Huskies start run in fine fashion

SEATTLE - If the Washington Huskies plan on pulling out a miracle run to the NCAA Tournament, they needed something to go their way and they got it. The Huskies used a balanced attack to hold off a ferocious second-half run by USC to upend the No. 23 Trojans 85-70 Thursday night at Bank of America Arena.

The Huskies (17-12, 7-10), finding themselves on the outside looking in at the NCAA Tournament, have only one chance to punch their ticket to the dance - a win in the Pac-10 Tournament. They were looking to gain some much-needed momentum heading to Los Angeles and got solid production and patience from their starting five - with only Quincy Pondexter missing double-digits with nine points - to pull away at the end after surrendering a large lead.

Husky captain Jon Brockman struck first with a quick layup to start the game and the Dawgs never let up.

The Dawgs were paced early by oft-criticized point guard Justin Dentmon (12 pts, 0 turnovers), who roared out of the gates tallying 11 points in the first five minutes. The Trojans, clearly focused on stopping Spencer Hawes, left Dentmon free to drift around the perimeter and he responded by sinking his first three 3 point shots.

"Justin had zero turnovers and that played a big part in our win," Washington Head Coach Lorenzo Romar explained after the game. "He had a real high level of concentration. Consequently, he did a great job of taking care of the ball."

With the Trojan defenders adjusting to guard the Husky perimeter, Brockman and Spencer Hawes were freed up to ravage the USC interior, and they combined for 16 points and 11 rebounds in the first half.

But USC came ready for a battle. Though the Huskies boasted a sizable strength advantage in the post, the bigger USC wings physically dominated the Washington guards using their size to create mismatches inside and out and finding open shots despite the energetic Husky defense.

Junior Nick Young (26 points to lead all scorers), a potential NBA lottery pick, led the SC (21-9, 11-6) scoring with 13 points in the half while forward Gabe Pruitt (13 pts, 4 assts) chipped in 11, and the Dawgs seemed unable to counter Young's flurry of spinning layins and high-flying jumpers.

"Nick Young had a great game for them," said Romar after the game. "He is really just a phenomenal basketball player."

Fortunately for UW fans, Ryan Appleby found the gas pedal, pouring in 13 points on 4-6 three-point shooting. Appleby drew the unenviable task of trying to guard former Rainier Beach star Lodrick Stewart, and managed to limit the Washington native and USC all-time three-point record holder to 3-7 shooting from the field. Stewart scored only two more points the rest of the night.

"We were doing a pretty good job of getting out in transition and the guys were finding me," Appleby said. "I missed my first couple, but then I got one to fall and I just kept shooting."

USC Coach Tim Floyd was obviously disappointed by his team's defensive efforts and shared his thoughts on what went wrong.

"I thought we didn't get back defensively for our perimeter players in defensive transition," he said. "We made some real mistakes as far as location, and they made us pay for it."

Gladly absent from the box score was the turnover bugaboo that has plagued Washington all season long. The Huskies committed just six turnovers in the first half while trying to nurse a double-digit lead into halftime.

The pace finally slowed considerably in the second half as the Dawgs struggled to find the post with Brockman (17 pts, 9 boards) spending most of the half on the bench due to foul trouble. "Yeah, he got in some foul trouble," said Romar about Brockman. "But I thought that in his absence, Artem (Wallace) did a nice job. Artem did a nice job for us defensively tonight."

Without Brockman in the middle, the Trojans pushed underneath, blitzing the lane with reckless abandon while slashing the Dawgs' lead - 17 points - to five at the six-minute mark.

Employing the legendary 'Hack-a-Shaq' defense on Wallace - who entered the game shooting 33 percent from the line for the season - the Trojans sent him to the line 10 times. Wallace managed to beat his season average, converting on half of them, and despite the Trojans' best efforts, they never got any closer.

"They had some fouls to use," Romar said, chuckling. "And the bad news was that he (Wallace) was five of 10 from the line. The good news is, he nearly doubled his season average from there."

With the Huskies up only five, Romar reinserted Brockman back in the game, and the home team quickly pulled away behind two clutch free-throws by Wallace, as well as the careful ball control of the UW guards. The Dawgs' 10 turnovers were the fewest by Washington since their win over LSU.

"We came out ready to go," Appleby said. "This team hasn't given up and we know that if we keep fighting and struggling wins like this one will eventually come."

In the end, the Huskies turned in one of their most consistent efforts of the season, despite Brockman being limited by foul trouble. While Washington dominated the post, it was the heady play of Dentmon and Appleby that won the game.

We did some things that we have been doing for some time now, but I don't think we had the wins to show for it," added Appleby.

With Thursday night's win, the Huskies officially clinch the seventh seed in the Pac-10 tournament, which begins Wednesday. UW will play Arizona State at 8:42 p.m. at the Staples Center in Los Angeles. The Huskies will host UCLA Saturday at 11 a.m. to finish out their regular season.
Statistics:
Points: Appleby 22, Brockman 17, Hawes 13, Dentmon 12, Pondexter 9, Nelson 7, Wallace 5
Rebounds: Brockman 9, Hawes 7, Nelson 4, Oliver 3, Wallace 3, Pondexter 1, Appleby 1
Assists: Oliver 5, Pondexter 3, Brockman 2, Dentmon 2, Wallace 2, Appleby 1
Steals: Oliver 2, Pondexter 1, Dentmon 1, Wallace 1, Hawes 1, Nelson 1, Appleby 1
Blocks: Hawes 1, Oliver 1

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