Isaiah Thomas (Kim Grinolds/Dawgman.com)
SAN JOSE - It's hard to figure out how Buzz Williams can take so many close games. Marquette, who lived and died at the buzzer all year long, saw their post-season hopes dashed by a Quincy Pondexter layup with 1.7 seconds left, giving Washington an 80-78 win over the Golden Eagles in the first round of the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament.
"Congratulations to Coach (Lorenzo) Romar and his staff, the University of Washington and all their players," Marquette Head Coach Buzz Williams said after the game. "I thought they were outstanding. We had our hands full before the game even started, and I thought they were absolutely spectacular from start to finish."
With the win, the No. 11 seed Huskies advance to the second round of the tournament, where they will face either the New Mexico Lobos (29-4) or the Montana Grizzlies (22-9) Saturday night. UW wasn't the only 11-seed to win, as Old Dominion defeated Notre Dame 51-50 in the South region in New Orleans. It was a rough day for the Big East conference, as Marquette, ND and Georgetown all lost, and Villanova was taken to the wire by Robert Morris before losing in overtime.
It's the eighth-straight win for Washington (25-9), as well as their seventh-straight away from home. UW also played in the 2009 NCAA Tournament, defeating Mississippi State 71-58 in Portland, Ore. before losing 76-74 to Purdue.
With Arizona State losing to Jacksonville at home in the first round of the NIT and Oregon State getting blown out of their own gym by Boston University in the CBI, it was up to Washington and California to show the country that Pac-10 basketball wasn't as dormant as the regular season suggested.
The HP Pavilion of San Jose turned into Bank of America - the Bay Area version, as the Washington did yeoman's work to overturn a 17-3 second-half start by Marquette (22-12). It's become something of a hero's trial for these heart attack Huskies, as they eventually overcame a 14-0 run against the Golden Bears to beat them in the championship game of the Pac-10 Tournament less than a week ago.
With the game at 60-45 with 13:58 left, UW used their main scorers on the night - Pondexter, Isaiah Thomas and Elston Turner - to even the score at 74 with 4:15 to go in regulation.
"Our defensive intensity kicked up a little in that stretch," Pondexter said after the game. "Things weren't going our way, we weren't playing great basketball and we just found a way to win."
"We weren't very strong with the basketball," added Marquette's Lazar Hayward. "We weren't making smart plays. We let their pressure force us into things we shouldn't have done. This time of year, there are always going to be runs like that. You have to withstand them. Their pressure rattled us and they were able to execute some easy plays."
From that point on, Pondexter scored four of the Huskies final six points, including a clear-out layup with less than two seconds remaining after he had rebounded a missed 3-pointer by Thomas. After a series of timeouts, the Golden Eagles were able to get the ball into their star, Lazar Hayward, whose mid-court jumper hit iron as time expired.
"Couldn't be prouder," Romar said afterward. "Marquette is battle-tested in these situations. We continued to talk to our team about how good they were down the stretch because they were so tough and their ability to shoot the three always allows them to have a chance to win the game, and it's hard to put them away.
"So to finish that way and beat a team that has done so well in those type of games, I think it speaks volumes about our team, but also where our team is now as opposed to six, seven weeks ago."
Thomas and Pondexter ham-and-egged their scoring for the game, with the 5-foot-8 sophomore guard getting 17 of his 19 points in the first half, while Pondexter had 14 of his 18 points during the final 20 minutes of the game. Turner, who was 4-5 from 3-point range, added 14 points. The four 3-pointers tied a career-high.
"I played horrible in the first half, and my teammates stepped up and played great basketball," Pondexter said. "Isaiah knocked down shots in the second half. Elston played phenomenal in that second half. As a senior you don't want that to be your last game. You don't want to end on a sour note and I had to step up for our team to win."
Marquette was led by Hayward, who had 20 points. Darius Johnson-Odom chipped in 19, David Cubillan 14 and Maurice Acker 13 for the Golden Eagles.
In all respects, it was a very well-played, efficient game for both teams. The Huskies shot nearly 55 percent from the field, 10 points higher than their season average. Their 9-14 shooting from behind the arc (.643) was their best percentage of the year.
The Golden Eagles shot 53 percent from the field, eight points above their season average, and their 63 percent shooting from 3-point distance was also their best of the year. Each team had positive turnover-to-assist ratios (Washington 21/12, Marquette 16-13), but the Huskies outscored MU 15-0 on the fast break and 24-4 off the bench.
Points: Thomas 19, Pondexter 18, Turner 14, Bryan-Amaning 11, Holiday 8, Overton 8, Gant 2
Rebounds: Pondexter 11, Bryan-Amaning 3, Thomas 3, Gaddy 3, Turner 3, TEAM 2, Holiday 1, Overton 1, Gant 1
Assists: Thomas 8, Overton 5, Gaddy 2, Pondexter 2, Holiday 1, Suggs 1, Turner 1, Gant 1
Steals: Pondexter 2, Bryan-Amaning 1, Thomas 1
Blocks: Bryan-Amaning 3, Pondexter 2, Holiday 1