Washington falls to West Virginia in Sweet 16
SYRACUSE, N.Y. — The Sweet 16?
More like bittersweet.
For the fourth time in 12 years, the Huskies ran into a roadblock in the third round of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament once again.
This time, No. 2 West Virginia used its superior size inside to wear wore down No. 11 Washington and hand the Huskies a 69-56 defeat in the East Region semifinal at the Carrier Dome in Syracuse, N.Y.
Unlike their last trip into the Sweet 16, a 99-92 overtime loss to Connecticut, the Huskies can’t blame misfortune.
The Huskies, which had a nine-game winning streak and were winners of 14 of the past 16, ran into the kind of opponent that has given them fits this season. All year Washington has struggled against teams with tall, athletic forwards who play tough physical defense.
For a half, the Huskies were able to withstand the defensive assault from the Mountaineers, who were missing starting point guard Darryl “Truck” Bryant.
Washington led 37-36 with 15:54 remaining before the Mountaineers went on an 11-1 run to seize momentum and take a 47-38 lead at 12:12.
The Huskies continued to struggle offensively and things turned bleak when Justin Holiday picked up a foul that sent coach Lorenzo Romar into a frenzy.
He ripped off his jacket and was called for a technical foul. West Virginia connected on the four ensuing free throws to extend its lead to 56-43 with 8:11 left.
The Huskies never recovered.
The Mountaineers, which won their ninth straight game, will face either No. 1 Kentucky or No. 12 Cornell on Saturday in the regional final.
Washington’s season ends at 26-19.
It was an anti-climatic finish to Quincy Pondexter’s storybook career at Washington.
The All-Pac-10 senior forward who carried the Huskies into the NCAA tournament was hampered by foul problems in the first half. He finished with seven points, nearly 13 below his season average, on 3-for-9 shooting from the field.
Isaiah Thomas finished with 13 points, four assists and four turnovers before fouling out with 2:41 left.
Without Pondexter, Justin Holiday shouldered the scoring load early, tallying 10 of his team-high 14 points in the first half when Washington built a 29-27 first half lead.
Despite Pondexter, their leading scorer, being held scoreless, Washington controlled the first half because its defense forced 13 turnovers.
The Huskies overcame a dramatic size disadvantage using grit and determination.
At times, the 5-foot-8 Thomas surrendered nearly foot against 6-7 reserve forward John Flowers. Washington shot 42.9 percent from the field before the break, and just 39.3 for the game.
In the second half, West Virginia star forward Da’Sean Butler scored five unanswered points, and the momentum began to slip away from the Huskies.
Butler scored 10 of his 14 points in the second half. and Kevin Jones added all 13 of his game-high 13 in the second half while the Mountaineers pummeled Washington inside.
West Virginia out-rebounded Washington 49-29 and scored 17 second-chance points, while the Huskies had none.