SEATTLE — It was Senior Day, so the University of Washington basketball team had a meaningful and emotional pregame tribute for seniors Darnell Gant, Brendan Sherrer and Tyreese Breshers.
Then the Huskies took on visiting Arizona, and the game itself was every bit as meaningful and emotional.
Clinging to a share of first place in the Pacific-12 Conference, Washington shrugged off an early deficit and rolled past the Wildcats 79-70 on Saturday afternoon before a noisy sellout crowd at Bank of America Arena. The victory, which boosted the Huskies’ season and league records to 19-8 and 12-3, came in the home finale, with the team wrapping up their regular season schedule in the next two weeks at Washington State, USC and UCLA.
“You can only hope that Senior Day turns out this way,” said UW head coach Lorenzo Romar. “It was great to see those guys go out with a victory. But from my standpoint as head coach it was great to see the way we did it. I thought we put together 40 minutes today. Offensively, defensively, I thought we did a really good job.
“I think we’re playing better, and with three games to go you want to be at your best,” added Romar, whose squad has won three in a row, eight of its last nine and 11 of its last 13. “But now let’s see what we do on the road.”
As they have for much of this season, Terrence Ross and Tony Wroten led the way for the Huskies. Ross, a sophomore guard, tossed in 25 points — he missed just one of 11 attempts inside the 3-point line — to go with five rebounds and five steals. Wroten, a freshman guard, added 22 points and nine rebounds.
But other players had huge contributions, too. Guard Abdul Gaddy had six assists and no turnovers, center Aziz N’Diaye had 12 rebounds and four blocked shots (both game highs) and guard C.J. Wilcox helped put the game away in the late minutes with back-to-back 3-point goals.
There were also some terrific individual moments. N’Diaye electrified the crowd in the first half after gathering a deflection near midcourt, passing the ball ahead to himself, collecting the ball on the dribble and going in for a breakaway dunk. Was it traveling? Well, Arizona head coach Sean Miller and his staff sure thought so, with Miller picking up a technical foul for his outrage.
In the second half, Wroten added some footage to his first-year highlight film with a tremendous coast-to-coast drive and dunk over Wildcats center Angelo Chol, a fellow freshman.
The Huskies spotted Arizona an early 9-4 lead, but then went in front moments later and pushed the margin to 31-20 with just under eight minutes to play in the first half. The Wildcats rallied, cutting the lead to 39-37 at halftime and then tying the score early in the second half.
Washington countered with an 8-2 scoring burst (Wroten had six of the eight points) to go on top to stay. Arizona was within 63-57 when Wilcox drained the first of his two 3-pointers, and the second 3 stretched the margin to 70-61 with six minutes remaining.
The Wildcats never got closer than seven points the rest of the way.
In the last minute Romar sent Sherrer in as a substitute for Gant, and then moments later sent in another substitute for Sherrer. Both seniors went to midcourt, kissed their fingertips and then bent to touch the large purple W in a gesture of farewell.
“For me it was spur of the moment,” Gant said. Having seen Gant do it moments earlier, “it seemed like a good idea,” Sherrer added with a smile.
Sherrer, who has played sparingly as a walk-on, got the first start of his UW career. He played a little over two minutes before heading to the bench and had a rebound plus an apparent blocked shot, though the official scorer decided otherwise on the latter.
“I know he appreciates the time he’s had with our team,” said Romar, who decided on Friday to let Sherrer start his last home game. “But as much as he appreciates it, we appreciate him. A character guy like that who’s all about the right things, he does nothing but help your program.”
Another Husky who might have the option to leave is Ross, a remarkably gifted player who will likely end up in the NBA eventually and perhaps as soon as next season. When Ross went to the free throw line in the late seconds, the crowd chanted, “One more year, one more year … ”
Ross could be seen shaking his head at the free throw line, but as he later explained, “It wasn’t shaking my head like, ‘No, I’m not coming back.’ It was shaking my head like, ‘I can’t believe they’re chanting this on Senior Night.’ I was flattered, but I don’t know what I’m going to do.
“If I feel like I’m ready (to turn pro), then I’ll sit down with my family and Romar, and talk about it. But at this point I’m coming back. But I’m trying not to jump to any conclusions right now. I’m just focusing on the team.”