March 20, 2010 in Sports

Huskies cruise into Sweet 16

Associated Press
 

SAN JOSE, Calif. — After a rocky regular season, Quincy Pondexter and his Washington Huskies are rolling at exactly the right time.

Pondexter scored 18 points, Isaiah Thomas added 15 and 11th-seeded Washington extended its incredible late-season surge all the way to the NCAA tournament’s regional semifinals with an 82-64 second-round victory over New Mexico on Saturday.

Matthew Bryan-Amaning had 15 points and nine rebounds for the Huskies (26-9), who have won nine straight, including the Pac-10 tournament and wins over two higher-seeded opponents in the East Regional at the Shark Tank.

Washington ran right past the third-seeded Lobos (30-5), who simply couldn’t keep up with the breakneck offensive pace in their second loss in three games, falling behind by 23 points midway through the second half.

Their season seemed headed nowhere in late January, but the Huskies are the epitome of a talented team peaking at tournament time. Washington began the season in the national rankings, but slumped badly before this stellar finish.

Washington advanced to next week’s regional semifinal in Syracuse, N.Y., against the winner of second-seeded West Virginia’s meeting with Missouri on Sunday. The Huskies are in the round of 16 for the third time since 2005.

Dairese Gary matched his career high with 25 points and Darington Hobson had 11 points and nine rebounds for New Mexico, which had a 15-game winning streak and a No. 8 national ranking before losing the Mountain West tournament final last weekend.

The Lobos have never won two straight games in the NCAA tournament, missing their chance to make the round of 16 for the first time since the field was expanded to 64 teams in 1985.

Washington ousted sixth-seeded Marquette in the first round on Pondexter’s tiebreaking basket with 1.7 seconds left, while New Mexico barely survived a five-point victory over 14th-seeded Montana.

Despite the pregame plan of Lobos coach Steve Alford, who wore a bright red blazer on the sideline, New Mexico inexplicably played the first half at the uptempo pace favored by the athletic Huskies. Washington ran the Lobos off the court, jumping to a 12-point halftime lead in front of a friendly West Coast crowd.

Already up 48-36, Washington scored nine straight points early in the second half, capped by Pondexter’s layup in traffic with less than 14 minutes to play. While Pondexter grinned broadly and Thomas pounded his chest, Gary and Hobson hunched over, breathless.

The game was seen by some fans as a referendum on the relative strengths of the Mountain West, which sent four teams to the NCAAs, and the Pac-10, which sent just two. But it also matched two surging programs: New Mexico had won 16 of its last 17 games, while Washington was 13-2 since late January.

The Huskies had a mid-teens national ranking to start the season, but dropped to 12-7 during a midseason swoon before a nonconference win over Seattle University kick-started them again. Washington kept rolling right through the Pac-10 tournament, capping three wins in three days with a thriller over regular-season champion California.

Hobson led the Lobos in points, rebounds and assists, but the junior hurt his left wrist and back on a first-round tumble to the court. He insisted he could play through the pain, but appeared to be favoring the wrist in pregame warmups — and he went 1 of in the first half, failing to score after a 3-pointer in the opening minutes.

New Mexico senior Roman Martinez was badly cut over his left eye with 12 minutes left in a collision with a teammate. He returned in a different jersey, finishing with 10 points.

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