Opponent Preview: Washington

After the initial letdown of not earning a spot in the NCAA Tournament despite winning the Pac-12's regular-season championship, the Huskies have embraced their postseason opportunity.

"Once the NIT selection was done, Coach was telling us that, 'I know you don't want to be here, but if you keep winning, it's going to get more and more exciting,'" freshman G Tony Wroten said after the Huskies beat rival Oregon 90-86 to earn a spot in the NIT semifinals at Madison Square Garden.

Washington (24-10) faces Minnesota (22-14) on March 27, with the winner playing March 29 for the 75th NIT title against either Stanford of Massachusetts.

"We're still upset that we didn't get a (NCAA) bid and could have," sophomore guard Terrence Ross said, "but we all forgot about it and focused on this championship that we're after."

The Huskies are excited to return to the Garden, where they lost to Marquette and Duke in December.

Ross said an NIT title would have great value.

"It means that we can face adversity and come out no matter what the circumstances are looking like," he said. "We still feel like we're playing for a national championship, so it's still a big deal for us."

Coach Lorenzo Romar is proud of the performance his team has delivered since the disappointment of Selection Sunday.

"It's a good group of guys that are pretty resilient, and were able to turn the page," he said. "I think we got that behind us. We had been working hard. We just tried to stay positive and tried to explain how much fun this can be if you win."

Romar believes his young team -- whose top three players are two sophomores and a freshman -- probably doesn't quite grasp what this experience will mean someday.

"It may not be a big deal to you until you get older," he said. "If we're able to do well in New York, it can be looked at as not only did you win a Pac-12 championship, but you also won another championship."

Wroten, who won't turn 19 until April, didn't seem the least bit intimidated by playing in Madison Square Garden earlier this season. He had 23 points in the Huskies' 86-80 loss to Duke.

"It was just a big-time game. A big-time moment. The mecca of sports. New York and Madison Square Garden," he said. "I live for games like that. I just go out and play my game."

NOTES, QUOTES

Romar wary of Gophers

--Minnesota, Washington's semifinal foe in the NIT, was just 6-12 in the Big Ten, losing six straight games during one stretch in February. However, the Golden Gophers have been resilient.

"They really embody team," Washington coach Lorenzo Romar said. "They're very aggressive. They guard you really well and they play together. Their team knows their roles. They're a tough opponent."

--Washington junior C Aziz N'diaye (wrist) and sophomore G C.J. Wilcox (hip) were held out of practice March 24, but both will play against Minnesota. Wilcox has practiced sparingly the past two months after being diagnosed with a stress fracture.

--Quietly playing superb ball in recent weeks is junior PG Abdul Gaddy, who had 11 points and 10 assists in the NIT quarterfinal win over Oregon. Gaddy was contributing 8.8 points and 8.2 assists over the past five games through March 25.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "It doesn't erase the pain of not playing in the NCAA Tournament, but it gives you something to add to the Pac-12 championship." -- Washington coach Lorenzo Romar, on making the NIT semifinals in New York City.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

SCOUTING REPORT: The Huskies feature at least two future pros on their perimeter, freshman G Tony Wroten and sophomore G Terrence Ross. C.J. Wilcox comes off the bench and can score 20 points in any given game. The Huskies are an excellent offensive rebounding team. Washington averaged 82.7 points through its first three NIT games, so there is plenty of explosiveness. The Huskies' problem this season has been their defense, which is not nearly as experienced or aggressive as in recent seasons. Past Washington teams could rattle opponents with their pressure and create easy transition baskets. This team does not do that as easily. However, if Ross and Wilcox are shooting well from the outside and Wroten gets the ball in the open court, the Huskies are fun to watch and dangerous to play.

REGULAR SEASON REVIEW: Coach Lorenzo Romar scheduled challenging nonconference road games, and it wound up biting the Huskies because they didn't win any of them. Washington lost at Saint Louis and at Nevada and on neutral floors to Marquette and Duke. All of them very good opponents, but Washington had nothing to show for it. The Huskies also lost at home to South Dakota State, a no-name team that is much better than its profile, as proven by its NCAA Tournament berth. The costliest regular-season defeat may have been a home loss to Cal, which secured the NCAA bid the Huskies coveted. Favored to win their third straight Pac-12 tournament title after capturing the regular-season crown, the Huskies faltered at the foul line and lost 86-84 to Oregon State in their first game.

ROSTER REPORT:

--Sophomore SF Terrence Ross had 24 points in the NIT quarterfinal win over Oregon, continuing his hot postseason play. Ross was averaging 26.3 points through three NIT games, boosting his season scoring average to 16.3 points.

--Sophomore G C.J. Wilcox had 17 points vs. Oregon. He was averaging 18.0 points off the bench in his past five games through March 25.

--Freshman PG Tony Wroten totaled just 11 points in Washington's first two NIT games, but he contributed 15 assists and nine rebounds. Then he came alive offensively against Oregon, scoring 22 points in the quarterfinal win. He was averaging 11 points, 5.3 rebounds and 5.7 assists in the NIT through March 25.


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