By Scott M. Johnson Herald Writer
SEATTLE — The last time the University of Washington men’s basketball team traveled to New York City to play at Madison Square Garden, the Huskies went toe-to-toe with 11th-ranked Marquette, got sucker-punched by seventh-ranked Duke, and vowed to be better if they got another shot.
That chance could come this week, although not the way UW intended.
With a win over Oregon tonight, the Huskies would be going back to Madison Square Garden as a member of the National Invitational Tournament semifinals. It’s not quite the prize UW envisioned for a finish to the season, but the Huskies will be satisfied just to take Manhattan again.
“Everybody loves New York, to play in a historic arena like the Madison Square Garden,” UW freshman Tony Wroten said Monday. “Obviously, you want to be in the NCAA tournament, but since we’re here, we’ll try to take full advantage of it. That’s our goal: to go to Madison Square Garden and win.”
Before the Huskies (23-10) can make travel plans, they have one more obstacle standing in their way. UW knows all too well how formidable tonight’s opponent can be, having been run out of the gym the last time it faced Oregon.
“I give respect to them: they put it on us,” UW senior Darnell Gant said Monday. “I feel like now we’ve got an opportunity to play them again.”
Added Wroten: “They kind of embarrassed us, so we’re just fortunate to get another chance.”
Terrence Ross said the loss in Eugene was one of the Huskies’ lowest moments of the season, adding that tonight’s game could help erase that memory.
“It’s another chance for us to redeem ourselves and show we’re a better team than we were that night,” Ross said Monday.
Huskies coach Lorenzo Romar played down the revenge angle on Monday morning.
“We were beat very soundly that night,” he said. “It makes for a good story line: ‘They can’t wait for revenge,’ and all that. When a team beats you like that, you keep asking yourself why. Now you get another chance.”
UW’s real motivation now is moving on in a tournament that the Huskies tried all season to avoid. While the NCAA tournament was the original goal, another trip to Madison Square Garden is helping push UW now.
“This tournament’s really catching on with us,” Romar said. “I don’t think we’re feeling sorry for ourselves right now that we’re not in the NCAA tournament.”
While the NCAA tournament was supposed to be the big prize this season, a return trip to New York is the consolation that’s in UW’s sights now.
“From being let down like we were on Selection Sunday,” Romar said, “I think that’s the one thing that kind of eases the pain a little bit: being able to get out there and make it to New York and playing in that final four of the NIT.”
Maybe the Huskies didn’t get into the NCAA tourney, but tonight’s game could serve as a reminder of just how close UW came.
Gant said the loss in Oregon felt like the kind of game that could have cost UW a shot at an NCAA tournament berth. In retrospect, it might have been just that.
“I tried to forget about it as soon as possible,” Gant said. “A loss like that could’ve turned our season in a whole other direction. But it didn’t, and now we’ve got another opportunity against them.”