the league's lone NCAA bid to the Trojans that year.
Romar thinks California (23-8, 13-5) "is in for sure." And he believes the Pac-12 will have at least another representative in the NCAA tournament.
"I see us getting more than one bid when it's all said and done," Romar said. "I think Oregon's making a strong push. I just think there are a couple of other options in there.
"This isn't the first time the so-called `experts' have said it is only going to be a one-bid league. And there were more than that, when it was all said and done."
Yet the Dawgs don't want to leave anything to chance. They are gunning for their third consecutive league tournament title and the automatic bid to the NCAAs that comes with it.
"We want to try to win the tournament still," Gant said.
Washington's first step Thursday afternoon will be tricky, but it will not be foreign. Washington has won its last six games inside Staples Center. And within the last 3½ weeks the Huskies have played Oregon State, led by conference overall scorer leader Jared Cunningham (18.2 points per game) and Washington State, with second-leading scorer Brock Motum (18.1 average).
After beating each team in Seattle earlier this season, the Huskies rallied through a slog to win 75-72 at Oregon State Feb. 12 by hitting free throws late. They rallied from 13 points down with 11 minutes left on Feb. 25 to win at WSU 59-55.
"Oregon State with their trapping defense and their half-court trap, it takes you out of your rhythm," Gant said. "And then Washington State, they've got so many weapons. Their record doesn't really show what they are really capable. They have a .500 record, but they are better than that. They have a lot more talent than their record shows."
QUICK SHOTS: Wilcox is still not fully participating in every practice, though he is doing more 5-on-5 work. The plan is for the sophomore to play in all three games over three days, if UW advances to the final. Romar said he will rest Wilcox's leg if he can during games, but that having him available this week and for a possible NCAA tournament run are the reasons the Huskies shut him down for three weeks in January. ... Wilcox made nine of 12 shots for 22 points in 29 minutes last weekend in the regular-season finale at UCLA. It was his best game since returning from the stress fracture in late January.