Washington Huskies 93, Arizona Wildcats 85
How sweet it is
* The Huskies avenge a loss to Arizona and put themselves in position to claim a share of the Pac-10 championship.
By Mike Allende
SEATTLE – The two biggest plays of the game in the biggest game of the season weren’t Tre Simmons’ 3-pointers or Nate Robinson’s dunks. It wasn’t a defensive stop by Will Conroy or a smooth drive by Brandon Roy
Instead, it was a pair of hustle plays by the most unlikely member of the Huskies rotation. Senior center Hakeem Rollins, one of four players making their last appearance at Hec Edmundson Pavilion, made a big save of a loose ball leading to a 3-pointer and later scored on a putback, propelling No. 14 Washington over No. 9 Arizona 93-85 in front of a raucous crowd Saturday afternoon.
The victory moves the Huskies (13-3 Pacific-10 Conference, 23-4 overall) into a virtual first-place tie with the Wildcats (14-3, 24-5) in the conference standings. If Washington wins its final two games, at California and Stanford next week, it will tie Arizona for the championship, the Huskies’ first title since 1985. If Washington sweeps next week and Arizona loses Saturday at Arizona State, it would give the Huskies their first outright conference title since 1953.
“We thought the Stanford win last year was big, which it was,” said Washington coach Lorenzo Romar, referring to last season’s home finale win against the nation’s top-ranked team. “But as I said earlier this one had to be bigger, and it was. Based on what was at stake, it was a huge performance by our team. It’s no secret that Arizona is a great basketball team that has been playing good basketball. I thought our guys came out and competed with as much heart as they could muster up.”
The victory also completed an undefeated home season as Washington went 15-0 at Hec Ed, the first unbeaten record at home since 1984. The Huskies have won 22 straight at home.
Washington looked like it might repeat the stumble it made the first time it played Arizona, when the Huskies blew an 11-point lead and lost 91-82. This time, the Huskies led by as many as 13 in the second half before Arizona closed the gap to one on a Mustafa Shakur 3-pointer from the left corner with 4:58 to play.
A layup by Roy pushed the lead back to three and the Huskies got the ball back. A missed shot was headed out of bounds but Rollins flipped the ball back onto the court, finding Robinson, who sank a 3-pointer for an 80-74 lead.
“That was just hustle,” Rollins said of chasing down the loose ball. “I figured if I could just keep it alive, we might be able to get something out of it.”
“I knew once the ball went up that if we got the ball and if (Salim) Stoudamire didn’t close out, I knew I’d have a shot,” said Robinson, who had 22 points. “When I shot it, something told me that it was going in.”
Later, with the score 82-78 Washington, Robinson missed a three as the shot clock neared zero but Rollins out-jumped Hassan Adams and banked in the putback for an 84-78 lead with 1:53 left. Stoudamire made a 3-pointer to cut the deficit to three but Robinson scored on a layup and the Huskies were 6-for-7 from the free throw line in the final minute while Arizona went 1-for-5 from the line.
“Hakeem Rollins had that unbelievable putback that may have been the biggest play of the game,” Romar said.
Arizona coach Lute Olson agreed that Rollins’ putback was the play of the game.
“I thought we had them on the run a couple of times,” Olson said. “But they did a great job of maintaining their poise.”
The game was a turnaround from the first matchup in two respects. The Huskies handled Arizona’s 1-3-1 zone defense better, and they kept the Wildcats off the free throw line. In the first game, Washington shot 38.6 percent and Arizona was 38-of-40 from the line. Saturday, the Huskies shot 56.7 percent from the field, moving the ball quickly around the perimeter to prevent Arizona from getting to shooters. The Wildcats were 5-for-11 on free throws, going without an attempt until the second half.
“We talked about defending with our feet and our chest and not committing silly fouls,” Romar said.
“We really didn’t make too many adjustments,” said Simmons, who led Washington with 24 points including five 3-pointers. “We just played smarter defense.”
The defense started with the play of Conroy, who hounded Stoudamire all game. Stoudamire, who had 25 points in the first meeting and is one of the nation’s best shooters (55 percent on threes), had 15 points on 5-for-15 shooting.
“I tried to cut the 3-point line off,” Conroy said. “I wanted to turn him into a penetrator and playmaker for his team. I wasn’t going to let him beat me. I stood even with him and tried to be there when he shot it.”
Rather than Stoudamire, it was Arizona’s play inside that hurt Washington. The Wildcats scored 58 points in the paint, led by center Channing Frye’s 30 points on 13-for-15 shooting.
Arizona led by as many as six early on but a 9-0 run gave the Huskies a 39-31 lead and a Robinson 3-pointer allowed Washington to lead 42-35 at the half.
“We held our composure,” forward Bobby Jones said. “Then we made that nice little run at the end of the first half … We just scrapped for all 40 minutes.”
A 10-2 run to open the second half, including 3-pointers by Jones and Simmons, gave Washington a 52-39 lead. Arizona countered with a 6-0 spurt but 3-pointers by Mike Jensen and Simmons pushed the lead back to 58-47 before the Wildcats began their comeback.
“I don’t think either team was going to give an inch to the other team,” Olson said. “In the end it was a case of Washington doing a better job knocking down threes.”
The Huskies were 11-for-24 on 3-pointers and held Arizona to 6-for-23.
Washington must now recover from the most emotionally charged game that the program has seen in years and prepare for the final two games of the regular season. Saturday’s win could move the Huskies into the Top 10 and put them in position to gain either a No. 2 or possibly, with a strong finish, No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
“We are a group that has character,” Romar said. “We have character, are together and are pretty mentally tough, which is what it takes to beat a team like Arizona. We would like for us to be perfect but that’s not the case. But given the nature of the game I would say we are doing a pretty good job.”
Notes: With four assists Saturday, Conroy passed Chester Dorsey for the single-season school record. The senior now has 166. He needs five assists to pass Dorsey for the career record. … Washington’s student section chanted “Check your voice mail,” and called out a phone number they believed to be Frye’s. The Arizona center, though, said it was not his number. … Romar thanked the crowd after the game for their support during the season. The Huskies set a single-season record for attendance.