PORTLAND – White jerseys and shorts were scattered around the floor of Washington’s locker room in the Rose Garden, awaiting their final washing of the season.
Several players sat, eyes red, heads hung low, while others remained in the shower, seemingly hoping to wash away the sting of a season-ending loss.
In the same city where the Huskies started their season with a surprising loss, they finished it with a 76-74 loss to Purdue in the second round of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament Saturday.
In between those two losses, Washington surpassed everyone’s expectations by winning a Pac-10 title and earning a No. 4 seed in the NCAA tournament, but on this day, the Huskies didn’t have enough to overcome a slow start and a stingy Boilermakers defense.
“We played hard, we played really hard, but they came out with just a little more fire,” said junior forward Quincy Pondexter, who finished with 20 points and 10 rebounds, giving him 43 points and 17 rebounds in two tournament games. “That was the edge that they had. It wasn’t that we didn’t play hard. They just played a little tiny bit harder.”
Purdue jumped ahead of the Huskies early and led by as many as 14 in the first half. Despite an 11-point halftime deficit, the second largest of the season for Washington, the Huskies made a game of it.
With 9:33 left in the game, Elston Turner hit a 3-pointer to cap a 7-0 Washington run that that cut the deficit to four. It was the closest the game had been since Purdue led 22-18 with 71/2 minutes left in the first half.
Purdue’s lead never grew larger than eight points from there, and UW cut the lead down to two points with a Jon Brockman putback with 3:08 remaining.
Brockman, who ended his Washington career with 20 points and 18 rebounds for his 60th career double-double, scored seven straight points in the final minutes to keep the Huskies close, but Washington could never tie the score.
Sophomore center JaJuan Johnson, who led the Boilermakers with 22 points, helped preserve the lead by blocking consecutive shots by Isaiah Thomas and Pondexter with 1 minute remaining.
Thomas, who led the Huskies with 24 points, had another chance to tie the score with 18.8 seconds left, but he missed a layup while driving into three Purdue defenders.
“Those two drives it was open,” Thomas said. “They’re shots I usually make. I thought I got fouled, but they didn’t call it. And the second one, it was too hard. They’re shots that usually go down and usually are successful.”
Sophomore guard E’Twaun Moore made 3 of 4 free throws from there to seal the win. Pondexter’s putback of a Justin Dentmon miss at the buzzer could only make the losing margin look a little better.
“We just couldn’t get over that hump,” said Brockman, who finished his career as Washington’s all-time leading rebounder and second-leading scorer. “I was fully confident, I really believed in our guys and thought we were going to get back into it, thought we were going to take the lead. We were in control of the game, but they made some big plays and some big free throws. They played a great ballgame.”
While the Boilermakers clinched a win in the final seconds, they did a lot to earn a Sweet 16 berth with their first-half play.
Purdue frustrated the Huskies with stingy defense – Washington shot just 35.5 percent while being held to 28 points – and perhaps more important, the Boilermakers beat the Huskies at their game by outrebounding Washington 20-15, leading to 11 second-chance points in the half to just four for Washington.
“We allowed them too many second-chance points,” Washington coach Lorenzo Romar said of the first half. “We made a few defensive errors. And what happens to us once in a while happened to us again tonight: We were content with just moving the ball one or two times and then trying to manufacture a shot. In the second half, we moved the ball more, our defense picked up. That’s how we were able to come back.”
Despite the disappointment in Washington’s locker room, Romar will still look back on the 2008-2009 season and think of it as a success.
“Absolutely,” Romar said. “We gave it everything we had and that made it successful as far as I’m concerned.”
Purdue 76, UW 74
Percentages: FG .391, FT .826. 3-Point Goals: 7-17, .412 (Hummel 1-3, Jackson 0-1, Kramer 1-2, Moore 1-3, Grant 3-5, Calasan 1-2, Green 0-1). Team Rebounds: 6. Blocked Shots: 7 (Hummel, Johnson 4, Moore, Grant). Turnovers: 11 (Hummel, Jackson 2, Johnson, Kramer 3, Moore, Grant 2, Calasan). Steals: 5 (Hummel 2, Kramer 2, Grant). Technical Fouls: None.
Percentages: FG .418, FT .737. 3-Point Goals: 4-12, .333 (Thomas 2-6, Dentmon 1-4, Overton 0-1, Turner 1-1). Team Rebounds: 6. Blocked Shots: 3 (Pondexter 2, Brockman). Turnovers: 9 (Pondexter 2, Brockman, Thomas 2, Bryan-Amaning 2, Overton, Holiday). Steals: 4 (Brockman, Thomas, Dentmon 2). Technical Fouls: None.
Halftime–Purdue 39, Washington 28.