By Scott M. Johnson Herald Writer
SEATTLE — The University of Washington men’s basketball team went into this week still smarting from a February blowout loss to rival Oregon that may well have knocked the Huskies out of the NCAA tournament.
On Tuesday night, UW returned the favor in a different kind of tournament.
The Ducks brought a red-hot offense, the mascot, the school band and the Oregon cheer squad up from Eugene but spent a good part of the evening watching a Portland native shoot them back south.
UW’s Terrence Ross put on another show — quite possibly his final one at Hec Edmundson Pavilion — to lead the Huskies to a 90-86 win, sending Washington to New York City for next week’s semifinals of the National Invitational Tournament while ending the Ducks’ season in the process.
“We had a bad taste in our mouth from the last time, so we wanted to come and redeem ourselves,” said UW guard Abdul Gaddy, who had 11 points and 10 assists for his first career double-double Tuesday. He scored just two points in the 82-57 loss at Oregon on Feb. 9,
Ross, who scored a career-high 32 points in Friday night’s win over Northwestern, was almost as dazzling on his way to 24 more in the first 311⁄2 minutes of Tuesday’s game. He cooled off down the stretch but got bailed out by teammates — no more so than when he lost control of the ball in the backcourt with 50 seconds to play, only to watch UW freshman Tony Wroten Jr. pick it up and score on an uncontested dunk.
The Ducks rallied from a 10-point, second-half deficit to get within two points, at 84-82, in the final minute before UW nailed down the win at the free-throw line.
The Huskies’ C.J. Wilcox shook off a cold-shooting first half to score 14 points in the deciding second half, including six consecutive free throws in the final 30 seconds. Wroten scored 10 of his 22 points at the free-throw line.
The Huskies ran away from a 57-57 tie 61⁄2 minutes into the second half, with Wilcox and Ross leading the way. A Wilcox 3-pointer with 7:16 remaining capped a 9-0 run and gave UW a 75-65 lead. An Oregon offense that couldn’t miss for most of the first 30 minutes went stone cold down the stretch, going 8-for-28 from the field over the final 91⁄2 minutes.
The victory sent the Huskies (24-10) into their first NIT semifinal while extending the roller-coaster 2011-12 season for at least one more week. UW faces the winner of tonight’s game between Minnesota and Middle Tennessee State at New York City’s Madison Square Garden at 6 p.m. next Tuesday night.
“It’s a chance to win a national championship in the NIT,” coach Lorenzo Romar said. “… When these guys look back 10, 15 years from now, this is something they can really appreciate.”
Drawing inspiration from last month’s blowout loss to the Ducks in Eugene, the Huskies came out of the gates fast on Tuesday night.
Terrence Ross and Darnell Gant led UW to a quick 14-9 lead six minutes into the game, and the Johnny-come-lately fan base of more than 9,000 fans grew as loud as it has been all season. But Oregon responded with a 10-0 run and led for most of the rest of the first half, taking a 46-42 lead into the break.
After the two teams battled to a 50-50 tie through the first 21⁄2 minutes of the second half, the Huskies took the lead for good while Ross was sitting on the bench with three fouls. Wilcox came off a screen to hit a 14-foot jumper with 12:46 remaining, giving the Huskies a 59-57 lead before Ross checked back into the game. While he did not make a single shot over the final 91⁄2 minutes, teammates helped bring home the win.
Both Ross and Wroten, who combined for 46 of UW’s 90 points, look like they could be headed to the NBA as early entrants, so one or both of them may have been playing in his final home game Tuesday night. While Wilcox shot a pair of free throws with 4.3 seconds left, the duo stood in the backcourt and listened to the UW student section shower them with chants of: “One more year!”
While Ross later reiterated that “as of right now, I’m still a Husky,” Wroten said after the game that he has yet to make a decision. He said that after the season, he will sit down with family members and with Ross to decide whether or not to come back.
It’s believed to be the first time Wroten said he and Ross would make a decision together.
“We love playing with each other,” Wroten said late Tuesday night, “and we’ll definitely make the decision together.”
Thanks to Tuesday’s win, both players will be at least one more game as the Huskies try to win at Madison Square Garden for the first time ever. UW lost to Marquette and Duke there earlier this season and hopes to end a four-game losing streak at the arena that dates back to the 2007-08 season. The Huskies haven’t won in the state of New York since Dec. 1941, when they beat New York University three weeks after Pearl Harbor.
“For us to be going back to Madison Square Garden, one of the most historic arenas in the country, is a blessing,” Wroten said. “We want to take advantage of it and win a championship.”
Wroten became the Huskies’ all-time leading scorer among freshman Tuesday night. His 22 points gave him 550 for the season, surpassing the school-record 541 from Isaiah Thomas in 2008-09. … Hec Ed has been a house of horrors for the Ducks’ Devoe Joseph. Oregon’s leading scorer went 5-for-28 from the field in two losses at UW this season, including a 4-for-15 performance Tuesday. … Mill Creek native Brett Kingma, an Oregon freshman, did not play in Tuesday’s game.