The Arizona Wildcats were on the verge of their 22nd victory in 23 Senior Day games under Lute Olson. Marcus Williams, the graduate of Roosevelt High School just north of Seattle's University District, appeared to have led his team to a triumph with 20 points in a Freshman of the Year-caliber effort. But Justin Dentmon stole an inbounds pass to Williams and gave it up for a Bobby Jones dunk that handed the Huskies their first lead of the game with 33 seconds left. The littlest Husky came up huge by converting a one-and-one with nine seconds for a 70-67 stunner.
The improbable victory avenged the double-overtime loss to the Wildcats on New Year's Eve as the Huskies clinched second place in the Pac-10. Trailing for the entire game, Brandon Roy parted a sea of red, spinning through four defenders for a left-handed reverse layup with 1:48. The highlight-reel maneuver cut the 'Cats lead to 67-66, nearly erasing the Huskies' 12-point second half deficit. Jon Brockman grabbed the last of his eight rebounds following a miss by Ivan Radenovic, but the Dawgs' chances seemed bleak when Mike Jensen's 3-point attempt took an unkind bounce with 54 seconds remaining. Washington, which had pulled within one point on two prior occasions, couldn't get over the hump and Jensen couldn't get on track. The hot-handed Husky from the perimeter finished 0 for 4 from 3-point range.
The Wildcats responded to their first deficit by feeding MWill on the wing, who was fouled attempting a baseline drive. But the Arizona freshman underscored just how clutch Dentmon's free throw shooting has been by missing both attempts. The Wildcats lack of team fouls ended up backfiring on them as they were forced to foul Dentmon twice, burning precious seconds before getting to the bonus. Hassan Adams wasn't able to replicate Roy's last-second theatrics in the first meeting as his 3-point attempt missed everything before falling harmlessly into Roy's hands at the buzzer.
With Husky fans in the dark as the FSN feed mysteriously cut out, the Dawgs pulled out their eighth straight win to match last year's 24-5 record. While the previous squad had a 5-4 road record in conference, this year's band of brothers finished with a four-game winning streak on the road, the first such run since 1959. With a 6-3 away record and three road sweeps, the Huskies will start the Pac-10 Tournament Thursday night as the 2-seed for the second straight year. Not bad for a group that was unranked at the beginning of the season and picked to finish fourth.
"I'm just so proud of our guys," said coach Lorenzo Romar, who had received some early questions about the lack of a non-conference road test. "When you go out on the road on Senior Day against a very good basketball team that has been playing well—and who played well today—and you get behind, but you continue to maintain your composure. You continue to stick together and possession by possession, you crawl back and win a game like this. Man, I couldn't be more proud of this group of young men."
With just under two minutes remaining, Dentmon atoned for a travel call on the previous possession by stripping the 6-foot-10 Kirk Walters from behind to set up Roy's impressive drive. The resilient freshman finished with 13 points, on 3-of-6 shooting from behind the arc, and three assists. His three steals more than made up for the six turnovers in the face of the relentless Wildcat defense. His turnover numbers included several questionable charge calls as the 'Cats auditioned for some acting accolades on the eve of the Oscars. The Huskies committed only five of their 16 turnovers in the second half.
"Justin Dentmon, has he come back with a vengeance of what?" stated Romar. "He hit a couple big threes. He did turn the ball over too many times with six, but his two steals at the end of the game were priceless. I'm glad we've got Justin Dentmon."
The Huskies repeatedly battled back in a game that prepared them well for the postseason. The Pac-10 referees allowed a good deal of contact in a physical, mostly halfcourt contest as 14,630 gathered for "Red Out at McKale Center." The sold-out crowd sported red with Olson, the dean of Pac-10 coaches, wearing a recently-ordered red blazer.
"I ain't never seen so much red in my whole life," said Dentmon, who hit treys at the beginning of each half. "In high school I shoot 56-percent (from 3-point range). Coming in here shooting a lower percentage, (I said) I got to pick it up."
After starting the season ice-cold from tripletown, Dentmon has hit six of his last 13 3-point attempts. His foul shooting has been as dependable as November rain in the Northwest, and he's now shooting .851 from the stripe, third best in the conference.
Led by Roy's fifth double-double of the season, the Huskies (24-5, 13-5) had four scorers in double digits. While the senior guard has proven to be a prolific scorer, the team has demonstrated that it can supply balanced scoring when the opponent collapses on their star. They are now 17-0 when four or more Huskies reach double-figure points and have won several big games—Gonzaga, at UCLA—when Roy was held to 10 points.
Ryan Appleby was the beneficiary of several kick outs from Roy, and he took advantage of the opportunities. The recently-anointed Pac-10 Newcomer of the Year, Appleby knocked down 4 of 5 shots from the arc. The sophomore from Stanwood hit a 23-footer with 4:50 remaining to slice the lead to 63-62. But Marcus Williams kept the 'Cats in front with four consecutive free throws—until his luck ran out.
Jamaal Williams contributed 12 points and six rebounds against the improving Arizona frontline. The Wildcats tenacious effort did little to damage their bid for a 22nd consecutive Big Dance bid, which is the longest current streak in the nation. Claiming the second seed in next week's tourney was important in order to avoid playing a surging team like Arizona in the first round.
UCLA (24-6, 14-4) clinched the Pac-10 title with a strong 75-54 showing at Stanford. California (18-9, 12-6) downed the Trojans 71-60 for sole possession of third place, while Arizona (18-11, 11-7) slipped into a fourth-place tie with Stanford (15-12, 11-7).
The Wildcats started each half with fire in their eyes, but in each case the Huskies were able to tighten the defense for a rally. After Arizona took a 20-12 lead following a 3-minute UW scoreless spell, Washington went on a 17-7 run to cut the advantage to 34-31 at halftime as six Huskies got in on the scoring.
Arizona opened the second half with an 11-5 run as they hit their first five shots. But Appleby took a steal down the court for a layin to keep the Dawgs within seven points at 15:31 remaining. After Jones picked up his third foul, Washington went to a 2-3 zone that did little to cool Marcus Williams. The swingman hit a trey as the shot clock was about to expire and followed with a jumper from the top of the key for a 50-38 lead. The Huskies then limited the 'Cats to seven points in the next seven minutes to climb back into the intense contest. Adams and Radenovic were each held to eight points, well below their recent scoring levels.
"This was definitely the toughest road game of my career," said Roy, who finished with 16 points, 11 rebounds, and five assists. "Not only was this a great crowd, great environment and great team, but it was Senior Night. I know how badly we wanted to win last week on our Senior Night. We just had to match their energy tonight and I think we did a great job of it."