Huskies still in control of destiny

With big help from two northwest foes, the Washington Huskies were able to keep their hopes of an outright league title alive with a gutty 60-51 win over USC Saturday afternoon at the Galen Center, behind a season-high 22 points from Quincy Pondexter.

The Huskies arrived in Los Angeles atop the Pac-10, and despite a loss to UCLA Thursday, they still find themselves on top. The Bruins lost to Washington State 82-81 and Oregon State took care of California by 10 in Corvallis earlier in the day, meaning Washington (20-7, 11-4) has a two-game lead over the other team with four losses, Arizona State. The Sun Devils host Arizona Sunday.

"Who would have thunk it?" queried UW Head Coach Lorenzo Romar after the game, the first win for the Huskies in three tries in the relatively new Galen Center. "We knew the Pac-10 was going to be unpredictable going in. But it ain't over."

The Huskies' win virtually assures them of their first trip to the NCAA tournament for the first time in three years. Washington is the only Pac-10 school to go through all of their road trips without being swept once. They did it the hard way, losing the Thursday leg three times, yet came back with wins on the back end every time.

"I couldn't be prouder of our guys," Romar said. "When you can do that (split three road series), you're in a championship situation. You've earned the right to be there."

"We're three games away," added Pondexter. "We have our mindset on the goal, and it's amazing how close it is."

Justin Dentmon and Isaiah Thomas, who combined for 39 points against the Trojans in Seattle, accounted for only 12 Saturday. But others were able to pick up the slack, most notably Pondexter. His 22 points were huge, but he also held freshman phenom DeMar Derozan to only eight points.

"Quincy was outstanding," Romar said of the junior from Fresno. "He hit big shot after big shot down the stretch, and he was in DeMar's face the whole game. You have to give Quincy a lot of credit for his overall performance tonight."

USC (16-10, 7-7) were led by the 11 points each of Daniel Hackett and Dwight Lewis. Taj Gibson added 10 points for the Trojans.

Pondexter was the only Husky in double-digits, but UW also got key contributions from Venoy Overton, Matthew Bryan-Amaning and Darnell Gant.

Overton, in particular, brought some big energy to a Huskies' team sorely needing something down 22-11 early in the game. The sophomore from Seattle had five quick points off the bench to stabilize things and help the Huskies take a three-point lead going into halftime. He also really bothered Hackett defensively with a lot of pushing and shoving that the officials let go for the most part.

"He didn't score many points, but he loosened us up," Romar said of Overton's play. "He made it so we didn't always have to play in the half-court."

Hackett's frustration apparently spilled out post-game, as he had to be separated from teammate Dwight Lewis after the game. "They were arguing a lot with each other during the game," Pondexter said. "It's sad to see, because they are a good team."

The second half was very physical and very sloppy, giving the freewheeling Huskies a bit of an advantage. While Dentmon, Thomas and senior forward Jon Brockman were a combined 6-25 on the day, Pondexter kept Washington in the game with big jumpers. Down four, Pondexter took it upon himself to provide the scoring load, pouring in eight-straight to give Washington a four-point lead with a little over two minutes left.

"Before the game, we saw Washington State beat UCLA, and we were kicking ourselves in the butt - because we could have had that win," said Pondexter, whose 22 points came in front of a lot of friends and family. "It's fun to be back in California again. I think it's the weather that makes me play so well."

After USC's Leonard Washington made one of two free throws, Gant hit a jumper from just above the free throw line to give UW a 56-51 advantage with 1:31 left.

The Huskies were able to force Lewis into a traveling call - one of six turnovers Lewis would have on the day. From that point on, Dentmon was able to step up and keep possession while the Trojans had to foul the Huskies twice to get into a shooting situation.

Pondexter almost made a crucial error by trying to lob the ball into Brockman from the side. A Trojan defender batted the ball toward the Huskies' hoop, but Brockman was able to hustle down and barely get a tip to Overton, who was fouled with 48.7 seconds left.

Overton calmly made both foul shots, and after Derozan missed a 3-pointer from the right elbow, the Huskies rebounded the ball and Dentmon was fouled. His two made free throws provided the margin of victory after the Trojans missed one more shot.

"I've been waiting two seasons to get this 20th win," Pondexter said. "It's a great feat that's hard to get in college basketball."

"Like a lot of wins, you are proud of your team, but I'm extra proud today," Romar added. "We were down 11 early, and to come back as a team - it's a great feeling.

"Guys just didn't quit. It was a great team effort."
Statistics:
Points: Pondexter 22, Dentmon 8, Overton 7, Bryan-Amaning 7, Brockman 6, Thomas 4, Gant 4, Turner 2
Rebounds: Brockman 14, Gant 5, Pondexter 5, Bryan-Amaning 3, Thomas 2, Overton 1, Turner 1, Holiday 1
Assists: Thomas 2, Overton 2
Steals: Dentmon 3, Overton 3, Pondexter 2, Brockman 1
Blocks: Bryan-Amaning 1

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