During a stretch of three days the University of Washington seemed to have won four games while losing just one, having beaten Stanford outright Thursday (Jan. 8) but losing to California Saturday after having all but beaten the Golden Bears three times. Unfortunately the results net out to a win and a loss: the 84-83 squeaker over Stanford and the 88-85 loss against Cal.
Cal, playing on the Husky home court, led for just 26 seconds during a 55-minute three-overtime epic (only the third time in UW history that such a protracted game has been played). But the Good News Bears capitalized on opportunities toward the end of the second half and during the three extra periods to prevail and become one of just two remaining unbeaten teams in a Pac-10 league that doesn'êt look to be settled until the conference tournament in March.
The Dawgs led Cal in regulation by eight points with about three minutes remaining. A Bear three-ball and the Huskies'ê inability to put back short shots prompted the first overtime, which, of course, led to the next two. The other problem still plaguing this otherwise improved UW club is the ongoing inability to make free throws, especially when it matters most. The homies missed 13 times, most critically when Jon Brockman (two for eight from the free-throw line) clanked them during the OT periods.
But the game never should'êve come down to overtime(s). During regulation periods the Dawgs, usually eager to shoot, instead looked for dubious passing opportunities. Coaches say this represents admirable patience on the part of a youngish club. Perhaps it'ês true. But every pass also represents a greater chance for a turnover. Worse still was the Husky short game. Frustrated fans at the apparent sold-out spectacle (this observer actually purchased a pair of very good seats at the box office a few minutes before game time), groaned, grimaced, and griped after the Dawgs repeatedly penetrated near the hoop only to have lay-ups and three-footers miss by inches. In retrospect, making a mere four of these might have led to a blowout and probable ascension to the NCAA top-25 rankings.
On the other hand, a split at home is scarcely season-compromising, especially given the level of competition. Cal is 15-2 and 4-0 in league; Stanford has lost a pair of conference games but still is 11-2 for the season. The 11-4 Huskies came agonizingly close to winning their 10th straight. The Cal loss no doubt will give them even greater impetus to carry their otherwise impressive campaign into Oregon later this week.
Particularly hesitant against Cal was Quincy Pondexter. The forward was averse to taking open shots, as was guard Venoy Overton. Freshman guard Isaiah Thomas, on the other hand, skirted up the lane repeatedly for often uncontested lay-ups, finishing with 22 points. Senior guard Justin Dentmon led the Dawgs with 24, largely due to rare-for-UW reliable free-throw shooting: 13 for 16. Brockman had his typical numbers: 16 points and 18 rebounds. Alas, had it been just 16 rebounds and 18 points — the extra two coming on critical free throws — the Huskies probably would be 3-0 in league and a better threat to win a conference title.