March 1, 2012 in Sports

Washington keeps sights set on Pac-12 title

Tim Booth Associated Press
Associated Press photo

Tony Wroten and the Washington Huskies have the Pacific-12 Conference regular-season title within reach.
(Full-size photo)

SEATTLE – Four seasons ago, it all played out so perfectly when Washington claimed its first outright regular-season conference title in more than 50 years.

The Huskies were home, against rival Washington State no less, and honoring one of their greatest players when Jon Brockman was feted on senior day. The 67-60 win that afternoon, the ensuing storming of the court and the nets being cut down in a sea of purple still rate as Lorenzo Romar’s top moment since becoming the Huskies coach in 2002.

“In terms of sitting back looking at what had been accomplished, I think that would have to be number one,” Romar said.

The Huskies could be celebrating again this weekend. A sweep in Los Angeles of USC and UCLA would give the Huskies (20-8, 13-3 Pac-12) the Pac-12 Conference regular-season title outright. They only need a split to claim a share of the conference crown with California after the Golden Bears stumbled last Sunday at Colorado and fell out of a tie with the Huskies.

And while it may come in a year when the computers give the Pac-12 a failing grade for quality in comparison with its recent past and the rest of the country, it’ll still be a cherished and watershed moment for the Huskies should they knock off the Trojans and Bruins.

Washington has already reached 20 wins for four straight years for the first time in school history. Now the Huskies have a chance at four straight years with either a regular-season or conference tournament title.

“You always want to live in the moment and this is our moment now,” Washington’s lone senior starter, Darnell Gant, said. “I feel like if we go down and handle our business against SC it’s going to be a great feeling. It’ll feel great in the locker room, but we want to be greedy. We want to take it all for ourselves. We don’t want any slip-ups this week.”

What differentiates the accomplishments of 2009 from the roll these Huskies are riding is the youth Washington is relying on to potentially claim its second outright title since 1953. While Brockman was joined by senior guard Justin Dentmon, junior forward Quincy Pondexter and complemented by freshman Isaiah Thomas in 2009, Romar’s club this year has leaned heavily on sophomore Terrence Ross and freshman Tony Wroten.

Ross and Wroten are both conference player of the year candidates entering the final week, with Wroten leading the way at 16.7 points and Ross averaging 15.1.

Romar’s name is getting tossed about as the conference coach of the year because of his success in getting the Huskies’ young players to grow up quickly and rebound from a miserable nonconference slate during which the Huskies were 7-5 with no impressive victories.

Before the Los Angeles trip begins, Romar believes the Huskies’ résumé is strong enough to warrant an NCAA tournament bid.

There is history on the Huskies’ side. The last time a regular-season champion – or co-champ – of the conference failed to make the NCAA tournament was 1958, when Oregon State shared the title of the Pacific Coast Conference with Cal after each finished the conference season with 12-4 marks. The Golden Bears received the NCAA bid thanks to a one-game playoff victory over the Beavers.

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