SEATTLE – Believe yet?
Did the Washington Huskies’ 75-62 victory over top-ranked and previously unbeaten Stanford Saturday change the minds of some of the naysayers who insist that Washington’s a middling team in a middling conference?
Will the victory turn the heads of the NCAA Selection Committee enough to forgive the Huskies for at least consideration for a chance to dance, regardless of what happens in this week’s Pacific-10 Tournament?
“We sent a message,” UW guard Nate Robinson said. “We’re ready. Everybody should know by now that we’re ready.”
The 5-foot-9 Robinson is no small thinker. Still stoked by the rafter-shaking, sold-out, record Hec Edmundson Pavilion crowd of 10,086, Robinson’s thoughts didn’t stop at the Pac-10 Tournament. Nor did it stop at a possible NCAA Tournament bid.
“Stanford’s a great team,” he said. “I know St. Joe’s in undefeated. But Stanford was No. 1 and we were better than them today. Now we feel we’re No. 1.”
Forgive him. He’s 19 and high strung. Prone to preposterous overstatement.
Few can deny, however, that the Huskies hesitated not one second and grabbed the victory by attacking an excellent team and making it look average at times. Washington’s fierce defense frustrated Stanford’s best player, forward Josh Childress, into foul trouble and a sub-par game and harassed its most accurate sniper, guard Matt Lottich, into 1-for-11 shooting from the floor.
The Huskies also withstood a 9-0 Cardinal surge early in the second half that virtually wiped out a 35-25 UW halftime lead. Shaky with a 35-34 advantage, the Huskies went back to work for the remaining 15 minutes of the game, returned to playing kamikaze defense and rode a 24-3 advantage at the free-throw line to win it.
For Washington (17-10, 12-6 Pac-10), it was just the second win in 28 meetings with the nation’s top-ranked team, the last coming Feb. 22, 1979 against UCLA, when Romar was a reserve point guard.
“It’s awfully exciting to be in this position,” Romar said. “To see our guys go though this who have never gone through this at this level, is priceless. I’m just so proud of our guys and just so happy for them that they could have this experience.”
Washington also did it as it has during this remarkable streak of 12 wins in 14 games. Five Huskies scored in double figures, led by Tre Simmons’ 16. Simmons hit a pair of 3-pointers back to back that bailed the Huskies out from a 39-38 lead to a 45-38 advantage with nine minutes left.
Robinson and Mike Jensen added 13 apiece, while Brandon Roy and Will Conroy finished with 12 each.
“Washington came ready to play and they played really well,” Stanford coach Mike Montgomery said. “They certainly got after us and we didn’t have a real good weekend. They had plenty of energy. I knew that this was going to be a tough game because of all the things that Washington has going for them.”
Asked whether the Huskies should be ranked in the top 25, Conroy crowed, “After today, I think we can skip 25 and get up to about 18.”
As far as the NCAA Tournament is concerned, nothing is settled yet, but that didn’t stop Washington from campaigning.
“Hopefully, they were watching us today,” Jensen said. “Hopefully, they can see that we can play against top teams.”
Said Roy: “I can’t believe there are 65 teams better than us.”
From the outset, the Huskies took it to the Cardinal. That plan was obvious in the Huskies’ first two possessions, when Jones and Roy attacked the lane and were fouled.
In fact, fouls were a major obstacle for Stanford. Childress, named just Saturday to the Adolph F. Rupp All-America first team, picked up two quick fouls, sat out 10 minutes, re-entered late in the half and promptly drew his third. In nine first-half minutes, a clearly haggard Childress managed two points and tossed up two airballs.
Bobby Jones drew the assignment of covering Childress, with no instruction by the coaching staff other than to stay on him.
“I don’t know what happened,” Childress said, “but you’ve got to give credit to Washington. They were all over us and took us out of our game.”
Washington’s attack mode stretched to the defensive end, where the Huskies forced the Cardinal into a bewildering 13 first-half turnovers, much to the delight of a deafening crowd. The Cardinal also missed all seven of its 3-point attempts in the first half.
Point guard Chris Hernandez led Stanford with 21 points.