Beach's Bits

Terrence Ross (Kim Grinolds/Dawgman.com)

SEATTLE - After Washington's topsy-turvy season took another twist Friday night, the invigorated Dawgs flattened the Big Ten's Cinderella story - Northwestern. Now the Huskies turn their attention to a Tuesday night NIT quarterfinal showdown against the hated Oregon Ducks at Alaska Airlines Arena.

The UW hoops community needed a lift after the buzzkill of Selection Sunday temporarily flattened the collective spirit of the program. They got it Friday night, blitzing an out-gunned Northwestern team that had no counter for a Washington team firing on all cylinders.

This was the game we expected all year for Terrence Ross and C.J. Wilcox. Ross' career high 32 points showcased his amazing athletic talents, while Wilcox demonstrated everything he can be as well as how much his play elevates the team when he's asserting himself offensively.

Washington's resurgence shouldn't come as a surprise. After an anti-climactic first round win over Texas-Arlington, the Dawgs summoned their bruised pride and unleashed it against the bewildered Wildcats - a team that had beaten Michigan State back in January and felt they had been snubbed by the NCAA Tournament committee. So in that way they had something in common with the Huskies.

It's been a love-hate relationship between Washington and their fans this year, and the Northwestern game highlighted the love; it had all the things that made Washington so entertaining to watch when they're clicking.

Despite their extraordinary one-on-one abilities, the Huskies were at their best Friday night when the extra pass was made. Abdul Gaddy and Tony Wroten combined for 14 assists between them, with Wilcox and Ross the primary beneficiaries. They played as unselfishly as they have all season and the spot shooters knocked down shot after open shot.

Gaddy aggressively attacked the paint, drawing defenders and finding wide open teammates camped around the arc. And when they didn't drive, they waited for the Wildcat defenders to overplay the perimeter, leaving the backdoor wide open for alley-oop dunks. Unlike their prior two games the Huskies' offense was in sync. Fans have grown accustomed to their high flying, acrobatic ways, and they didn't disappoint.

Before fans get too carried away with the win, the Northwestern game wasn't the Dawgs best work this season. Washington was a match-up nightmare for the much smaller Wildcats who were completely overwhelmed. As soon as they started turning the ball over, their defense went away. And when their defense went away, Washington found open looks.

Still, the Huskies turned the ball over 17 times and relied on their advantage above the rim to do much of the work. While Wroten and Gaddy chalked up assists, they also coughed it up five times apiece. It was a win of emotion and momentum, not a win of execution and the Huskies will need much more of the latter to earn a quarter-final victory over conference rival Oregon before they can move on to the NIT semifinals at Madison Square Garden.

But what was obvious Friday night was that the Huskies were robbed on Selection Sunday. Viewing the first two rounds of the NCAA tournament has made it abundantly clear that Washington deserved to be playing on that stage. The selection committee denied college basketball fans the opportunity to enjoy one of the most purely talented players in the country in Terrence Ross; they missed out on the unique physical talents of Wroten - the Pac-12 Freshman of the Year; the amazing shooting touch of C.J. Wilcox; the high flying, highlight reel dunks they are known for, as well as the obvious joy that this young Husky team exudes when playing with each other.

Washington now faces an Oregon team that flat out embarrassed them a little more than a month ago. Husky fans, players and coaches all have done their best to block out that particularly painful performance. In fact, don't be surprised if Lorenzo Romar tells the media that he won't even watch that game in preparation because it was such an aberration from the norm.

Like Washington the Ducks are scrappy. They're athletic and they've got a lineup full of veterans, many of whom would love to end their college careers in the bright lights of New York City. The Huskies have the chance to purge the memory of one of the worst losses in program history with a win. Husky fans can earn a little retribution too, after a half full Hec Ed the last two games failed to deliver the home-court advantage the Husky basketball team is accustomed to. It was much better Friday, but Tuesday should be electric - if it truly means as much to Husky Nation as it should.

Washington has something to fight for, and now it's getting fun. Romar said it would get better the closer they got to the championship game, and he was right. The NCAA Selection Committee made history by not inviting UW to the tournament, and now these Hoop Dawgs are fighting to prove they made the biggest mistake in selection history.

The Huskies still have a chance to end the season on a high note with an NIT Championship. Washington is playing for more than just pride, and they've got unfinished business in New York. The Garden wasn't kind to them the last time around, and they've got payback on their minds. But they've got to silence the Ducks first.

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