By Scott M. Johnson Heald Writer
SEATTLE — While most of the University of Washington student body will be returning to campus sometime today after a week of spring break, the UW men’s basketball team was packing its bags Saturday morning before what the Huskies hope will be a few days away.
It’s not the March trip UW had hoped to take, but the Huskies will take Manhattan as long as they’re still playing.
“It gives us all an opportunity to show our talents on a national stage,” senior Darnell Gant said of the Huskies’ trip to New York City to play in the semifinals of the National Invitational Tournament, “even though it’s not the NCAA tournament.”
The Huskies (24-10) have already won three homes games in the NIT, and they departed Saturday needing two wins at Madison Square Garden to take home a title. Coach Lorenzo Romar said his team was excited about the opportunity and added that the disappointment of not being included in the NCAA tournament is well behind the Huskies.
“No one is having a pity party right now,” he said shortly before the Huskies boarded a bus for SeaTac on Saturday morning. “Guys are excited to be a part of this.”
Part of the excitement for UW, which will play Minnesota in an NIT semifinal game on Tuesday night, is that the Huskies get to go back to New York City and play in an historic arena where they already played two games against their toughest opponents of the season. Marquette and Duke both beat UW in early December, and the Huskies can’t wait to get back to Madison Square Garden to try to record the program’s first-ever win in that facility.
“Last time we went there, we didn’t get any wins,” sophomore Terrence Ross said. “That just gives us more motivation, and we’re playing for (an NIT) championship.”
While the Huskies played Marquette tight for 40 minutes and made a valiant second-half push after getting throttled by Duke early on in that game, Gant said those losses seem like a lifetime ago.
“We’re a better team than that now,” he said.
Spring break is almost over, but the Huskies are in a New York state of mind. They just hope to get a couple of wins at Madison Square Garden and close out a roller-coaster month of March in style.
“Everybody wants to play there,” Gant said. “We know we’ve got a championship on the line, so we can do something big.”