Time for Huskies to state their case for NCAA bid
There are four games left to make this a four-letter season for the Washington Huskies. And no, the letters don't spell any of those words...
Seattle Times staff reporter
There are four games left to make this a four-letter season for the Washington Huskies.
And no, the letters don't spell any of those words frustrated fans have undoubtedly muttered from time to time.
Instead, whether the Huskies finish the year as an NCAA team, or are instead relegated to the NIT, figures to be determined in the next nine days as UW concludes the regular season. That stretch begins tonight when the Huskies play at Oregon State at 6 p.m.
Many might argue that Washington's fate is already sealed — at 16-10 overall and 6-8 in Pac-10 play, the Huskies possess little on their résumé to justify an NCAA tournament at-large bid and have shown little to make anyone think they will win out.
None of the popular NCAA bracket projections have included the Huskies for weeks, and losing to Washington State and Pittsburgh last week in what many viewed as "must-win" games seemed to have further doomed them.
But in a college season as undefined as any in recent memory — all but three teams ranked from 12 to 25 in the AP poll last week lost at least one game — there are those who still think the Huskies have a shot.
One is ESPN analyst Steve Lavin, the former UCLA coach, who predicted on air Sunday that the Huskies will make it in, likely as a seventh Pac-10 selection. The conference has never had more than six.
In a phone interview Wednesday, Lavin elaborated by saying that he thinks the Huskies are in an "ideal situation" with a young team that seems to be improving, having won five of seven Pac-10 games, and playing a schedule that includes two ranked teams in the final four games: No. 23 Oregon on Saturday and No. 4 UCLA at home March 3.
"I don't think they could have asked for a better kind of finish," said Lavin, who was an assistant with UW coach Lorenzo Romar at UCLA for a few years, but says he's not just being nice. "That's what you want, to be playing strong opponents to make a strong statement at the end."
Romar, in what would be expected, has staunchly defended his team's chances for weeks and did so again Tuesday.
"If we can make headway in these games, it's still within reach," he said.
Romar stopped short of saying the Huskies have to win all four to get in, pointing out that UW could also make it by winning the Pac-10 tournament.
But reality suggests the Huskies have to get to at least 10-8 in conference play to get in, which would also give UW 20 wins heading into the conference tournament.
No Pac-10 team has ever been invited to the NCAA tournament with fewer than 10 conference wins, and the conference's once-glowing national reputation, which had some thinking this might be the year that precedent would be broken, has taken a hit in recent weeks. The Pac-10 has lost its past four nonconference games, the most recent Washington's defeat at Pitt.
"Those were unfortunate losses," Romar said.
Maybe, some on Montlake theorize, nine conference wins plus two more in the Pac-10 tournament, which would give UW 21 wins overall, would be enough.
But getting to 10 in conference play is as close to a magic number as there is for the Huskies. Four of the past five Pac-10 teams to finish 10-8 got invites, a stretch dating to 1997, the lone miss in that time being an Arizona State team that was 18-12.
"It's going to be tough," said UW forward Jon Brockman. "We're really going to have to work hard to get in the tournament. But once we get in there, we can really play with teams that will be in there if we play the way we did against Washington State and Pitt. That gives you a little confidence and assurance that we can play with a lot of teams in the nation."
McGillis has no regrets
The Beavers fell to 2-13 in Pac-10 play Saturday but not before taking Cal into overtime in Berkeley, with the Bears winning 74-70. The Beavers were buoyed by a career-high 24 points by sophomore swingman Jack McGillis, a player UW coaches know well.
McGillis, a native of Missoula, Mont., was set to walk on at UW before the 2005-06 season before being offered a scholarship by the Beavers and electing to go to OSU instead.
"We loved his attitude, his work ethic and his toughness," Romar said. "But he was upfront with us that a scholarship was hard to turn down. We just didn't have one at the time."
McGillis has no second thoughts, but admits, "It was hard because for a period of time, I was set on going there and everything was in place and I had my papers all ready and then things changed. But to this day [Romar] is still really supportive of me."
• UW freshman swingman Phil Nelson will be making a homecoming of sorts — he's from Keizer, Ore., about an hour north of Corvallis, and was recruited heavily by both Oregon schools though he said he never seriously considered either one before becoming a Husky.
Nelson said he expects some razzing. He's the first UW player who hails from Oregon since Ben Coffee and Thalo Green in 2001. In fact, he said he has gotten a bit already this week from people leaving messages saying "stuff about, 'Be ready for The Pit,' and, '[Remember] the [Ryan] Appleby incident last year.' Just trying to get in your head and scare you a little bit."
• Romar coached the U.S. Under-18 national team last summer but said this week he has turned down a chance to coach the U-19 team next summer, in part because the Huskies have planned a trip to Greece for late August. "I thought it was too much to try to do this year," he said.