Quincy Pondexter (Kim Grinolds/Dawgman.com)
PORTLAND, Ore. - It was billed as the Jarvis Varnado vs. Jon Brockman show, but Quincy Pondexter took top billing with a season-high 23-point, 7-rebound effort, as he paced the No. 4 seed Washington Huskies to a comfortable 71-58 win over the No. 13 seed Mississippi State Bulldogs in the first round of the NCAA Men's Basketball Championship Thursday at the Rose Garden.
There was no shortage of purple and gold in the Rose Garden, as Washington fans traveled en masse to Portland, in what essentially became a home game for the Huskies. The fans were able to put together a 'Go-Huskies' chant from side to side before the game, and plenty of Dawg Pack chants could be heard from behind the Huskies' bench.
And just like the fans cobbling together a strong presence, the Huskies used their collective strength as a team to lean on Pondexter when their starting guards went 4-20 for the game. The junior from Fresno, Calif. went from being the Huskies' 'X-factor' during the season, to the team's 'wild card' in their win over the Bulldogs.
"He was a concern," MSU Head Coach Rick Stansbury said after the game. "We've played some bigger fours and threes this year, and he played probably half the game as a three and half at four. He was just a huge match-up, very athletic. He's bigger and stronger than he looks. He's kind of their wild card. Everybody talks about (Jon) Brockman and Isaiah (Thomas), he's kind of the wild card on their team."
And everyone was anticipating the shot-altering wizardry of Varnado and the tough-minded physical obstinance of Brockman, but both ran into some foul trouble, allowing Pondexter to come in and pick up the slack. His inside out play helped the Huskies (26-8) outscore MSU (23-13) 38-28 in the paint. Varnado, the all-time SEC single-season shot-blocker, did have five swats but they did little to deter Washington from pressing their sturdy style of play inside. He sat out the last 10 minutes of the first half.
"It was tough, and I got hit with two early fouls," Varnado said. "They did a good job in the first half of doubling me and forced a couple turnovers. It was real frustrating. I wanted to get back in but I knew I couldn't. We just came up short."
"We were just trying to get to the locker room at halftime, trying to survive," added Stansbury.
Brockman picked up his nation-leading 59th double-double with 10 points and 14 rebounds, and was huge in getting Varnado to quickly pick up his third and fourth fouls within a span of forty seconds. With 14:18 left in the second half, the junior from Brownsville, Tenn. had to sit after taking a Brockman shot-fake and fouling the Washington forward underneath the basket.
"We wanted to go right at him, see if we could get him up in the air and get a couple of fouls on him," Brockman said of the Huskies' plan of attack against Varnado. "He's such a game-changer; he does so much to impact a game, so it's a lot easier for us if he's sitting on the bench."
Brockman's 14 boards were the most by Husky player in an NCAA Tournament during the Lorenzo Romar era.
In all, Washington took a 38-27 halftime and immediately built on it, as a Pondexter dunk at the mark got things going in the right direction. A Brockman score inside and another layin by Pondexter forced Mississippi State Head Coach Rick Stansbury to call a timeout with 17:19 left in the game and the Huskies up 17.
"Today was not an aberration," Romar said of Pondexter's play. "Quincy has been playing like this or a month now, he's been playing really good basketball. And today they didn't have great size and strength guarding him and I though he took advantage of the situation."
"My teammates did a great job of finding me in a lot of spaces and helping me create," added Pondexter.
Stansbury didn't wait too long to bring Varnado back in the game, and UW moved to a 17-point advantage by the time Varnado returned, with 10:38 left in the contest. Varnado finished the game with seven points and three rebounds to go with his five blocks. Both the points and rebounds were six below his season averages.
The Bulldogs were led by the 11 points apiece of guards Barry Stewart and Phil Turner. MSU led the SEC in 3-point attempts on the season, and they only made 5 of 18 attempts from deep on the night. The Huskies, on the other hand, only took nine 3-pointers, making two. One came via a Venoy Overton dagger from the top of the key that put the game at an 18-point spread for the Huskies, 55-37, with left.
Overton, the pesky sophomore from Seattle, was in the MSU guards' kitchen all night, causing a lot of ball-handling issues and causing turnovers with every seeming possession.
The visitors, who had a magical run through the SEC Tournament, just didn't have enough in their tank after traveling cross-country, and couldn't move the margin any closer than 12 after a Turner made 3-pointer with left. Overton was the recipient of a great alley-oop feed from Thomas, throwing a dunk down to the delight of the Washington faithful in attendance.
"Before the game there was some talk, saying we're from Washington and we're soft, so we took offense to it and came out strong," Overton said. "After the game it's all respect. It's just competitiveness."
"That is a very, very good 13 seed team," Romar said of the Bulldogs. "I give our guys a lot of credit today for being a team. If we were not a team today that game would have been a lot more difficult."
"It was tough to dig out of a hole against a good team like Washington," countered Stansbury. "Give them a lot of credit. They've got a nice basketball team. I think they had a lot do with us not getting into a rhythm. I think they really got into us. They were the quicker team out there today. It's very obvious they were more physical than we were."
Washington's final point came by way of a Joe Wolfinger foul shot. Wolfinger played his high school basketball at Aloha High School in Portland.
"It's crazy; it's what I have always dreamed of," UW's Turner said afterward. "We played hard and the defense was incredible. This was a team effort, we came to play."
Their win over Mississippi State gives Washington three-straight NCAA Tournament first round triumphs (2005 - Montana, 2006 - Utah State).
Points: Pondexter 23, Brockman 10, Thomas 9, Overton 7, Turner 7, Gant 4, Dentmon 4, Bryan-Amaning 4, Holiday 2, Wolfinger 1
Rebounds: Brockman 14, TEAM 10, Pondexter 7, Gant 4, Dentmon 3, Bryan-Amaning 3, Overton 3, Turner 1, Wolfinger 1
Assists: Thomas 5, Turner 3, Pondexter 1, Brockman 1, Dentmon 1, Overton 1
Steals: Pondexter 2, Thomas 1, Bryan-Amaning 1, Holiday 1