If anyone’s wondering, the National Invitation Tournament begins on March 13.
After weeks of holding out hope that it could turn things around by winning against a difficult late-season schedule, the Washington men’s basketball team now seems resigned to missing out on a fourth-straight NCAA Tournament appearance after Thursday’s loss at Oregon State.
The Huskies are now 6-9 in the Pac-10 and 16-11 overall, and saw its NCAA RPI plummet to No. 94. Even with games against Oregon, USC and UCLA left in the regular season, it now appears doubtful that Washington has any hope of getting an at-large NCAA Tournament bid.
The Huskies last remaining hope is to win the Pac-10 Tournament, which begins in two weeks at the Staples Center in Los Angeles. Barring that, Washington will likely play in the NIT, a tournament in which a team simply has to have a winning record to quality, and the Huskies can finish no worse than 16-15.
Of more concern at this point for UW is simply finding some consistency in a season in which there has been none. The Huskies are 1-8 on the road after the surprising loss to the Beavers.
Washington seemed to have turned things around with competitive losses to Washington State and Pittsburgh before falling apart against OSU.
In particular, the play of the Huskies’ guards, especially Justin Dentmon and Ryan Appleby, has been disappointing. And they’ll face a tough challenge against the No. 23 Ducks (9-7, 21-7) at 7:30 p.m. today at McArthur Court.
Oregon is one of the better perimeter teams in the league, led by senior guard Aaron Brooks, who missed the 89-77 loss to Washington on Jan. 25 while serving a suspension for a flagrant foul committed against Appleby in last year’s Pac-10 Tournament.
Brooks, who holds a narrow lead over UCLA’s Aaron Afflalo and USC’s Nick Young in the Pac-10 scoring race at 17.6 points per game, seemed to get fatigued after returning from his suspension and that was a key component in the Ducks losing six of eight to fall from its No. 7 ranking.
Over a five-game stretch, Brooks averaged just 10.6 points on 29.5 percent shooting. But in the last two games, including Thursday’s win over No. 9 Washington State that probably clinched an NCAA Tournament spot for Oregon, Brooks has averaged 20.5 points on 44 percent shooting.
History is also on UW’s side. The Huskies have won six of their last seven against Oregon and will be seeking their first three-game winning streak in Eugene since the 1980-82 seasons.
Opponent: Oregon Time: 3 p.m. Location: Hec Edmundson Pavilion TV: Ch. 6/16
UW honors seniors
By Mike Allende
SEATTLE Senior Day activities at Hec Edmundson Pavilion today are set to begin at 2:45 p.m., 15 minutes prior to the Washington women’s basketball team’s game against Oregon.
But given the sheer number of players waiting to be recognized, UW might want to think about giving itself a half hour or so. Seven Huskies will be honored in their last home game, and five Oregon seniors will also receive a mention prior to the tip off of the last regular-season game of the season for both schools.
“I just keep laughing that we’re going to have to start 45 minutes early to get all of us announced,” Washington senior center Maggie O’Hara said.
It’s quite a change from two years ago, when the Huskies did not have a senior on the roster. Last season, there was Kayla Burt, Kristen O’Neill and Nicole Castro. But this season, almost half of the roster will be playing their last game in their home arena. Besides O’Hara, there’s Jill Bell, Cheri Craddock, Cameo Hicks, Erica Schelly and Breanne Watson. The seventh – Angie Jones – retired with knee problems in the preseason and has been a student assistant coach all season.
“They’ve been great ambassadors for the University of Washington on and off the court,” UW coach June Daugherty said. “They’re a very close-nit group. They’ve given all they can give as student-athletes here. That’s a great feeling as a coach to know you’ve brought in young people, watched them grow up in front of your eyes and see how they develop as basketball players, as students and as people. They’ve meant the world to this program.”
The players say they’ve been thinking about this being a season of “lasts” since the first day of practice. Hicks said the seniors who came through the program before her warned her that Senior Day would sneak up on her, but at the time it seemed a ways off.
“They always said take every day in practice seriously because it goes by fast,” she said. “But we were freshmen so we were like, ‘Yeah, OK.’ But it’s definitely true.”
All the players expect an emotional time. They remember looking on as Burt, O’Neill and Castro were honored last year and realized their time was coming.
“I’m sure there’s going to be some tears,” O’Hara said. “It’s not sadness. It’s a passing of the time. It’s hard to celebrate it and know you also have to go out there and be intense about the game. It’s a rush of different feelings.”
“It’s really starting to set in that this is the last time my family’s going to be able to see me play here,” Hicks said. “The last time I’ll play in front of all the fans. It’s going to be really sad for me, but I’m also excited.”
The challenge for the Huskies will be to balance that emotion with the need to focus on an important game. Washington (10-7 Pac-10, 17-11 overall) has won four of its last five to move into a tie with USC for fourth place. A win today coupled with a Trojans loss to Stanford on Sunday would give the Huskies fourth place outright.
Washington can’t move up to third regardless of what California does against UCLA today, as the Bears hold the tie-breaker over the UW.
A win over the Ducks (8-9, 16-11) would likely secure an NCAA Tournament at-large bid for the Huskies. A win by Oregon, which has won six of its last eight, could put the Ducks in position to get an NCAA berth. The Huskies beat Oregon by four in Eugene earlier this season.
A spot in the NCAA Tourney would be the third for Bell and Schelly, and the second for the rest of the seniors, but the Huskies also know that Oregon will be just as motivated today.
“Everyone’s first thought is winning,” Hicks said. “We’re focusing on the game, focusing on what we need to do. After that we’ll realize that this is our last time playing here together.”
“It’s terrible, it’s the worst thing as a coach,” Daugherty said. “You try to be like, ‘It’s just basketball,’ but it’s not that way. It’s the type of thing that you have to get some perspective and focus on really quick because you don’t want them to get so emotional that they’re not ready to play. The biggest thing I want to do is make sure we prepare to go out in style.”