Are we having fun yet? Huskies look for motivation in NIT
Washington was disappointed not to make the NCAA tournament. How much the Huskies enjoy playing in the National Invitation Tournament probably depends on how far they go.
Seattle Times staff reporter
NIT: Northwestern @ UW, 7 p.m., ESPNU
Is Washington having fun yet?
It depends on who you ask.
Lorenzo Romar promised the Huskies they would enjoy themselves if they made a deep run in the National Invitation Tournament.
However, senior forward Darnell Gant is still waiting for the good times to roll, even after Tuesday's second-half comeback carried them to a first-round victory over Texas-Arlington.
"I'm just making the most of it," Gant admitted. "I wouldn't say I'm having fun yet, though."
If No. 1 seed Washington (22-10) knocks off No. 4 Northwestern (19-13) in Friday's 7 p.m. second-round matchup at Edmundson Pavilion, then the tournament may start to get fun for the Huskies.
Washington is one win away from a potential quarterfinal pairing against Pac-12 rival Oregon and two games away from a trip to New York City's Madison Square Garden to play in the semifinals.
"I feel if we get this win Friday, then probably I'll start having fun," Gant said. "It's weird."
It's weird because the NCAA tournament kicked into full gear Thursday and it's a painful reminder to the Huskies that they fell short of their goal of making a fourth straight trip to the Big Dance.
Gant also believed he played his final home game last month during a thrilling 79-70 win over Arizona in front of a sold-out crowd.
This week he returned for a postseason game that attracted 2,801 fans.
"It felt like a preseason game, (playing) a team you never really heard about," he said. "It's just weird playing on your home floor after you've already had a Senior Night. With the (small) amount of people here, it's like a weird atmosphere. I can't really describe it."
The Huskies said they'll have no trouble gearing up for Northwestern and star senior forward John Shurna, who led the Big Ten, scoring 20 points a game against conference opponents.
"They're a really good team," sophomore guard Terrence Ross said. "They can do a lot of different things, and you just have to be ready for it."
Romar likened Northwestern to Oregon State because both teams run a variation of the Princeton offense, which is predicated on constant motion, passing, screens, backdoor cuts and three-point shooting.
"They will run it in its purest form of anyone that we've played," Romar said about the Wildcats.
Romar also compared Northwestern to South Dakota State, which destroyed the Huskies 92-73 and snapped their 32-game home winning streak against nonconference opponents.
"They have four guys between 6-1 and 6-5 on the floor that can all shoot," Romar said. "They shoot close to 40 percent as a team from three-point range when you talk about their 18 conference games. Those four are running around shooting threes within that motion and it's hard to defend.
"The fifth guy is Shurna, who is a really good basketball player. ... He's 6-9 and shoots it as well as any one of them. So they present matchup problems for you. That's probably the main concern with us with how they have pretty much five shooters on the floor at all times."
Five Northwestern players have made at least 35 three-pointers and shoot at least 36 percent behind the arc.
Comparatively, C.J. Wilcox and Ross are the only UW players with 35 or more three-pointers. They're also the only Huskies shooting better than 36 percent on three-point shots.
Romar said Washington hasn't played its best defensively recently, but believes the Huskies are excited. "There is a championship to be had," he said. "Within that championship you're playing tournament type of competition. You advance. It's all on the line. If you lose, you're done.
"And you know if you can win a few you get to play the Final Four in New York at Madison Square Garden. Then it really becomes fun."
• Ross injured his hip Tuesday, but indicated before Thursday's practice that he'll play Friday.
Percy Allen: 206-464-2278 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
On Twitter @percyallen