By Scott M. Johnson Herald Writer
SEATTLE — The eyes of March may well be on other parts of the college basketball world, but University of Washington sophomore Terrence Ross can bank on the fact that he’s still in the sights of more than a few people who could affect his future.
And the Huskies’ blossoming star made certain the NBA scouts took notice Friday night.
Ross shook off a sore hip to score a career-high 32 points and keep the Huskies’ National Invitational Tournament train rolling with a 76-55 win over Northwestern.
In a game attended by 5,761 fans — twice the amount that came out for Tuesday’s NIT win over Texas-Arlington — UW (23-10) took another step away from its Selection Sunday disappointment and toward Madison Square Garden. The Huskies need one more win, a Tuesday night home date with either Oregon or Iowa, to advance to the NIT’s version of the final four in New York City.
“I’m just happy to be playing,” UW junior guard Abdul Gaddy said. “Not a lot of teams are playing right now, and we’re still playing. We’re playing with a chip on our shoulders. We’re still trying to prove we should have been in the NCAA tournament.”
Ross made 10 of 21 shots, including 6-of-14 from 3-point range, to hit career highs in points and 3-pointers made. C.J. Wilcox added 20, and the Huskies bounced back from a tough opener on the boards by out-rebounding Northwestern 44-26.
Freshman Tony Wroten Jr. matched team-highs with eight rebounds and seven assists but also had five turnovers and spent much of the second half trying to hot-dog defenders with his crossover dribble. Wroten went 1-for-5 from the field and scored a season-low two points while struggling to solve Northwestern’s zone defense.
The Huskies survived a horrific 5-for-21 performance from 3-point range in the first half, due in large part to 11 offensive rebounds and a combined 24 points from Ross and Wilcox. UW used a 13-4 run to pull ahead and go into halftime with a 39-32 lead.
Ross buried the Wildcats (19-14) with a pair of 3-pointers in the first two minutes of the second half, keying a 13-1 run. He made four of his first five shots after halftime, then watched an open 3-pointer roll in and out before closing out his performance with another 3, a dunk and a few more points down the stretch. Ross hit a pair of free throws to the chants of “two more years” with 3:59 left, then came off the floor for good while the Hec Edmundson Pavilion crowd showered him with applause.
Teammates and coaches were just as enthusiastic in their praise.
“It’s impossible to stop him,” Wroten said.
Said coach Lorenzo Romar: “When Terrence gets rolling, you almost have to send two guys at him to get the ball out of his hands.”
Ross is considered a likely first-round choice, and possible lottery pick, if he decides to skip his final two seasons and enter the June NBA draft. The 6-foot-6 wing has continually said that he’ll wait until after the season to make his decision, and his Friday performance can only heighten the interest from NBA scouts.
“Right now I’m focusing on the team,” Ross said after Friday’s win. “As of right now, I’m still in college, still wearing a Husky uniform. I’m just focusing on the next game.”
Of course, Ross isn’t the only UW underclassman being eyed by the NBA. The other pro-to-be, Wroten, had one of the more frustrating performances of his young career but also gave glimpses of his NBA talent.
The latter could be said for one six-second sequence early in the second half, when Wroten followed an ill-advised turnover with an incredible block on a fastbreak at the other end of the floor, then added an alley-oop pass to Ross for a thundering dunk and a 49-33 lead with 17:09 remaining.
That brought a crowd that was surprising in both its capacity and passion to full volume. In a span of four days, it suddenly became cool to be an NIT fan at Hec Ed.
UW coach Lorenzo Romar noticed. He personally thanked the fans afterward by grabbing a microphone and addressing the crowd.
“We’re not in the NCAA tournament, and you guys came out and supported us,” he told the fans. “… We’re still trying to win a championship. We’re not trying to be greedy. We do thank you for coming out but we would love for you to come out and pack this place Tuesday night and help us out.”
A few minutes later, Romar said the crowd, despite including a fairly large contingent of Northwestern fans in the cheap seats, helped carry UW to the blowout win Friday.
“They didn’t have to come out,” he said when asked why he called for the crowd’s attention after the game, “so I just wanted to make sure they understood that we weren’t completely happy with how things turned out (on Selection Sunday) but we wanted to show our appreciation that they still came. We have a chance to still do something special, and we need their support. I just wanted to relay that to them.”
The Huskies have one more home game Tuesday at 6 p.m., and they’ll find out their opponent Sunday afternoon. Oregon and Iowa are scheduled to play in Iowa City at 2 p.m. Sunday.
“I’d love to play (Oregon) because they kind of embarrassed us last time,” Wroten said, referring to the Ducks’ 82-57 win in Eugene on Feb. 9. “We don’t have a problem if we play Iowa, but if we play (the Ducks), we’ll be excited to play Oregon.”
One of the game officials for Friday’s UW game was Eric Curry, the referee responsible for the controversial lane-violation call in the Syracuse/North Carolina-Asheville NCAA tournament game the previous night. … Wroten missed both of his 3-point attempts Friday. He’s 0-for-13 from behind the 3-point arc since his last make in a Jan. 28 game at Arizona.