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March 25, 2006The Washington Huskies forced UConn into a season-high 26 turnovers and got a career-high 27 points from Jamaal Williams. But on a night when they stole the ball a school NCAA Tournament-record 19 times, Washington had the win stolen out from underneath them. Stolen by two Rashad Anderson 3-pointers in the final 35 seconds of regulation. Stolen as five Huskies were dubiously disqualified with five fouls. Stolen when Marcus Williams intercepted their last chance with 11 second left in overtime for 98-92 heartbreaker.
Mike Jensen joined Bobby Jones on the bench after fouling Marcus Williams with 11 seconds left in regulation. Williams' layup plus one cut the difference between the two Huskies to 90-89. But Husky fans of the purple persuasion were able to breathe more deeply when Brandon Roy hit two free throws with eight ticks left for a three-point lead. That breath became a shout of frustration when Anderson, UConn's bench sniper, knocked back a 24-foot 3-ball and Ryan Appleby's deep fling bounced off the back rim.
Gone was a five-point lead with a minute remaining. Gone were two starters. Gone was the momentum that promised the biggest basketball win in 53 years. The defense, which had served the UDub so well, failed to deny Anderson in the final two possessions, which denied their advance to the Elite Eight. Overtime, which had not been Washington's friend this season (0-2), had an ominous ring to it.
The Purple's passion, which was on display from the intense opening of the game, was now looking shades of frustrating red, Stanford Cardinal to be exact. A victory that was within reach seemed as far away as an 82-82 tie can be.
But the UDub Huskies got a shot of optimism from an expected source. Jon Brockman, who had looked like a small forward in nailing two 17-foot jumpers in the first half, scored the first five UW points in overtime. After going scoreless in the first two Tournament games, Brockman was a young man possessed with a layup, tip-in, and an aggressive spin move that sent him to the line. He hit the first of two-Washington's only trip to the line in the overtime-to cut the UConn lead to 88-87 with 1:51 remaining.
In a microcosm of the loss, Justin Dentmon fouled out when Marcus Williams simply stepped on his foot, tweaking his ankle. Instead of another UConn turnover in a tie game, Dentmon was dispatched and Denham Brown stepped in for the hobbled point guard to hit two of Connecticut's 34 free throws. UConn went to the line 47 times on the game, the most by a UW opponent all season. Washington went to the line only 23 times, for 18 points. But the most frustrating aspect of the disparity was that at least a half-dozen of the calls were undeserved-a sentiment shared well beyond the Husky Nation (for a sample, see the message board).
But the underdog Huskies refused to buckle under the added albatross of UConn's 24 extra freebies. Roy split two defenders in transition for what appeared to be a go-ahead score with 1:48 left. That is until Hilton Armstrong swatted the ball. The only problem was the ball was past its apex. The downward motion was somehow undetected by the referees and UConn regained possession. Emboldened-to use George Bush's favorite word-by the rejection, Armstrong took a desperate pass to the hole for a finger roll that gave the Beasts from the Big East a 90-87 lead.
Jamaal Williams, who hit the first 3-pointer of his Husky career with less than two minutes remaining in regulation for a six-point lead, hit a jump-hook over the 6-foot-10 Josh Boone to keep the Huskies' hopes from flat-lining. But in the last salvo of the dueling Williams, Marcus avoided a steal by Roy and took the ball the length of the court for a layin with 42 seconds left. Roy tried to answer with a leaner in the lane and Jamaal picked up a foul trying to corral his own 14-foot miss. Armstrong converted both shots from the stripe for a steep 94-89 advantage.
But Appleby nailed a 3-bomb and intercepted the inbounds pass with 16 seconds for one last glimmer of hope. Sensing that Rudy Gay was coiling to swat any shot attempt, Appleby turned the ball outside. Joel Smith's subsequent cross-court pass was picked by Marcus Williams, who was fouled by Roy. The All-American guard attempted a strip, but it was not meant to be on this fateful Friday. His game was over-the fourth Husky to get DQ'd-and so was the season. Marcus Williams hit the 10th and 11th freebies in his 26-point total.
"It was just an incredible game, fought by two teams who gave it everything they possibly had," said UConn coach Jim Calhoun. "I don't know if the teams could have gone another minute. I truly believe that. I think it was an incredible display of what competition is all about. I'm happy to be going forward, but proud to be involved in that game, in the effort that every single kid gave it on both sides."
It was reminiscent of the previous Husky-on-Husky scrap in 1998 when Rip Hamilton ripped out the hearts of those with purple blood. Washington held the lead for the majority of this one and got five minutes closer to the next round, but the outcome was the same. And ultimately, the frustration was even greater.
The degree of the decimation by the striped team was underscored when the last Washington Husky to shoot was deep reserve Brandon Burmeister. A game that started with such promise and a 10-point first-half lead ended in bitter fashion. Any loss in the NCAA Tournament, especially in overtime, is hard to swallow, but this was the type of pain only a Seahawk fan can truly understand.
After a 45-40 halftime advantage, the purple Huskies jumped out to the biggest lead of the game, 51-40, as an inspired Brockman grabbed two offensive rebounds and hit two from the line with 18:24 remaining. But the action took a foreboding turn when Roy was called for what initially appeared to be a routine blocking foul at the top of the lane. Roy took exception to the forceful contact from Gay after the whistle and words were exchanged, in a fairly calm manner. Displaying less composure than the two stars, the referees bolted in and gave each a needless technical. In the blink of an eye, Roy had gone from two fouls to four with 13:48 left in the not-so-Sweet Sixteen battle. Sidelined for the next seven minutes, the UW's leading scorer was limited to five points the rest of the way.
"I made an aggressive move and I bumped him," Gay said. "It was all in the heat of the battle. It wasn't intentional, but he didn't know that. I talked to him after the game and said I'd see him again. He's a good guy."
The Husky captain, who was remorseful afterwards, had a different take. "He elbowed me in the stomach. It was a cheap shot," remarked Roy. "I said, 'Watch that.' He said, 'Get the (expletive) out of my face.' The other guy's exploding and I didn't do anything, but it looked bad."
Gay was held to a single point in the first half by the defensive attention of Jones. Gay eventually found his stride, scoring 11 points after the break, but he finished with twice as many turnovers (6) as rebounds (3). While it can't really be construed as a "play," Gay's baiting of Roy was the most impactful act by the Naismith Trophy finalist.
Though hesitant to talk about the officials' momentum-shifting call, Calhoun agreed that better discretion could have been used. "My honest belief, I don't think they did (deserve technicals) -- well, I'm not going to have a discussion and have a fine come back to UConn.
"But the bottom line is that I let kids play on," Calhoun said. "Kids are going to get emotional in a game like that, and I don't think Brandon or Rudy were trying to do anything more. It was such an incredibly intense game."
Not only did the Roy technical slow the UDub's attack, but it marked the turning point in UConn's composure. With 23 turnovers in the first 26 minutes, Connecticut had just three turnovers in the remaining 18-plus minutes, triggering an 18-7 run that gave them a 61-60 lead with less than 10 minutes in regulation. But Jamaal Williams, one of four seniors in their final UW action, kept Washington in it by scoring 17 of their next 25 points. Saving his best game for last, Williams finished with 12-for-22 shooting, a team-high seven rebounds, four steals, two blocked shots, and only the third trey attempt of his UW career.
"It doesn't even matter, my career high," Jamaal Williams shared. "What's that mean? We lost. I'd rather trade that in for five points and a win."
In addition to the 34-18 scoring advantage from the stripe, Connecticut took the slightly tarnished Husky Trophy with deadly accuracy from the arc. UConn hit 6 of 9 treys in the first half as the UW dominated for much of the early action. The men from Storrs delivered on 10 of 19 treys for the game, despite missing five in a row before Anderson's last-second heroics. At the intermission, the pale Huskies were shooting better from three (.666) than from the line (12-21, .571).
Lost in the controversy and the clutch shots was a great effort by the Montlake Malamutes. For much of the game, they harassed and stifled a highly-talented squad laden with pro prospects.
"No team has disrupted us as much on offense," said Calhoun. "Their effort was extraordinary. I thought they did an incredible, incredible job."
Washington hit seven more field goals and grabbed seven more offensive rebounds than the taller, more-lauded UConn Huskies. But the UDub perimeter game struggled in the second half, hitting on only 2 of 8 attempts from 3-point range. Washington finished 6 of 20 (.300) from the arc as Jenson (1-5) and Dentmon (0-3) fought to find their touch. UConn was able to put it away by making 4 of 6 from the field and all eight attempts from the line in OT. Their biggest lead of the game, six points, came with one-tenth of a second remaining as Brockman became the fifth Dawg to be dispatched. Reserve guard Craig Austrie made-want to venture a guess?-two free throws for the final margin of 98-92.
"For people that don't believe in Washington, they saw tonight what we're all about," Roy said. "We were right there with the best team in the country. We almost got there."
Jones refused to hang his head in an emotional post-game locker room, stressing his fondness for his teammates. "We've been here four years through thick and thin. We've been through so much. And it's sad that it ended with a loss, but we know we played our best ball so we don't have any excuses, any regrets for the way we played tonight."
An emotional, subdued Lorenzo Romar, who had implemented a very effective defensive game plan, stressed the positives. The man named as the coach opposing Pac-10 players would most like to play for has a knack for sharing genuine optimism.
"I told them to keep their heads high because we're very proud of them," said Romar. "We played our hearts out. We didn't come up with a victory, but there's no reason to be ashamed. We've accomplished a lot.
"We were very close to getting to the Elite Eight and the Final Four."
In a city lined with memorials to those sacrificed in war, Washington turned in one of its grittiest performances in recent memory. That elusive trip to the national quarterfinals wasn't won. But the hearts of the basketball nation were.
One of the most memorable Februarys in UW basketball history was followed by two character-testing battles in March. It will take a while for the sting of the Madness to subside. But in the meantime, we can pull up a chair and take solace in the company of Seahawk fans.