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Originally published March 20, 2010 at 8:07 PM | Page modified March 20, 2010 at 10:16 PM

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Steve Kelley

Why can't the Huskies continue this run? | Steve Kelley

The Huskies no longer are the messy work-in-progress they were in January. They are the playing the way they were expected to play when practice began in October.

Seattle Times staff columnist

SAN JOSE, Calif. — Why not Washington?

"We've put ourselves in a position where we're with the big boys now and that's something we're not backing down from at all," Washington coach Lorenzo Romar said after the Huskies' 82-64 slash-and-burn win over New Mexico in the second round of the NCAA tournament.

Why not Washington?

"At the beginning of the year we thought, in theory, that we could play with anyone," Romar said. "But we didn't put that on the floor in the way that we worked every day and the way that we played in the games. Now what we thought could happen before the season started is happening."

Why not Washington?

The Huskies no longer are the messy work-in-progress they were in January. They are playing the way they were expected to play when practice began in October.

They have found the secret, discovered their potential. This is why the world, or at least the Sweet 16, was expected from Washington.

They've diversified. On offense they're no longer just Quincy Pondexter and Isaiah Thomas. At this point in the season, the Huskies, winners of nine in a row, have depth and size and weaponry.

"We're living up to our potential, and this time of year is all about living up to your potential," said Matthew Bryan-Amaning, who had 15 points, nine rebounds and two steals. "Even when we were struggling we knew there were chances to open the door. The door might have been thin, but it was still open. Then once you get into the dance, you're in it to win it."

As this craziest seed-shredding first week in the history of the NCAA tournament has proved, there really are no favorites or underdogs. New Mexico was a three seed. The Huskies were an 11. How did that work out?

"We can see the carrot at the end of the rope now," Pondexter said.

The myth of the Big East has been exploded. Ohio beat Georgetown. St. Mary's beat Villanova. Old Dominion beat Notre Dame. Top seeds have fallen like duckpins. Cornell beat Temple. Washington beat Marquette and New Mexico.

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Northern Iowa is alive. Kansas is dead.

This season, on any given Thursday, or Friday, Saturday, or Sunday, anything is possible. The tournament has opened invitingly for the Huskies, who will play either Missouri or West Virginia next.

Why not Washington?

"It can be us," said Thomas, who had 15 points and seven assists. "Playing the way we've played, why not?"

This team could have folded. In late January after starting the Pac-10 Conference season 3-5, Washington was marching closer to the NIT, or worse.

But Romar did the best coaching job of his eight seasons in Seattle. He kept the faith, brought this season back from the brink.

"This team has pretty good character," Romar said. "And when you have good character with your team, when you get low in the valley, you can get out of it.

"When you have poor character, everyone goes their own direction. It's everyone else's fault but theirs. But this team came together."

A few numbers from the New Mexico win explain just how well Washington is playing in late March.

Despite their fast-paced, microwaveable offense, the Huskies committed only five turnovers. They scored 17 points off New Mexico turnovers. They blocked seven shots, and 10 different Huskies had assists.

"If we turn the ball over only five times, at the pace that we play, that tells me that we're really, really focused," Romar said. "And when you're focused, you're usually focused on the defensive end also.

"You can be making shots and be in the zone, but that doesn't necessarily mean you're focused. When you're taking care of the basketball and moving the basketball and playing defense, you've got a high level of focus."

Why not Washington?

"We can still cause some damage in this tournament," said Elston Turner, who scored 10 points off the bench. "We're not going to stop believing."

After all of Washington's midseason struggles, why stop now?

Steve Kelley: 206-464-2176 or skelley@seattletimes.com

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About Steve Kelley

Steve Kelley covers all sports, putting his spin on matters involving both the home team and the nation.
skelley@seattletimes.com | 206-464-2176

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