Somehow in this season of failed expectations, the Washington Huskies basketball team found its heart in a tournament where everything had gone wrong.
With Venoy Overton riding the pine due to knuckle-headedness and a suspension, and referees making calls resembling blind chimpanzees, the surprising Huskies did what they’ve failed to do all season long. Win not only two close games down the stretch in three days, but in this case, a game that had all but been lost.
A terrible blocking call against Darnel Gant with just under three minutes left in regulation had Arizona fans lighting victory cigars and popping off, as Derrick Williams converted both free throws.
Seconds later, with the Wildcats holding a scant one-point lead, Terrance Ross missed a three-pointer, and Arizona quickly hit Solomon Hill for an easy two to make it 62-59 with 1:56 left.
And after soon-to-be hero Isaiah Thomas got called for another offensive foul on an obvious Arizona flop, things were looking bleak for the boys in black.
Especially when Arizona’s Lamont Jones hit one of two free throws to give the Wildcats a 63-59 lead with 1:42 left. Terrance Ross’s missed three-pointer again, 20 seconds later, didn’t help.
Another burned minute off the clock from sloppy play from both teams, and things looked even worse. Arizona still clung to its four-point lead with 35 seconds left, after yet another missed three-point desperation lunge by CJ Wilcox.
Fortunately for Washington, Isaiah Thomas grabbed the rebound and quickly hustled up his own desperation three, which he hit, to make it a one-point game three seconds later.
After a Huskies timeout, the Wildcats' Derrick Williams, who spent most of the game enjoying superstar NBA calls that baffled the Huskies faithful and TV pundits alike, hit a quick lay-in with only 22 seconds left to make it 65-62, aided by a worst-case foul on Scott Suggs. A free throw later and the Huskies again trailed by four.
Arizona called a timeout, which gave the Huskies time to plan a scheme that got Terrence Ross open in the right-side corner, and he buried his three-pointer to bring the Huskies back within one at 66-65 with a mere 19 seconds left on the clock.
Five seconds later, Isaiah Thomas was called for a backcourt foul that had patrons again beating their heads against seats, and Lamont Jones again hit both free throws for an Arizona 68-65 lead.
The Huskies quickly brought the ball upcourt with a streaking Isaiah Thomas down the middle, who faked a shot before hitting a wide-open CJ Wilcox on the left-side corner to tie the game with a miracle three-pointer. But again, it almost went for naught, when Lamont Jones tossed up a desperation running three-pointer that rimmed off the far side with no time left.
Overtime. Panting fans littered the premises from both camps. Sweat beaded off the foreheads of young and old patrons alike.
An improbable overtime, which the Huskies nearly muffed when Derrick Williams miraculously got whistled for a foul on Matthew Bryan-Amaning. The Huskies center tossed a brick from the free-throw line but followed it with a made shot, giving the Dawgs their first lead of the extra period.
And from there, the Huskies enjoyed a slight one or two-point lead through the majority of the period, in spite of MBA fouling out.
But with only 21 seconds left in overtime, Arizona again looked like it had survived when Kevin Parrom hit a three-pointer to tie the game at 75.
This led to Isaiah Thomas' heroics. Playing with four fouls since late in the fourth period and doing what every kid who has ever played make-believe basketball in his backyard envisions hundreds of times, Thomas made the game-winning shot. One second left, a defender crawling all over him from 14 feet away, straight up, straight in, buzzer goes off just as the rock hits the net.
Ball game. Pandemonium. Weeping women. Squealing men. Strangers hugging. Man-piles on the court. General mayhem and giddiness on one side; broken-hearted grumbling on the other.
The Huskies win the game and the Pac-10 tournament.
Of course all of this was made possible courtesy of our pals down in Oregon the night before.
Call it domination by the Huskies, schizophrenia and hyperventilating by angry Ducks fans or even Dawg revenge for Oregon running up the score in football several months before.
Whatever it was, the University of Washington Huskies settled the score with our feathered friends down yonder, by sending them back home to “Deep in the Woods” with a good old-fashioned thumping and humiliation that ended their season.
And before that, there was that slumberfest against Washington State in the opener, when Klay Thomson went nuts and set a tournament scoring record before the Huskies finally slapped down their cross-state nemesis for the first time all season with the scant 89-87 nipping.
All told, it was karma. It was destiny. Perhaps it was prayers. The 2010-11 Washington Huskies basketball team morphed from a fringe bubble team, into an automatic NCAA tournament entry, using energy and miracle shooting that we hadn’t seen since early in the season.
Two Pac-10 tourneys in a row for the first time ever for any team.
Take a breath, Huskies fans, because next week we’re all going dancing!