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March 13, 2011

Huskies celebrate, then look forward

It was part celebration, part business.

Less than 24 hours after the Washington Huskies beat Arizona to defend their Pacific-10 Conference men's basketball tournament championship, coach Lorenzo Romar and his players were back on their Seattle campus Sunday sharing the love with fans at the Don James Center.

But this Selection Sunday gathering was mostly about a more serious yet exciting matter. The Huskies were to learn their first-round NCAA Tournament opponent, their seed and how far they'd have to go to play.

The answer came in the form of a different Dawg. Washington (23-10) is headed to the East Regional in Charlotte, N.C., as the No. 7 seed. The Huskies will face the No. 10 seeded Georgia Bulldogs (21-11) Friday at 6:45 p.m. Pacific time.

"We are playing against a very good team," Romar said.

If the Huskies defeat Georgia, it could set up a second-round matchup against North Carolina.

"We need to take one game at a time and really focus on Georgia because they are a good team," senior Justin Holiday said.

Washington could have its hands full with Georgia's powerful front court, led by 6-foot-10, 245-pound Trey Thompkins, who leads the team in scoring and rebounding. Another Georgia standout is guard Travis Leslie, a 6-4, 202-pound junior.

"Trey Thompkins is a great player" said Thomas.

Sunday at the Don James Center, located at Husky Stadium, Washington fans gathered to support the team and its Pac-10 Tournament championship.

When Romar walked in, fans woofed and cheered and gave the coach a warm welcome.
Then players arrived and fans woofed and cheered even louder, especially when Pac-10 Tournament most valuable player Isaiah Thomas walked in.

When it was announced that the Huskies will play Georgia, Husky fans rose to their feet cheering.

When the other three Pac-10 teams were announced, the fans also showed their approval, clapping for the Arizona Wildcats, who will face the Memphis Tigers in Tulsa, Okla. Some fans seemed surprised when they learned that the USC Trojans will be taking on Virginia Commonwealth.

Fans groaned when UCLA Bruins got a tough draw: They will open against powerful Michigan State.

For the Huskies, Sunday also was an opportunity to catch their breath and reflect on their accomplishments during the Pac-10 Tournament.

Playing without senior guard Venoy Overton, who was suspended for the tournament, Washington went 3-0 in Los Angeles, including a 77-75 victory over Pac-10 regular season champion Arizona.

Thomas was a warrior for the Huskies, scoring 28 points while playing all 45 minutes, capping the weekend off with a fade-away jumper at the buzzer that beat Arizona in overtime.

"It was really exciting at the Staples Center," Romar said. "The Huskies played with a purpose for three days."

The fans started woofing as coach Romar said, "They played together, this group of guys was not going to be denied."

Those in attendance erupted into cheer when Romar started talking about Thomas' heroics.

"How about Isaiah's shot?" Romar said.

Romar said when it came down to the last 20 seconds against Arizona, Thomas told him, "'Trust me coach. I've got this one, let me end this.'"

Thomas was mobbed by his players after his game winning shot. He was drained physically and emotionally.

"I'm proud of my teammates," Thomas said. "I am good now. I was dead after the tournament."

"Understand that we wanted to win," Holiday said.


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