Washington’s remarkable late-season run has extended right into the NCAA tournament, thanks to a big shot by the Huskies’ senior leader.
Quincy Pondexter drove for a tiebreaking bank shot with 1.7 seconds left, and 11th-seeded Washington rallied for an 80-78 victory over Marquette in the first round of the East Regional on Thursday night.
Pondexter scored 18 points in his school-record 134th game, and Isaiah Thomas had 19 as the Huskies (25-9) won their eighth straight in dramatic fashion, roaring back from a 15-point deficit with 13
Washington made two late defensive stops before Pondexter drove by Jimmy Butler from the perimeter and scored the winner.
Lazar Hayward missed a half-court heave at the buzzer for the sixth-seeded Golden Eagles (23-11), who didn’t manage a field goal in the final 4:33.
Elston Turner had another strong second half for the Huskies, scoring 11 of his 14 points while they rallied. Washington led for less than a minute of the entire second half before the final layup by Pondexter, who also had 11 rebounds while breaking Justin Dentmon’s Huskies record for appearances.
Hayward scored 15 of his 20 points after halftime, but lost his duel with fellow senior forward Pondexter — his dorm mate on a World University Games team in Serbia last summer. Hayward crumpled at midcourt after his final miss, but his teammates gathered around and raised him up for final handshakes.
Darius Johnson-Odom had 19 points and David Cubillan added 14 for the Eagles, who also finished strong in the regular season to earn a surprisingly high seed.
Marquette’s loss completed an ugly 1-3 opening day for the mighty Big East, which put eight teams in the NCAA tournament, most of any conference. No. 2 seed Villanova posted the league’s only victory despite an overtime scare from 15th-seeded Robert Morris.
Washington’s win was a welcome development for the beleaguered Pac-10, which got just two teams into the NCAAs after a down season for the league.
Sporting new haircuts featuring patterns and uniform numbers etched in the left sides of their heads, the Eagles kept pace with the up-tempo Huskies for most of the day, but couldn’t execute their deliberate offense late. The Big East’s top 3-point shooting team went 12 for 19, but lost for the eighth time in an astonishing 16 games decided by four points or fewer this season.
The first-round game was every bit as entertaining as the Huskies’ back-and-forth victory over California last weekend in the Pac-10 tournament, which Washington probably needed to win just to make the NCAAs after its rough season ended with a lengthy winning streak.
Marquette jumped ahead with a 15-1 run shortly after halftime, getting eight points from Hayward while taking a 60-45 lead. Washington answered with a 13-2 run in less than three minutes, and eventually took a 72-71 lead on Turner’s 3-pointer with 5:20 left.
Marquette went back ahead on Cubillan’s 3-pointer moments later — but it was the Eagles’ final field goal. Hayward didn’t score in the final six minutes.
The win was hardly an upset: Washington and Marquette have similar smallish lineups, and both teams needed tremendous late-season finishes just to make the NCAAs.
The Eagles went 11-3 down the stretch with two wins in the Big East tournament, saving a season that was in trouble after a 2-5 start to Big East play. Marquette was pleasantly surprised to get a No. 6 seed in its fifth straight trip to the NCAAs.
Washington began the season with a national ranking, but slipped out of the polls with a midseason swoon that put the talented team in danger of missing the postseason. The Huskies rallied in recent weeks, winning nine of 11 before rolling through the Pac-10 tournament with three straight victories, including that back-and-forth thriller over Cal in the championship game.