Dawgs Get Beavers 1st in Pac-12 Tourney
March 7, 2012
By Gregg Bell
LOS ANGELES - As soon as the Huskies walked into Los Angeles International Airport coming off their flight from Seattle, passengers at the gate were asking the Pac-12 regular-season champions to pose for pictures. Kids gawked at 7-footer Aziz N'Diaye and his teammates, who were by far the tallest dudes in LAX.
Now it's time to see if the Dawgs again stand tallest in the conference.
Top-seeded Washington (21-9, 14-4 Pac-12) learned upon landing Wednesday afternoon its quest for a third consecutive league tournament title will begin against ninth-seeded Oregon State (18-13, 8-11) Thursday at 12:10 p.m. at Staples Center.
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 around noon, the web's only play by play, analysis and pictures from courtside will be here on another exclusive GoHuskies.com game chat.
The Huskies beat Oregon State 95-80 in fast-paced, entertaining game Dec. 29 at Alaska Airlines Arena. Pac-12 Freshman of the Year Tony Wroten had 26 points and nine rebounds for UW. On Feb. 12 in Corvallis, Washington rallied from an early six-point hole then hit key free throws down the stretch to beat the Beavers 75-72 in a slog of a game. Terrence Ross, who with Wroten made first-team All-Pac-12 this week, had 21 points in that game as the Huskies won despite shooting a season-low 34.8 percent.
Oregon State beat Washington State 69-64 in Wednesday's first round here despite conference leading scorer Jared Cunningham going just 1 of 8 from the field in 38 minutes for the Beavers. Cunningham scored four points - 14 below his average.
Huskies coach Lorenzo Romar expects a bounce-back from the slashing guard on Thursday.
"He's not the guy who you say, `Hey, in this offense this is how you stop them.' It takes more than one way," Romar said at UW's team hotel at LA Live Wednesday night. "We've got to box him out. We've got to get out with him in transition. And we can't let him steal the ball so he gets out in transition, out ahead of the pack. You've got to keep him off the foul line.
"He scores in a number of ways. It's not easy."
Another key for the Huskies: Deciphering the many looks Oregon State will give on defense. In Corvallis last month, the Beavers' half-court traps gave Washington some trouble.
"Oregon State with their trapping defense and their half-court trap, it takes you out of your rhythm," Huskies senior captain Darnell Gant said.
It will fall upon junior point guard Abdul Gaddy to keep UW in its rhythm, as usual. Gaddy has re-emerged in the last couple weeks with some of his most decisive play of the season.
Since UW last played Oregon State, Gaddy has 39 assists and just 11 turnovers while averaging 34 minutes over five games, four of them victories.
"Abdul's steadily being more aggressive, making more plays," Romar said.
Oregon State will challenge Gaddy with their athleticism on defense.
Asked what makes the Beavers particularly challenging, Romar said: "Their length. They have the ability to change a lot of shots with their length.
"And their quickness. They get to a lot of balls. We've got to be able to protect the basketball. And we have to be able to attack their changing defenses aggressively. Not be timid."
The Huskies timid in the Pac-12 tournament?
That would go against the legacy that precedes them here this week.
Isaiah Thomas wasn't timid 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 seized his weekend 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 begin this conference tournament lacking the singular, dominant personality that has willed them to the last two league tournament titles.
"This year it's different," Gant said. "Now I am going to have to take on that role, plus Tony, Terrence, Gaddy."
Yet whether with multiple individuals or an entire committee, Gant believes "we are still on the right track."
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, 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; Wroten; C.J. Wilcox, whose shooting is warming up as his leg stress fracture heals; 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. "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 big 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.
QUICK SHOTS: The Huskies practiced at 7:30 a.m. on campus Wednesday before they left for Los Angeles. That was to get them ready for Thursday's wake-up call at the same time before the noon-time tipoff. ... Washington and Oregon State have met twice before in the conference tournament. The Huskies lost as a 10th seed to the second-seeded Beavers in 1988 when the Pac-10 tourney was in Tucson, Ariz. In 2010 at Staples Center, third-seeded UW beat No.-6 seed Oregon State to begin the tournament.