It was a battle in Seattle, but Washington (24-7, 14-4) earned the right to be called the best college basketball team on the West Coast.
Coach Lorenzo Romar was grinning from ear to ear after the final buzzer sounded in Bank of America Arena. Above the deafening roar of proud Husky fans, the scoreboard said it all.
Washington 67 – Washington State 60.
This game was everything college basketball should be.
If Coach Tony Bennett’s Cougs (16-14, 8-10) were going up against any other team Saturday afternoon, they certainly would have left the floor with a win.
UW senior Jon Brockman and his teammates played one of their best games with so much on the line:
- · First Pac-10 conference championship for Washington…ever
- · A No. 1 seed in the Pac-10 tournament next week
- · For the seniors on this Husky roster, a chance to end their college career in front of Husky Nation with a meaningful win over cross-state rival WSU.
- · Sweep WSU for the first time in several years
Some teams are ready to play any time, any place. That is certainly the terms which should be applied to the Washington Huskies after the way they played Saturday.
There might have been too many distractions for Coach Romar’s players to perform well enough to defeat one of the hottest teams in the conference.
Not this time around.
Though there was a final margin of seven points, the game was a dog fight from beginning to end.
The first half was back and forth. Both teams looked like a couple of heavyweights throwing their best punch. Neither had the firepower to knock the other team out.
It was a slug-fest, which is no surprise when these two teams meet on a basketball court.
The officials tried to let the players determine how the game flowed, but still were forced to whistle 18 fouls during the first twenty minutes.
Washington is used to getting to the foul line more often than their opponents, yet they were whistled for 10 violations compared with “just” eight for the Cougs.
Physical play took WSU freshman young gun Klay Thompson out of his game. Klay managed just five attempts and converted only his first shot coming off a screen.
Coach Bennett’s other offensive weapon, Taylor Rochestie was equally frustrated. He was an uncharacteristic 2-8 in the first half for six points.
Rochestie spent a lot of time picking himself up off the floor thanks to the extreme pressure applied by the Huskies.
The tone of the second half was influenced by the men wearing striped shirts and occasionally blowing their whistles. Though the flow of the game appeared to be the same at both ends of the court, WSU found themselves being called for seven fouls before UW was slapped with their first.
Despite the huge differential in fouls being called, the score remained close throughout the second half.
If this game was going to come down to who controlled the tempo, things looked very good for WSU. They were playing outstanding Bennett Ball.
With a little over four minutes to play, Rochestie knocked down a three-pointer to close the margin to 58-56 in favor of Washington.
Over the final four minutes, the Huskies played like a Final Four team.
Washington took control of the contest the rest of the way.
Try as they might, the Cougs couldn’t get a decent shot off. The Huskies were playing like a team possessed.
As athletic as Washington is across the front line, the rebound margin in the first half went their way.
But the stats sheet revealed just how well WSU was playing. UW out-rebounded the Cougs 19-18 in the opening twenty minutes. The final margin was all Washington 40-28.
That’s how a team earns the label, “Best In The West”.
This game came down to one thing Coach Bennett couldn’t counter Coach Romar with.
Offense and offensive-minded players.
Thompson picked up his fourth foul with nearly twelve minutes left in the game. That simplified things for Coach Romar.
Once Thompson found himself watching the game from courtside, Washington could focus on shutting down the accurate, soft touch of Aron Baynes’ hook and the outside shooting of Rochestie.
That’s exactly what Coach Romar’s troops did.
Fans, players, and coaches filled the court in celebration of their meaningful victory once the final buzzer signaled the end of the regular season.
For Husky Nation, they found heaven on earth. Anticipation of March Madness could wait for their adrenaline rush to ebb.
Tough loss, but nothing that should shake Cougar confidence.
Saturday afternoon, Washington State’s best wasn’t enough.
Make no mistake. There is still plenty of game left in Coach Bennett’s Cougars.