Isaiah Thomas guards Landry Fields (Dawgman.com)
LOS ANGELES - Led by the 18 points of Quincy Pondexter and the 16 points of Isaiah Thomas, the Washington Huskies earned their first automatic bid into the NCAA Tournament in five years by beating California 79-75 Saturday in the finals of the Pac-10 Championship at the Staples Center.
The Huskies and Golden Bears were considered the two top teams going into the season, and Saturday's game certainly evolved as a heavyweight battle. Each team took turns throwing hoops haymakers, while the other team had to withstand runs in order to make their own. Neither team was able to get a double-digit lead on the other, but in the end the Huskies made one more play to seal the win, and the automatic berth that came with it.
Down nine, Cal made their run at the mark, led by Jamal Boykin, who finished the game with 20 points. He scored seven points during a 14-0 run to give Cal their biggest lead of the game at 66-61 with 6:44 left. And while Pondexter and Thomas had been the scoring foundation all season long for the Huskies, it was two other guards - Elston Turner and Venoy Overton - that took UW home, scoring 10 of the Huskies' final 18 points. Each hit a key 3-pointer, and Pondexter willed a contested jumper in to give UW a 77-71 lead.
But the regular-season champs weren't going down without taking a couple heroic swings. The Pac-10 Player of the Year, Jerome Randle, threw in a deep three with 50.3 seconds left, and he had a chance to draw even closer with 10.7 seconds left. At the foul line, he made the first, to shorten UW's advantage to two, but then left the lane too early to try and grab a rebound, and the ensuing lane violation gave Washington the ball.
Overton was fouled with 2.1 seconds left and cooly put in both free throws to spell the final margin of victory. He was the only other UW player to score in double-digits, with 10. The Golden Bears were led by the 25 points of Theo Robertson. Randle added 12 and Patrick Christopher 11.
Pondexter and Thomas were both named to the All-Tournament team, and Thomas the Tournament's MVP for his consistent play in leading the Huskies to their second-ever tournament title. The first was in 2005, when UW beat Arizona 81-72 to take the crown. That team ended up earning a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, eventually losing to Louisville in the round of 16.
Points: Pondexter 18, Thomas 16, Overton 10, Bryan-Amaning 9, Holiday 8, Breshers 6, Turner 5, Gaddy 4, Suggs 3,
Rebounds: Holiday 7, Bryan-Amaning 5, Overton 5, Pondexter 3, Thomas 2, Breshers 2, Gant 2, TEAM 2, Gaddy 1, Suggs 1, Turner 1
Assists: Thomas 2, Gaddy 2, Overton 2, Pondexter 1, Turner 1
Steals: Thomas 2, Bryan-Amaning 1, Pondexter 1, Holiday 1
Blocks: Breshers 4, Pondexter 1, Overton 1