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UW Tries To Keep Its Dream Alive

Wed., March 18, 1998, midnight

Pac the bags.

The NCAA Tournament is down to its Sweet 16, and four of them are from the Pacific-10 Conference for the second year in a row.

That’s one more team in the regional semifinals than the Atlantic Coast Conference has, one more than the Big East, two more than the Big Ten and three more than the Southeastern and the Atlantic 10.

Arizona, Stanford and UCLA had a reasonable chance to be here. And face it, ACC, the Pac-10 has produced two of the last three NCAA champions.

But Washington?

The Huskies hadn’t made the tournament since 1986 and barely slipped in this time.

They were 18-9 with a late-season victory over UCLA and became an 11th-seeded team. That means they weren’t in the top 40.

Shipped east to Washington, D.C. - maybe they simply liked the name of the town - the Huskies upset Xavier and then beat Richmond, an upset winner over South Carolina in the first round. They’ll join North Carolina, Connecticut and Michigan State at the East Regional semifinals Thursday in Greensboro, N.C.

“I was pretty confident we were going to get in, but from the committee’s comments on TV, it sounds like it was closer than I thought,” said 7-foot center Todd MacCulloch, who had 31 points and 18 rebounds against Richmond. “It turns out, if we hadn’t done as well against Washington State in our last game, we might not have gotten in.

“Who knows? We took advantage of that opportunity. It’s been a great ride to get where we are, and we’re not about to get off.”

Connecticut is up next for UW, and it’s a tall order. Connecticut has the best freshman point guard still playing in Khalid El-Amin, and a terrific scorer in sophomore swingman Richard Hamilton.

And in what could be big trouble for Washington, the other Huskies have a 6-11 center, Jake Voskuhl, to match up with MacCulloch.

MacCulloch hasn’t fared well against other big men, and Washington’s first two opponents, by the way, haven’t had one.

“I think UConn brings a lot of the best qualities of the teams in the Pac-10,” Bender said. “They have the quickness of Arizona and UCLA, the physical size and strength inside of Stanford, as well as the perimeter play.”

“We had to play Arizona twice this year, and not having success, we have seen how good that kind of guard play can be,” Bender said. “It’s the same thing with UConn. One thing the Pac-10 has given us is a very realistic understanding of the quickness in this league.”

Here’s one thing they hope isn’t giving them a realistic understanding: Connecticut 76, Stanford 56, in a February game after the Cardinal traveled cross-country - much as Washington will do for this game.

“The UConn game I remember most was when they were putting it to Stanford,” MacCulloch said.

Fans may favor UW

Washington has a couple of small advantages that would be easy to overlook.

One is that Washington might have the crowd in its corner in the semifinals because the Tar Heels fans will want second-seeded Connecticut to lose.

The other is Bender, well-known in North Carolina because he played on Duke’s 1978 Final Four team and was an assistant to Mike Krzyzewski from 1984 to ‘89, when the Blue Devils went to four Final Fours.

Bender also is the only player to reach the NCAA championship game with two schools. He was on Indiana’s undefeated 1976 national championship team before transferring to Duke, which lost to Kentucky in the 1978 title game.

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