Washington men win Pac-10 tournament title
The regular-season championship eluded them, but the Huskies gladly settled for the Pac-10 men's tournament title and the automatic NCAA tournament bid by beating California 79-75 in Saturday's championship.
Seattle Times staff reporter
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LOS ANGELES — Five years after their last conference tournament title and three months after they fell to the bottom of the Pac-10 standings, the Huskies men's basketball team is back in a big way.
Washington's 79-75 victory Saturday over regular-season champion California completed a late-season resurgence that delivered a conference tourney title and sent it back to the NCAA tournament for a second straight year.
"Guys came together," coach Lorenzo Romar said. "Guys believed. Guys became more of a team. ... With the group that we have, guys just stuck together. Guys stepped up.
"Roles became defined and a team was born."
The Huskies (24-9) have won of 12 of their past 14 and ride a seven-game winning streak into the NCAA tournament.
Since dropping out of the national rankings and falling briefly into last place in January, they wondered if and how they could make it to the tournament.
Those questions have now been replaced with "who they'll play" and "where will they play."
"I can't put into words how proud I am of this group," said sophomore guard Isaiah Thomas, the tournament's most outstanding player. "Like I said before, we all we got. This is what we did. Nobody else did this for us, but us and the coaching staff. It's amazing what can happen when you believe in yourself and believe in God."
The Huskies needed to outlast a gritty effort from the Bears in a game that had 22 lead changes.
Momentum teeter-tottered until the final minutes, finally changing for good when the Huskies trailed 66-61 with 6:04 remaining. UW finished the game on an 18-9 run that included big three-pointers from Venoy Overton and Elston Turner.
Overton's three-pointer with 4:54 left tied the scores at 66 and Turner drained a three from the same spot to put UW ahead 71-68.
The Huskies never lost their lead after that.
Cal guard Jerome Randle made things interesting when he sank a three-pointer that cut Washington's lead to 77-74 with just less than a minute left, and the Bears had a chance to tie in the final seconds.
Turner, however, poked the ball away from Randle at the top of the key and was given a foul when both players scrambled for the loose ball.
With 4.4 seconds left, Randle made the first free throw. He intentionally missed the second shot, bouncing it off the rim, but officials called a lane violation that gave UW possession.
The Bears sent Overton to the line with 2.1 seconds and the Huskies guard that teammates call Mr. Clutch sank both free throws to seal the game.
After the final shot splashed through the net, Overton pointed to Romar before running to midcourt where he was mobbed by teammates when time expired.
"You go through this kind of moment and get this far, it's tough to put into words," said Overton who had 10 points and five rebounds. "I don't know what else to say other than it's a great feeling."
The Huskies celebrated on the Staples Center floor and cut down the nets in front of a few hundred UW fans.
Quincy Pondexter, the Washington captain who finished with 18 points, clutched the two-foot championship trophy in his arm and wouldn't let it go.
"Being a senior you don't want to let this go or leave your hands," he said.
His teammates stashed other championship mementos into their duffel bags, including T-shirts and caps that read: Pac-10 Tournament Champions.
"I'll probably wear my T-shirt to class on Monday," said Turner.
Freshman Clarence Trent chimed: "On Monday? I'm wearing this all week."
Romar left the arena with the white netting from the rim dangling from his hip pocket.
"This one is pretty special, especially when you consider how far we've grown in a relatively short amount of time," he said. "They realized what they had to do. We had to come together, and we did it just in the nick of time."
• Pondexter was named to the all-tournament team along with Cal's Theo Robertson, who had 25 points Saturday, Jamal Boykin (20 points) and Randle (12). UCLA's Michael Roll was also included.
Attendance: 15,851. Officials: Dick Cartmell, Scott Thornley, Michael Reed.