Isaiah Thomas guards Landry Fields (Dawgman.com)
LOS ANGELES, Calif. - The shots weren't falling, but the Washington Huskies stayed patient. They leaned on their senior, Quincy Pondexter, who came up with 19 points, as well as a stingy defense to lead UW to a 79-64 win over Stanford to match them up Saturday with the No. 1 seed California Golden Bears for the right to claim the Pac-10's automatic berth into the NCAA Tournament.
The Huskies (23-9, 11-7) may have already punched their ticket to the Big Dance by getting to the Championship game and facing Cal; they are currently riding a six-game winning streak, and 11 of their last 13. They did lose at Cal on Feb. 11, 93-81.
"We have to come out and play as hard as we possibly can tomorrow," Pondexter said after the game. "We don't know if we're in the NCAA Tournament or not. We haven't been given an invitation or anything by them. We just have to come out and play as hard as we possibly can and let Selection Sunday take care of itself."
Stanford (14-18, 7-11) tried to get untracked by going to one of their leading scorers, Jeremy Green, right off the bat to start the second half after both teams struggled mightily to score during the opening 20 minutes of play. Green, who normally averages 17 points per game for the Cardinal, had only two going into intermission. He tried a deep 2-pointer, which missed wildly. Pondexter was able to convert a layup on the other end and was fouled by Stanford's Jack Trotter, which he converted.
The Cardinal's leading scorer, Landry Fields, was able to bring Stanford back to single digits at the 18:54 mark with a layup, but an Isaiah Thomas 3-pointer on the Huskies' next possession gave UW a double-digit lead they would never surrender. Fields finished with a game-high 20, while Emmanuel Igbinosa added 11 points for Stanford, the only other player to score in double figures.
Fields may have had 20, but it was hard-earned. Washington kept a ton of pressure on him in the form of Justin Holiday and Darnell Gant, who limited him to 6-15 shooting from the field. "Landry is a good player," added Thomas. "You aren't going to totally shut him down because he's so tall. He can get any shot he wants. Holiday did a good job on him and we wanted to shut down the other players too."
Matthew Bryan-Amaning brought down the house, and nearly the rim too, with a posterization of Stanford's Andrew Zimmerman with seven-and-a-half minutes left in the game to put the Huskies up 20. The junior from London hauled down the floor, took a perfect feed from Venoy Overton and launched a thunderous one-handed slam dunk that drew cheers from everyone inside the Staples Center.
"That one was nasty," UW's Darnell Gant said of Bryan-Amaning's dunk - which ended up No. 5 on ESPN's Top-10 later that night. "I almost hurt myself. When he dunked that, I could have injured myself for the rest of the season. That was the nasty dunk of the year, hands down."
Once the game got out of hand, Gant went dunk-crazy of his own, throwng down three more while his teammates were loving it on the sidelines. While the ending was high-flying for the Huskies, they know it's going to be a barn-burner against the Golden Bears, who won the conference championship outright - the same way UW won it during the 2008-09 season.
"Cal's a great team," Pondexter said. "We split with them this year. They took advantage of us when we were down there and we had our way with them at home. It's going to be a tough battle. It's going to be a lot of fun out there."
"This is who we wanted to play," UW's Venoy Overton said of California. "This is going to show who is the best in the Pac-10. We're one-and-one right now. This is going to settle it all."
Points: Pondexter 19, Thomas 17, Holiday 11, Bryan-Amaning 9, Gant 8, Overton 7, Suggs 7, Breshers 1
Rebounds: Bryan-Amaning 11, Holiday 7, Pondexter 7, Thomas 4, Overton 3, Suggs 3, Turner 3, Gaddy 2, Gant 2
Assists: Overton 4, Pondexter 3, Thomas 2, Turner 2, Holiday 1, Trent 1, Suggs 1
Steals: Gaddy 1, Holiday 1, Thomas 1, Overton 1
Blocks: Bryan-Amaning 2, Holiday 2, Gaddy 1, Gant 1, Turner 1