Quincy Pondexter makes the big play, as a senior leader should
Washington senior Quincy Pondexter hit the game-winning shot for the Huskies in 80-78 victory over Marquette.
Seattle Times staff columnist
SAN JOSE, Calif. — The final seconds of the game, and quite possibly his college career, are leaking away quickly.
Quincy Pondexter, the ball tucked under his arm, is standing in the center of the floor, some 30 feet away from the basket, calmly directing traffic.
As Marquette defender Jimmy Butler crouches into position, Pondexter, Washington's senior forward, waves Isaiah Thomas into the left corner. He knows that if Marquette's guards collapse on him, Thomas will be open in that corner.
The floor is spread. The clock is inside 10 seconds. The score is tied at 78 and this game, this season, belongs to Pondexter.
"It's something you live for," Pondexter said after Washington advanced into the second round of the NCAA tournament with a thrilling 80-78 win. "I'm ecstatic right now. I don't know what else to say."
In those final seconds, Pondexter spoke with his quick feet and his rubbery body. He spoke with his head and a heart that has grown over four difficult college seasons.
Usually in these moments, Pondexter likes to drive to his right. Marquette knew that and overloaded its defense that way.
"When I saw that, I knew I was going to go left," Pondexter said, "and either me or Zeke (Thomas) was going to win the game."
Pondexter drove hard to his left. He got a shoulder past Butler and by the time he got to the free-throw line, there was no doubt he was going to get to the rim.
"I've guarded him plenty of times, and I'll put it this way: Knowing what he can do with the ball, I was pretty confident that bucket was going in," teammate Justin Holiday said. "He has a knack for being able to get that shoulder in front of a guy. I don't know how he does it.
"It's happened to me so many times. When you're guarding him, you know it's going to happen, but there's just something about it. He gets his shoulder in front of you, and it's a bucket."
In the last seconds, Pondexter got to the rim, took a bump from his defender, squared his body and scored the game-winner with 1.7 seconds left, prolonging his college career for at least another 40 frantic minutes.
It was the kind of play a senior is expected to make in March. The play a leader makes.
"Me being a senior, you've got to want to step up and accept that challenge," Pondexter said. "You want to have moments like that to relish. To hit a big shot like that. I don't know how I got my shoulder in front of him (Butler). I don't know how I scored. Sometimes I think it's just luck, when it comes down to it."
In the first half, there were questions about Q. He looked hypertensive, shot 1 for 7 and had four points. He struggled mightily. Was this the way he wanted his Washington career to end?
"Mightily's a good word," he said.
But in the second half, Pondexter was 6 for 10 from the field and finished with 18 points and 11 rebounds. He played every minute of the last half.
"It was a little bit of jitters," he said of his first half. "I'm still a young guy and even though I'm a senior, to play in the NCAA tournament, I had a little bit of rust, it felt like.
"So I just had to use all of my energy to get over it. The ball just wasn't going in, and once it starts going in, it made everything else look easier."
This was a win that symbolized the Huskies' season. They trailed by as many as 15 in the second half. The season looked as dead as it did a month ago.
"We knew we didn't want to go home," Pondexter said. "Whenever you have that fear of being eliminated from the tournament, maybe it's good to go through some adversity like that, so you can't have any more margin for error."
Thomas carried the Huskies in the first half. Venoy Overton shut down Marquette guard Maurice Acker in the second. Elston Turner knocked down dizzying threes, and Holiday and Matthew Bryan-Amaning filled their roles.
"We have a little bit of a chip on our shoulders right now," said Pondexter, whose team has won eight in a row. "We know we're playing as good a basketball as any team in the country right now."
Washington (25-9) is a team as resilient as its leader.
"Quincy's got a lot of pride," coach Lorenzo Romar said. "He's very critical of himself. In the past, that got to the point where it would affect his game. Make him nervous.
"But now, he just grits his teeth and tells himself, 'I'm going to do better.' Now he uses his pride as motivation. He's matured. He's been in this situation before, and he's had success. You can just see he wants to be the guy making the big play."
With his career on the line, Quincy Pondexter was that guy making the big play.
Steve Kelley: 206-464-2176 or email@example.com
About Steve Kelley
Steve Kelley covers all sports, putting his spin on matters involving both the home team and the nation.
firstname.lastname@example.org | 206-464-2176