Huskies break 'Cats' back to win crown

Los Angeles - Saturday at the Staples Center it wasn't the finals of the Pac-10 tournament. It was the Nate Robinson versus Salim Stoudamire show, and while Salim took home the personal glory, Nate came out with the championship. Robinson led a bloodied but unbowed Washington team that took it to the Arizona Wildcats late on the boards and the stripe, and a key non-call against Stoudamire paved the way to a 81-72 victory for the Dawgs, their first championship in Pac-10 tournament history.

"It's a team effort, we've been working for this for so long," a jubliant Joel Smith said after the game, as the Huskies cut down the nets, not only winning the Pac-10 crown, but also taking the rubber match of the UA-UW three-game season series. "Our team has a lot of heart, it's going to take a lot more than that to take us out."

With Washington up three, 75-72 with 1:26 left - part of a 17-2 UW run in the final minutes of the game, Stoudamire drove down the right hand side of the lane, looking to put up another dead-eye. Contact was made with Will Conroy and Salim slipped to the ground. Arizona Head Coach Lute Olsen angrily voiced his displeasure at the ensuing no-call that gave the ball back to Washington since the ball had bounced away from Stoudamire and out of bounds.

"That call did not lose us the ballgame," Arizona Head Coach Lute Olson said afterwards. "We're still the Pac-10 champs. We now have to take care of business in the (NCAA) tournament."

From there the Dawgs cooly sunk all six of their free throws, four coming from Nate. Robinson and Simmons were also named to the all-tournament team. Stoudamire was named the tournament's Most Valuable Player, but the 'Cats lost for the first time (5-1) in a Pac-10 tourney final.

Tradition has its benefits. The Arizona Wildcats used a charged Staples Center atmosphere and a constant refrain of 'U-of-A' to turn a neutral court battle-royale into a home game for the 'Cats, but it wasn't enough to overcome the Huskies' desire, tenacity and grit down the stretch.

"That was a great win over a great team by a great bunch of guys," Washington Head Coach Lorenzo Romar said. "We're not the biggest bunch of guys, but they stayed together and they played together. I couldn't be more excited for these guys to experience what it's like to be a champion here. We played with a sense of urgency and that's the only way we were going to get it done."

Besides Robinson's points, Conroy added some three-point firepower of his own. The senior from Seattle, known to be UW's distributor, took control with four rockets of his own to give the Huskies the punch from deep they had sorely missed against Stanford in the semis.

Jamaal Williams proved to be UW's main go-to threat inside, providing 16 tough points in the paint.

Stoudamire, considered by many to be one of the premier shooters the conference has ever had, put on a clinic starting with three minutes to go in the first half, putting down five three-pointers and 23 points to take a 41-33 lead at the midway point. The senior from Portland did everything he could to make sure it was an even half-dozen for his side, launching rainbow after rainbow that caught nothing but cotton. Stoudamire finished with 37 points for the night - two short of Reggie Miller's tournament record - but it was to no avail. "He went on a rampage," said Conroy.

Arizona (28-5, 15-3) also got help on the inside from Channing Frye, who added 14 points and six rebounds.

Washington (26-6, 14-4) held on for dear life during the first half of Stoudamire's wild ride, and the respite between halves was just what the doctor ordered. An energized UW team made a monster run at the 'Cats from the second half tip that kept them in the game until the end.

This was their third chance in two years to either share a split of the conference title or win the conference tournament, and the third time was the charm.

Robinson, who came into the championship game as the Pac-10 tournament's high scorer, did his best to keep the 'Cats early advantage modest, scoring 10 first-half points. He finished with 18.

Tre Simmons came off a miserable semifinal shooting performance against Stanford to also score 18 and haul down nine boards, part of a 42-26 rebounding edge for the Huskies. He hit his first trademark 3-pointer with three minutes left in the first half, his first long-range jumper made since 16:44 of the first half of Washington's quarterfinal game Thursday against Arizona State.

"There's this game we play in practice called 'War Rebounds', where it's just like playing football on the court," said Simmons. "That's how we did it, practice."

The tenor of the game was quickly dictated by Arizona's pace of play, as they looked to take advantage early of the fact that Washington had been taken to the brink by both Arizona State and Stanford earlier in the tournament. They also started out in a 1-3-1 zone that befuddled the Dawgs much like Stanford's 2-3 zone did Friday.

The Wildcats, by comparison, had hardly been tested at all, beating California and Oregon State by an advantage of over 27 points a game. But the gravity of the situation got to both teams early, as neither squad was able to take advantage of poor shooting for most of the first half. The Huskies especially, as no one player looked comfortable taking shots outside the perimeter. Arizona would then take the one-and-done by the Dawgs and push the advantage into easy scores inside by Frye and Ivan Radinovic.

But after the first television timeout, Williams and Brandon Roy provided a much-needed spark for Washington. Williams scored six quick points inside. But the outside shot was longing. It took the Huskies over fifteen minutes before they scored their first bomb, courtesy of Robinson, and they finished the half 3-16 from behind the arc. And it was just in time, because that's when Stoudamire decided to take over.

"The way it was going, he (Stoudamire) was going to have to score a hundred to beat us," said Robinson.

Points: Robinson 18, Simmons 18, Williams 16, Conroy 12, Rollins 6, Jensen 5, Roy 4, Jones 2
Rebounds: Simmons 9, TEAM 7, Jones 7, Robinson 5, Conroy 5, Jensen 4, Rollins 3, Roy 1
Assists: Simmons 4, Robinson 4, Conroy 4, Jones 2, Roy 2
Steals: Robinson 1, Conroy 1, Rollins 1
Blocks: no blocks Top Stories