A little less than a week ago, a pivotal moment in Washington basketball capped a dramatic come from behind 79-75 victory over a veteran regular-season championship California team in the Pac-10 Tournament in Los Angeles.
Last night, in the first round of the NCAA Tournament in San Jose, the Huskies came back from a bigger deficit against quality Big East Conference opponent Marquette to snare a nail-biting 80-78 victory.
The adage “great players step up in big moments” is accompanied by “great players step up at crucial moments of big games,” and both adages applied as senior Quincy Pondexter led the offensive assault late in the game, culminating in a shot with 1.7 seconds left that will be ever remembered in discussions among Husky faithful.
After a tough 1-of-7 first half from the field, Pondexter led a Husky assault back from a 60-45 deficit that prompted many watching to conclude that the tough Marquette squad, led by laser-shooting Lazar Hayward and Darius Johnson-Odom, had punched its ticket to Saturday afternoon’s next round—which the Huskies would presumably watch at home in Seattle on television.
“We didn’t want to go home,” Pondexter said afterwards, and his final heroics insured that the Huskies will not.
The 6'6" senior from Fresno had the ball in his hands after a Marquette turnover gave the Huskies what coaches pray for in close games—the game’s final shot with a chance to win.
"Yo-yoing" with a dribble and counting off the seconds, the speedy Pondexter then drove to the hoop and used the backboard to complete a nifty underhand scoop shot with 1.7 seconds remaining for the win.
Spark plug sophomore guard Isaiah Thomas supplied numerous first half heroics with 17 points and 19 for the night alongside Pondexter’s 18, while Elston Turner connected for four three-point buckets and 14 for the evening.
When the Huskies fell behind 60-45, coach Lorenzo Romar in the ensuing timeout concluded that a tougher, more pressing defense was needed to prevent Marquette’s three-point-range sharpshooters from scoring.
The aggressive defense that had bailed the Huskies out of so many tough games at crucial times was there again when needed, as Washington outscored its opponent from that point to the buzzer by a devastating 35-18 margin.
The Huskies win with a combination of burning speed in the transition game and a sharply cloying defense that seeks to suffocate the opposition and throw it off its game.
This will be the two-pronged strategy Washington will unfold again in seeking victory Saturday afternoon against tough No. 3 seed New Mexico, which was able to overcome Montana to advance to the next round.