By Scott M. Johnson Herald Writer
SEATTLE — Tony Wroten Jr. said he’s forgotten about the infamous free throws. Darnell Gant said the tears have dried.
The big question now, as the University of Washington men’s basketball team prepares to host a first-round game in the National Invitational Tournament, is whether the Huskies have truly turned the page.
“I’ve moved on,” coach Lorenzo Romar said Monday afternoon. “I’ve had my grieving period. We’re in another tournament, we have a chance to win a championship, and it starts (Tuesday night), so I’m excited about it.”
As for the UW players?
“It’s probably going to take them a little longer,” Romar admitted, “but by the time we play the game (Tuesday night), our guys are going to be fine.”
As the Huskies (21-10) prepared for tonight’s NIT opener against Texas-Arlington, the pain of Selection Sunday was still apparent Monday afternoon. UW missed out on the NCAA’s field of 68 teams, and now the Huskies have no choice but to focus on the NIT.
“We’re all of the mind to win it,” senior Darnell Gant said. “Might as well.”
The biggest thing standing in UW’s way is focus. While the visiting Mavericks (24-8) are fired up to be in Seattle tonight, the Huskies might still be stuck thinking about what could have been.
Players said Monday that the Sunday announcement of the NCAA tournament field was painful but not necessarily surprising.
“It’s obviously not what we wanted,” Wroten said. “But we’ve just got to look forward to another day.”
While the Huskies had several just-misses that ended up costing them an NCAA tournament bid, the latest and most visible came off the hands of Wroten. The freshman missed four consecutive free throws at the end of a two-point loss to Oregon State in the Pacific-12 Conference tournament opener last week, and Monday marked the first time he addressed the media since then.
He shrugged off the free throws, saying it hurt to miss them but that he’s moved on.
“It’s funny how college basketball works,” said Wroten, who scored a career-high 29 points in the Oregon State game. “It was my best game, but it was my worst game too.”
Romar said Wroten took the missed free throws harder than he might let on.
“I think he’s still taking that loss really hard,” UW’s coach said. “I think he’s still taking the not-in-the-tournament really hard. But Tony loves to play. He’ll be back.”
Wroten and the Huskies will be back tonight, and Romar is hoping they’ve gotten over the NCAA disappointment.
“This is not a charity game,” Romar said. “It’s winner goes home.”
In a sense, the Huskies already got sent home. Having missed out on the NCAAs, they’ll have to settle for a home game and the NIT.
“It (stinks),” Gant said of his reaction to not being selected to the Big Dance. “You just try to hold your emotions as best you can. You try to hold them all in. You’re upset, you’re mad, you’re sad. You just can’t let it show.”
While the NCAA tournament officially starts tonight, the Huskies will be too busy to watch on television. And that’s just fine with them.
“I don’t want to watch it, no,” Gant said. “I didn’t want to watch it when we lost (in last year’s second round). I’d rather be there than watch it on TV. So I just do something else.”
Tonight, that means playing in the “other” tournament.