Huskies to go after smaller Eagles inside

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Huskies to go after smaller Eagles inside

By GREGG BELL
AP Sports Writer

SEATTLE — Yes, Marquette is small. Its coach claims “we will
be the smallest team you have seen” from a major conference.

Buzz Williams also says Lazar Hayward, Marquette’s center and
leading scorer, “is 6-6 1/2 – with his shoes on.”

Quincy Pondexter knows Hayward to be even smaller than that.

Pondexter and Hayward were teammates last summer for the United
States during the World University Games in Belgrade, Serbia.
Both were greeted there by a training table with unrecognizable
native dishes they refused to eat.

“He was losing weight by the day,” Pondexter said Tuesday of the
225-pound Hayward, who leads Marquette’s four-guard offense in
scoring at 18.1 points per game entering Thursday’s first-round
meeting in the NCAA tournament between the 11th-seeded Huskies
(24-9) and sixth-seeded Golden Eagles (22-11).

“I starved a couple days, ate bread, water. It was like fasting.
Then I went ahead and got some McDonald’s.”

A re-nourished Pondexter has Washington recharged for its second
consecutive tournament appearance.

“He can pretty much do it all,” Hayward said of his former dorm
mate in Serbia.

Pondexter has led the Huskies to seven consecutive wins,
including three last weekend to secure the Pac-10 tournament
championship.

To make it eight in a row and get into Saturday’s second round,
Washington needs to go back inside and find out just how small
Marquette is.

“You want to test them, to see what they can do inside,” point
guard Isaiah Thomas said.

Which is to say, the Huskies need to keep playing the way they
have all season while in San Jose. A second-round game would be
against either third-seeded New Mexico or Montana. The Lobos’
tallest starter is 6-8.

Even the 5-8 Thomas will have a height advantage Thursday at
point guard over Maurice Acker, whom Williams says is more like
5-7 1/2 instead of his listed 5-8.

“He’s smaller than me?” Thomas said, amazed

So again it’s inside or bust for the Huskies. Washington is at
its frenetic best when Thomas, whose average of 17.1 points per
game is second on Washington to Pondexter’s 19.8, is driving
daringly into the lane. He floats circus shots or attracts
multiple defenders, leaving Pondexter or revitalized, 6-9
forward Matthew Bryan-Amaning open for easy baskets underneath.

“We always try to be in there going to the paint, getting points
underneath and off offensive rebounds, or to get us to the foul
line,” Washington coach Lorenzo Romar said.

One of the reasons the Huskies are in this tournament is because
they got inside then made 17 of 18 free throws in the Pac-10
tournament title game to clinch the win against California. The
automatic bid that came with it eliminated the stress of whether
the NCAA tournament selection committee would choose them.

There are potential pitfalls to Washington’s inside job.

Doctors have told Thomas he probably has a broken bone in his
shooting hand. Last year’s Pac-10 freshman of the year said
Tuesday that trainers are trying to make a less-bulky glove for
him to wear over the hamate bone on the palm of his left hand.
He’s planning to wear that Thursday.

“When I fall, that’s when all the pain comes back,” he said.

Thomas says the glove he had been wearing since getting hurt on
Feb. 11 at Cal caused him to shoot with too much of his hand on
the ball.

Romar calls it a non-issue, citing how well Thomas has played
with the injury.

It’s not like Marquette just got small since bids were announced
on Sunday. Although they lost three of the top eight scorers in
school history off last year’s team and were picked to finish
12th in the Big East, the Golden Eagles arrived Monday in San
Jose for their fifth consecutive NCAA tournament.

They have been hardened by 15 games decided by five points or
fewer this season. Marquette has won seven of those. It won
three straight in overtime on the road, lost by one at West
Virginia and by five at top-seeded Syracuse.

“We’re going to be facing one of the most mentally tough teams -
if not the most mentally tough team – we’ve faced all season,”
Romar said. "People keep saying, ‘Who do they remind you of that
you’ve played?’

“No one. They get after it. The things they do on the floor
compensate for their lack of size.”

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