Huskies face upstart Cardinal in semis

Quincy Pondexter (Kim Grinolds/Dawgman.com)

Having taken a huge step toward clinching an NCAA Tournament bid that a few weeks ago seemed almost unattainable, the Huskies can all but sew it up Friday night against Stanford. The Huskies beat Oregon State 59-52 Thursday night to advance to the semifinals of the Pac-10 tournament. Once there, they expected to face Arizona State.

Instead, the Sun Devils were defeated by Stanford, so the Huskies will instead face a Cardinal team it defeated easily by double-digit margins in its two previous meetings this year.

Many had pegged a UW-Arizona State semi as a possible NCAA Tournament eliminator. Now, with ASU's at-large hopes all but gone with its loss, the Huskies can just about sew up a bid if they can beat Stanford, especially if Cal beats UCLA in the first game of the night. Many see the Pac-10 as a two-bid league, and a UCLA win over Cal could still open the chance that the Bruins could win the tourney and steal a spot. But a UW-Cal final would seem to mean those would be the two Pac-10 teams into the tournament.

UW beat Stanford twice this year, 94-61 in Seattle and 78-61 in Palo Alto.
WASHINGTON 59, OREGON STATE 52: The Huskies rallied from a nine-point halftime deficit to beat the Beavers in the quarterfinals of the Pac-10 tournament.

UW used a 20-2 run early in the second half to take control after the Beavers had led by 12 in the opening minutes of the second half.

The turnaround seemed to come when OSU's Seth Tarver missed a wide-open dunk with the Beavers ahead 35-23. UW then went on its run to take a 43-37 lead and never trailed again.

Isaiah Thomas led UW with 15 points. He hit 4 of 12 three-pointers.

The Huskies outscored OSU 37-21 in the second half.

NOTES, QUOTES:
--Ranked No. 250 in three-point shooting for the season, UW has hit 21 in the last three games.
--Washington, which began the season 0-7 in road games, won its past four away from home in the regular season.
--The Huskies coughed up 19 turnovers in their win at Oregon, then had just seven against Oregon State.

ON THE SPOT: The Huskies may or may not need to win the Pac-10 tournament to secure an NCAA berth. If anything, their depth perhaps makes them the favorites in an event where fatigue can become a factor by the third straight night on the floor.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "It took them awhile to realize that you can't just win on energy when you're on the road. You have to execute better on the road and you have to have a certain amount of maturity." -- Former UW star Brandon Roy, on the Huskies' improved ability to perform on the road.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL:
SEASON RECAP: The Huskies were breezing along at 10-1 through the end of the nonconference schedule -- the Pac-10's only nationally ranked team -- and then they staggered a bit in a six-point win over Oregon State to start conference play. That foreshadowed bigger problems against Oregon, which sliced through their press and pulled off a 90-79 upset. UW remained winless on the road until finally beating Stanford and now has a four-game conference road winning streak and excellent momentum going into the Pac-10 tournament.

PLAYER ROTATION: Usual Starters -- F Quincy Pondexter, C Matthew Bryan-Amaning, F Justin Holiday, G Abdul Gaddy, G Isaiah Thomas. Key Subs -- F Tyreese Breshers, G Venoy Overton, F Darnell Gant, G Scott Suggs.
GAME REVIEW:
   Washington 59, Washington State 52
   Washington 86, Oregon 72
   Washington 82, Oregon State 70
   Washington 59, Oregon State 52 (Pac-10 quarterfinals)
GAME PREVIEW:
   Vs. Stanford, Friday, March 12 (Pac-10 semifinals)
POSTSEASON OUTLOOK: A 3-5 Pac-10 start had many consigning the Huskies to the NIT -- or worse. But the Huskies rallied to finish 11-7, third behind Cal and Arizona State, and now at 22-9 after the win over Oregon State, they seem primed to make their fifth NCAA tourney appearance in the last seven years.

A win over Stanford in the Pac-10 semifinals Friday night might be enough to do it. But unlike a year ago when the Huskies received a favorable slot in Portland as the Pac-10 regular season champion, they would likely be sent far away from home -- meaning, not to their closest possible locale in Spokane, where many UW fans had their hearts set on in the preseason when the Huskies were regarded as a Top 25 team. But considering where this team was earlier this season, that will hardly matter if the Huskies can get to the tournament.

ROSTER REPORT:
--After scoring just five points in a loss to USC on Feb. 18, Isaiah Thomas is averaging more than 17.3 points a game, scoring 15 or more four times.
--Center Matthew Bryan-Amaning scored 10 points and has scored in double figures in seven of the last eight games after hitting that mark only four times in the first 24 games of the season.

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