In the early moments of the second-round NCAA Tournament clash between Washington and New Mexico in San Jose, it was clear what strategic path Huskies’ coach Lorenzo Romar was pursuing.
Romar’s Huskies resembled a track team, using superb athleticism to run the floor and secure an 82-64 victory over the No. 8 nationally ranked Lobos of the Mountain West Conference.
Possessing the No. 1 bench in the Pac-10 Conference, Romar calculated that a running game would take New Mexico out of its 3-point shooting game comfort zone and poise the Huskies for a victory to take the team to the Sweet 16 and a trip to Syracuse next week.
The gunning 3-point shooters of Steve Alford’s New Mexico team hit early and the score was tied at 19-19 when the Husky speed in transition coupled with a suffocating defense began taking its toll.
The Huskies held a 44-32 lead at halftime, meaning that after Washington jammed up the Lobos’ long range shooting prowess, a 25-13 advantage was secured.
Quincy Pondexter had a quiet first half in going 1-for-7 from the field against Marquette on Thursday. That was dramatically altered as he took the ball repeatedly to the hoop and had 6 points in the first 10 minutes of the contest.
Meanwhile Isaiah Thomas and Elston Turner began hitting from 3-point range while Matthew Brian-Amaning combined scoring effectiveness near the basket alongside tenacious defense, using his enormous wingspan to garner rebounds and block shots.
The Romar strategy was to protect the 3-point range. This enabled New Mexico’s speedy and muscular guard Dairese Gary to penetrate to the hoop on numerous layup attempts.
Gary averaged 12 points per game and scored 25 against Washington, but the tradeoff strategy proved effective as the Lobos thrive on 3-point shots and not the close in game near the basket.
The Romar strategy of attrition through running and substituting paid dividends as the Huskies began pulling away from the Lobos early in the second half.
Whereas Gary carried most of the offensive load for New Mexico with his 25 points, Washington generated balance.
The big three in scoring for the Huskies were Pondexter with 18 points while Thomas and Turner each garnered 15.
While the Huskies scored impressive triumphs over Cal in the Pac-10 Tournament championship game and against Marquette in first-round action Thursday, this was their most impressive victory of the season against a top 10-ranked opponent that came into play with a dazzling 30-4 record.
CBS game analyst Bob Wenzel found the right words when he referred to the running Huskies as “the purple blur.”
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