Sometimes you just run into those games that weren’t made for you to win. Today was one of those games.
First, let’s take our hats off to West Virginia. They outplayed the Huskies in every facet of the contest today. Yes, they may have had a little help from the guys with the whistles (we’ll leave that touchy subject alone), but even without the stripes there to back them up, they would have won this game. Don’t kid yourself.
In particular, I was impressed with the game-planning by head coach Bob Huggins. In the first half, you may have noticed that West Virginia played a tough, in-your-face man defense almost exclusively. As a result, the Dawgs were able to take a two-point lead into the locker room at intermission.
As it turns out, that man defense was merely a facade.
In half number two, the Mountaineers came out in a 1-3-1 zone defense (the Huskies’ arch-nemesis, along with zone defenses of other configurations, as well) and Washington simply had no answer for the change in tactic. The length of West Virginia’s frontcourt all but eliminated passing and driving lanes for the Husky guards, and there was zero production from beyond the arc (Elston Turner, where did you go?).
Because of the 1-3-1, Quincy Pondexter wasn’t able to free himself for his usual barrage of mid-range jumpers, and Matthew Bryan-Amaning was more or less hidden behind a wall of Mountaineers at all times.
While all this was going on, the Huskies were unable to impose their will and force the tempo as they needed to. On the few occasions in the second half where Washington managed a fast break, they were often unable to convert two points out of the drive. Besides a pair of Justin Holiday dunks, the team had trouble finishing at the rim, and there were multiple turnovers in transition.
But all that is in the past now. We can all agree that the Dawgs got beat. It is what it is. For now, let’s take a moment to pay proper homage to the run the Huskies went on just to get to this point.
A month ago, if you would have told any Husky fan that this basketball team was destined for the Sweet 16, they would have laughed at you. This team was nowheresville. Couldn’t win on the road, weren’t playing together, had no leadership, all of the above. In a word, they sucked.
But over the past four weeks, something remarkable happened and this ballclub changed. They flipped the proverbial switch and all of a sudden the lights came on.
Isaiah Thomas started playing like a superstar.
Quincy Pondexter reclaimed his throne as leader of this team.
Matthew Bryan-Amaning became a completely different person (in a very good way).
Justin Holiday proved he was more than just a good defender (and possibly worked his way onto an NBA draft board or two, in the process).
Elston Turner started shooting lights out.
Scott Suggs continued to shoot lights out.
Venoy Overton proved that he could be next year’s senior leader.
Darnell Gant became a worthy glue guy, grabbing rebounds and playing solid defense every time he got in the game.
And Brendan Sherrer got more than his fair share of explosions off the sideline (meaning we were winning…big).
We still have yet to reach our holy grail that is, for better or worse, the Elite Eight.
But at least we made it this far. And from such humble beginnings, that’s a positive.
Looking ahead to next season, Washington has to be considered the front-runner for the Pac-10 title at the outset of the season. With California losing all of their impact players, UCLA still in rebuilding mode, Arizona State losing three starters, Oregon State being Oregon State, Oregon in a complete overhaul, USC minus their 40-year-old point guard, Arizona on the rise (but losing Nic Wise), and Stanford being just Godawful, there is really only one team that should garner any consideration for a chance to take down the Huskies: Washington State. They’ll be returning everyone but Nikola Koprivica, and you have to figure that Reggie Moore, Klay Thompson, and DeAngelo Casto will all improve over the offseason. So put that in your pipe and smoke it, Coug fans. I’m showing you some love.
Of course, the Dawgs won’t be without their own losses — or loss, I should say, in the form of Quincy Pondexter — but with most of the team returning as upperclassmen, one would hope that Washington would make great strides. It will be up to a core group of seniors (Overton, Bryan-Amaning, and Holiday) and juniors (Thomas, Turner, Suggs, Gant, and Sherrer — yes, Sherrer, because he might very well be the winningest player in Husky history, when playing time is factored in) to carry the load for this veteran-laden ballclub.
The biggest obstacle this team will face next year is the replacement of Mr. Pondexter, which as we all know is impossible. Just like Jon Brockman before him, and Brandon Roy before Brockman, you simply cannot replace a legend. And that’s what Quincy became. A legend. From a solid beginning, to a shaky middle, to a triumphant end, Quincy Pondexter turned into the type of player that no one could have predicted he would be. Because let’s face it, you hope for such greatness, but you never expect it. For that we can only say thank you.
The 2010-2011 Huskies will not replace Quincy Pondexter, but they’ll do their very best to move on without him. I’m confident they will succeed in doing so.
Another season down, and a new one on the distant horizon. Good year, Dawgs. And thanks for joining us for the coverage, Dawg fans.
Now we move on. Mariners. Sounders. It’s time for optimism…