SEATTLE – When Washington’s name popped up as a No. 4 seed in the West Region, the Husky players and the hundreds of fans on hand let out a roar.
What had been all but a sure thing for about a month became official on Selection Sunday: the Huskies are in the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2006. The location – Portland, Ore. – and seeding were about what was expected for Washington on Selection Sunday. The festive mood at Husky Stadium’s Don James Center became a bit more subdued a few seconds later, however, when Washington’s first-round opponent was announced.
Rather than facing an obscure opponent from a mid-major conference, as is frequently the case for a No. 4 seed playing a 13, the Huskies will instead play Mississippi State, the team that Sunday upset Tennessee to win the Southeastern Conference tournament. The other 13 seeds in the tournament were Cleveland State, Portland State and Akron.
“I was surprised that Mississippi State was a 13 seed, no doubt,” Washington coach Lorenzo Romar said.
Should the Huskies win Thursday, they would play either fifth-seeded Purdue or 12th-seeded Northern Iowa on Saturday. The No. 1 seed in the West Region is Connecticut, meaning the Huskies could face the Huskies in the Sweet 16 for the third time since 1998. That year, UConn beat Washington by a point on a buzzer beater by Richard Hamilton. In 2006, the Brandon Roy-led Huskies again fell to UConn in the Sweet 16, this time in overtime.
This was a drastically different Selection Sunday for the Huskies than the past two. Two years ago, the Huskies figured they were an NIT team but were shut out of the postseason. Last season, Washington knew it had no NCAA tournament hopes, but had to wait late into Sunday evening to get an invitation to the newly formed College Basketball Invitational.
“I didn’t even watch it,” senior forward Jon Brockman said of this day last year. “I couldn’t sit through it and see all the teams being called off. When you’re a part of it and you’re name is being called off, it’s definitely enjoyable and fun to watch.”
But even though the Huskies knew they were NCAA tournament-bound, seeing their school’s name flash on the screen was still a big moment for the regular season Pac-10 champions.
“It was magical,” junior forward Quincy Pondexter said. “It was something that I’ve always watched every Sunday. Even the last two years when we weren’t in, I’ve always watched Selection Sunday. It’s just a great feeling.”