SEATTLE – Well, at least the students had the good sense not to storm the floor.
A huge weight came off the University of Washington basketball program on Sunday night, but it wasn’t so much lifted as it was crawled out from under.
Oh, the Huskies did themselves proud in their 99-95 triumph over Gonzaga in front of a manic sellout at Bank of America Arena – their first victory in the series in the last eight tries, and point of considerable annoyance here on Montlake, along the lines of the wrong wine being served with the tailgate brie.
But deep down, the Dawgs will know – or should know – that they didn’t so much snap the chains, but merely survive.
When Sean Mallon couldn’t convert the putback of Adam Morrison’s missed 3-pointer with six seconds to play and the Bulldogs trailing by two, the Huskies didn’t need to summon a game-winning play from their repertoire, though there’s every chance they could have. They made a lot of big buckets.
But they made a goodly number of them against a jigsaw puzzle lineup that Gonzaga coach Mark Few pieced together when his big men couldn’t play without picking up fouls and his point guard couldn’t play period after getting slammed to the court.
That’s basketball. You don’t get a hardship draft in mid-game.
Yet the Huskies, with every chance to make this game not only a streak-breaker but a statement rout, watched the 11-point lead they’d built six minutes into the second half get gobbled up by a Gonzaga lineup that included:
“Morrison, no less phenomenal on this night than he was on Maui 10 days ago;
“David Pendergraft, the undersized giant;
“Callow freshmen guards Jeremy Pargo and Larry Gurganious, who cut up UW’s defense in ways that must have made old Dawgs like Nate Robinson cringe;
“And Mamery Diallo, who dunked once and fouled five times in six minutes, in case the folks on hand and those watching at home couldn’t see that the Zags were playing four-against-five.
This was the group, mostly, that willed the Zags into an impossible four-point lead midway through the second half. It was another heretofore modest contributor, sophomore guard Pierre Marie Altidor-Cespedes, whose jumper in the key had the Zags up a point with 98 seconds remaining.
It was too good to last, of course, or too improbable – and the Huskies were granted their huge sigh of relief by a big-play freshman of their own, guard Justin Dentmon, the last of whose 17 points was a stunning baseline drive for a three-point play and a four-point Husky lead.
That allowed the Dawg Pound – the students packed along the north bleachers who try their damnedest to be Kennel Club West, and are getting there – to stay after school and serenade their heroes as they emerged from the locker room.
“Bob-by, Bob-by, Bob-by!” they chanted at Bobby Jones, one of the happy seniors delivered from the frustration of never beating the Zags.
Well, OK. Bobby was one of the guys who held Morrison to a mere 43 points, only this time in regulation instead of three overtimes. But Jones – and all the Huskies – deserved their due after all these years.
It was never particularly complicated, this hammer the Bulldogs held over the nail-chewing crusade that’s been Washington basketball these last few seasons.
No mojo, no voodoo, no whammy. No genius, no geometry.
The second-banana status the Huskies have been hearing about for year upon year upon seven years in this series had many elements, but mostly it was built upon the strong backs and broad shoulders of Gonzaga’s remarkable run of “fours and fives.”
The inside players. The power plant.
What happened Sunday night had the makings of a power outage, then morphed into something else altogether.
First, the Huskies went for the throat inside – with Jamaal Williams and Jon Brockman scoring nine of UW’s first 11 points, as if to make the statement that the Huskies wouldn’t be pushed around anymore.
The Zags, already short staffed due to the injuries that have kept center Josh Heytvelt and swingman Erroll Knight out of action, suddenly got very small when both Mallon and center J.P. Batista had to play on eggshells – when they were playing at all – due to foul trouble.
They suffered a different kind of blow midway through the first half when Derek Raivio crashed to the floor on a drive down the key. He left moments later with what was called a back bruise, x-rays revealing nothing else.
At this rate, the only thing separating the Zags from season implosion is the NCAA declaring Morrison ineligible for his attempted mustache.
And yet by game’s end, the Zags once again outrebounded the Huskies (39-33), and outshot them (52 percent to 48 percent), with seven more field goals. If anything, the game wound up being lost on the perimeter – the Bulldogs without their only proven 3-point threat in Raivio, and the Huskies having shored up that department considerably with the arrival of transfer Ryan Appleby from Florida.
But give the Zags this – they once again proved to be as incredible in defeat as they were in that three overtime epic victory 10 days ago.
And as the attrition list mounts, it appears they’re going to have to be incredible all season long.