A 12-year wait is heading into its final hours.
The University of Washington Huskies should be back in the NCAA Tournament this afternoon after an absence of a dozen years - perhaps not aided by Saturday’s 70-51 smoking of rival Washington State, but not undone by an untimely loss, either.
“We’ve put in the work,” said Huskies coach Bob Bender. “Now let’s see if other people feel the same way.”
Donald Watts scored 21 points and the Huskies defense held WSU to its lowest point total of the season in front of a subdued Friel Court crowd of 6,203, who came alive only at the appropriate moments to salute senior forward Carlos Daniel.
Daniel, in his final appearance as a Cougar, scored 15 points and grabbed a game-high 13 rebounds - but couldn’t win the day away from the Huskies and Bender, who joined in the ovation for Daniel when he left the game with 14 seconds remaining.
“He came up and said some nice things to me after the game,” Daniel said. “It’s always good to hear from somebody else that they appreciate the kind of player you are.
“He has a class program over there and he’s worked hard to get those guys where they are right now. They deserve what they’ve got.”
Actually, the Huskies will have to wait until the NCAA selection show at 3:30 today to find out what - if anything - they have.
“Our guys have to know that there are no guarantees,” Bender acknowledged.
But for the fourth straight year under Bender, the Huskies improved their record - this time to 18-9 and a fourth-place finish in the Pacific-10 Conference, three full games ahead of Arizona State, Cal and Oregon. After two losses in the Bay Area two weeks ago, Bender said the Huskies would have to win out to make the 64-team field - and then saw his team do just that, highlighted by a squeaker over UCLA.
There wasn’t anything close about Saturday’s game - not after Watts triggered a 9-4 Husky run to close the first half.
From a 35-30 advantage at intermission, the Huskies quickly stretched it to 48-33 in the first 6-1/2 minutes of the second half by putting WSU’s offense on ice. The Cougars made just 9 of 30 shots after halftime, and blew a number of other chances with slipshod ballhandling.
“That’s the best I’ve seen Washington play since I’ve been here,” said WSU coach Kevin Eastman. “They shot it very well and played with a tremendous amount of emotion. I think it’s more a matter of what they did and not so much what we didn’t or couldn’t do.”
Said Bender, “We talked about picking up the energy at the defensive end. Offensively, they could play loose today, and when you’ve got guys who can shoot the ball like they can, you’d better do something defensively to slow it down.”
The Huskies also overcame a subpar effort from center Todd MacCulloch, their leading scorer who was limited to just five points and six rebounds in 15 minutes.
The compensating factors were many. UW’s other 7-footer, Patrick Femerling, was solid off the bench. Freshman forward Thalo Green contributed 12 points and some rugged defense inside, and the slashing drives of Watts, Deon Luton and Jan Wooten exploited Washington State’s lack of quickness.
The Huskies shot 50 percent, and 18 of their 27 baskets came from within 12 feet.
And as they have so many times this season, the Cougars staggered early in the second half after staying close through the first 20 minutes. WSU managed just a layup by Leif Nelson and a free throw by Kab Kazadi in the first 8 minutes of the second half as the Huskies built that 15-point lead.
“A lot of guys didn’t shoot it well tonight,” said Daniel, who made 7 of 10 field-goal attempts, “but that seems to be the story of our season.”
The Cougars finished 10-19 and 3-15 in the Pac-10 for a ninth-place tie with Oregon State. It’s the worst showing since a 7-22 record in 1990 under Kelvin Sampson.
The Huskies, meanwhile, have won 18 games for the first time since 1987.
Washington 70, Washington St. 51
Washington (18-9) - Green 6-10 0-0 12, MacCulloch 1-3 3-4 5, Luton 5-13 0-1 11, Wooten 4-6 2-2 11, Watts 8-15 3-5 21, Mortiz 0-0 0-0 0, Dickau 0-0 0-0 0, Thompson 0-0 0-0 0, Femerling 2-4 3-6 7, Johnson 0-1 0-0 0, Brown 0-0 0-0 0, Walcott 1-2 1-2 3. Totals 27-54 12-20 70.
WSU (10-19) - Daniel 7-10 1-2 15, Slotemaker 4-9 0-0 10, Nelson 2-8 1-2 5, Pengelly 1-9 0-0 3, Kazadi 2-5 2-4 6, Hutchens 0-0 0-0 0, Clark 0-0 0-0 0, Mensah-Bonsu 2-4 0-1 4, Anderson 0-0 0-0 0, Crosby 3-13 0-1 8, Stewart 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 21-58 4-10 51.
Halftime-Washington 35, Washington St. 30. 3-Point goals- Washington 4-11 (Watts 2-2, Wooten 1-2, Luton 1-6, Gren 0-1), Washington St. 5-17 (Slotemaker 2-2, Crosby 2-7, Pengelly 1-6, Kazadi 0-2). Fouled out-None. Rebounds-Washington 37 (MacCulloch , Femerling 6), Washington St. 35 (Daniel 13). Assists-Washington 11 (Luton, Wooten, Watts 3), Washington St. 5 (Pengelly, Kazadi 2). Total fouls-Washington 18, Washington St. 13. Technicals-Washington, Wooten; Washington St., Pengelly. A-6,203.
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color Photo