SEATTLE — There are undoubtedly moments when fans of the University of Washington men’s basketball team look out on the court, marveling at the highlight-reel combo of Terrence Ross and Tony Wroten Jr., and mutter a four-word theme that has become the slogan of Pacific-12 Conference basketball in recent years.
If only they’d stay.
With every passing week, UW’s gifted young duo looks like the present, and immediate future, of the Pac-12. And with every passing week, Ross and Wroten appear more destined for the 2012 NBA draft.
Such was the case Saturday afternoon, when Wroten went to the basket at will, and Ross used another breakout second-half performance to turn a game against Stanford into a laugher. The pair of projected first-round picks in the 2012 draft combined for 39 points, 26 of which came after halftime, as the Huskies blew past the Cardinal 76-63.
“We’re starting to look more and more like the team we need to be,” said coach Lorenzo Romar, who won his 300th career game and his 100th in the Pac-10/Pac-12 Conference.
Wroten goes into every game — no matter where, and no matter how great the competition — believing he’s the best player on the court. Saturday afternoon, when he seemed to gain confidence with every drive to the basket, he continually proved it.
The freshman scored almost every one of his game-high 21 points while driving past, and sometimes between, Stanford defenders. The most confident player on the Huskies became nearly unstoppable as the game wore on.
“Coach (Romar) said whenever somebody smaller is on me or Terrence, take it to the post,” said Wroten, who scored his 21st point with 71⁄2 minutes remaining and the Huskies up by 19. “Whenever I’ve got somebody small on me, I try to do that.”
Ross wasn’t nearly the offensive threat for the first 20 minutes, but he continued his second-half assault on opponents while scoring 16 of his 18 points after halftime. During the past three games, Ross has averaged 18.3 points on 58 percent shooting in second halves of games. By stark contrast, he’s averaged 2.7 points while shooting 13.6 percent in first halves during that span.
“It’s more adjusting to what they were giving me,” Ross said afterward. “I let the game come to me, just stayed patient and tried not to rush things.”
An ugly, somewhat dull opening 20 minutes turned into a highlight fest after the intermission. Wroten and Ross combined for 11 points during a 13-0 UW run midway through the second half to turn an eight-point lead into a 61-40 advantage with 9:30 remaining.
“We got going,” junior point guard Abdul Gaddy said, “and we’re dangerous when that happens.”
The two teams combined to shoot just above 30 percent in the first half, making a lowly two of 16 attempts from 3-point range. Stanford went through a prolonged draught of more than 13 minutes, during which the Cardinal made just two of 23 field-goal attempts.
Fortunately for the Cardinal, UW had its own offensive struggles and could manage just a 17-6 advantage during that span to open up a 24-13 lead. By halftime, the Huskies led 32-25.
The most significant thing that happened in the opening 20 minutes came when UW freshman Austin Seferian-Jenkins checked into the game to a huge ovation with 14:08 remaining in the first half. The tight end-power forward made his basketball debut and gave the Huskies a jolt of energy during 16 minutes of action. The scholarship football player missed his only shot — an open 12-footer from the wing — and had seven rebounds before fouling out with 7:06 remaining in the game.
Fellow reserve Darnell Gant bounced back from one of the worst shooting performances of his career to score 17 points off the bench Saturday. Gant, who went scoreless on nine shots and misfired on a 3 at the buzzer in Thursday night’s loss to Cal, made seven of 11 shots and two of three attempts from 3-point range Saturday.
“I was still kind of frustrated from last game, but once (Saturday’s game) started, I started playing and wanted to put it all behind me,” Gant said.
With the win, UW (12-7 overall, 5-2 in the Pac-12) avoided its first two-game home losing streak since Feb. 2008 and, even more important, kept pace in a crowded race atop the conference standings. Thanks in part to Washington State’s second consecutive upset over a Bay Area team — the Cougars beat first-place Cal on Saturday — the Huskies are a half-game out of first and are now a half-game up on Stanford (15-5, 5-3).
With budding young stars like Wroten, Ross and C.J. Wilcox, and some emerging youngsters like Seferian-Jenkins and freshman Desmond Simmons, the Huskies would appear to have a pretty bright future. But UW is only focused on the 2011-12 season, which may well be the last one with Ross and Wroten wearing purple.
“We never even think about going, leaving,” Wroten said when asked whether he and Ross ever discuss the possibility of playing together at UW for one more year.
“Our main focus is helping the team win and winning a national championship. We never think ahead. And when we’re on the same page, it’s pretty hard for the other team to contain us.”
The Huskies played their third consecutive game without Wilcox, who is nursing a stress fracture in the femur of his left leg. Romar said Wilcox will get another test Tuesday or Wednesday before it’s decided whether he will be available for Thursday’s game at Arizona State. … The addition of Seferian-Jenkins to UW’s rotation is likely to take away any available minutes from freshmen Shawn Kemp Jr. and Martin Breunig. Neither played Saturday.