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Brockman goes out battling

SUNDAY, MARCH 22, 2009

Center leaves as UW’s No. 1 rebounder

PORTLAND – Jon Brockman had a scratch under his left eye. His nose looked like the bottom of a hockey stick, bent to the right at the bottom. He thinks he broke that – again – last week in the Pac-10 tournament but hasn’t bothered to get it X-rayed.

His wrist was sore from falling so hard in Washington’s first-round win that he bounced off the floor and back prone onto it.

Yet none of those aches hurt more than his heart.

Despite his Huskies’ frantic comeback from being down 14 points, their season had just ended on Saturday in a 76-74 loss to Purdue in the second round of the NCAA tournament.

“I’m sure it will keep hitting me when I realize more and more things that I won’t ever do again,” said Washington’s rugged senior captain, all-time leading rebounder and second-leading scorer, his eyes red from tears.

“The saddest thing about the whole entire … ” the toughest Husky said, pausing as his voice broke, “… when you look at everything, it’s the last time this group will play together. And that’s probably what hurts more than anything.”

These Huskies were picked to finish fifth in the Pac-10, likely out of the NCAA tournament for the third consecutive year. Instead, Brockman, senior Justin Dentmon, wondrous freshman Isaiah Thomas and emerging junior Quincy Pondexter led Washington to its first outright conference title in 56 years – and then one, excruciating basket from their second regional semifinals in four seasons.

With Dentmon hesitant to shoot while 1 for 6 Saturday, first Thomas, then Brockman, willed the Huskies back from being down by 14 early in the second half. The 5-foot-8 Thomas darted and drove for 24 points – three off his career high – and Brockman scored seven consecutive points to get Washington within 73-71.

Sixteen of Brockman’s 20 points came in the second half.

The 6-7 Brockman also tied his career high with 18 rebounds. It was the seventh time he’s done that, but the first time against a 6-10 human pogo stick like Purdue’s JaJuan Johnson.

Thomas’ shot to tie was blocked by Johnson and so was Pondexter’s, on the same possession with 57.8 seconds left. Thomas then missed a layup in traffic with 18.8 seconds to go, dooming Washington’s last chance to tie.

The Huskies now go on without Brockman.

Pondexter will take his place as the senior leader. Thomas, a high school phenom from Tacoma, may have been thinking of turning pro before or during the season in which he became Pac-10 freshman of the year and was miffed he didn’t make first-team all-league.

But Saturday night he sounded as if he’ll be back to join pesky Venoy Overton and heralded recruit Abdul Gaddy in the backcourt next season.

“We’ve worked so hard and the experience was the experience of a lifetime,” Thomas said. “But this isn’t the last time I’ll be here.”

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