LOS ANGELES - Fans of the Washington Huskies counted down to the new year in their own way.
Wednesday brought a men’s basketball win at USC.
Thursday brought the Holiday Bowl win over Nebraska in San Diego.
But before the balloons could really drop, the basketball team had to finish off the southern California sweep with a win Friday at UCLA.
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It didn’t come easily, but it finally came: a 74-63 win over the Bruins.
“It was great,” said junior guard Isaiah Thomas, who provided 17 points and nine assists. “Especially with the football team winning, we knew we had to win this game. They got blown out the first time (against Nebraska), and for them to play that good and win a bowl game, we knew we had to win it for them.”
It was only Washington’s fourth win in 48 tries at Pauley Pavilion. But unlike most of the others, this one played out before a crowd of 9,049 that included lots of loud and happy folks wearing purple.
“Our fans were unbelievable tonight and against USC,” UW coach Lorenzo Romar said. “It was great. We’ve never had that type of support here in L.A., that’s for sure. That must have made a difference.”
This marked only the third time that the UW men’s basketball team has swept its trip to Los Angeles. And it marked the first time since 1976 that the Huskies have opened Pacific-10 Conference play with a 2-0 trip.
“L.A., I think, is probably going to be the hardest road trip for every team,” said senior Matthew Bryan-Amaning. “So to come down here early in the Pac-10 Conference and be able to get the win is huge for us.”
Bryan-Amaning led all scorers with 21 points. But there was no shortage of heroes. Freshman Terrence Ross picked up where he left off at USC with some early offense off the bench. Seven-foot Aziz N’Diaye took on the task of banging with Joshua Smith, UCLA’s 310-pound center out of Kent; and that made life easier for Bryan-Amaning. And even though senior forward Darnell Gant scored only six points, his late 3-pointer may have been the dagger that finally finished things.
“We have multiple guys who can make baskets,” Romar said. “Even throughout the course of a game, someone may get going, and later on someone else may get going. I think in the past, the last couple of years, we’ve kind of been limited with our options.”
The Huskies inched slowly ahead through the early going. But they opened the second half with a burst and increased their lead to 17 points about 14 minutes from the end.
However, the Bruins (9-5 overall, 1-1 Pac-10) had one more run left, and trimmed Washington’s lead to four points five different times during the stretch run – but never closer.
“The game is made of runs,” said Thomas, the Tacoma native. “We knew they were the home team (and they were) going to make one last run. They did. And I’m proud of my teammates for just being mature and not yelling at each other, not getting down on each other. We just kept playing.”
UW’s lead stood at six points with a little more than four minutes remaining, when the ball was passed to Gant in the left corner just beyond the 3-point line. He didn’t hesitate. And when his trey increased the lead to nine, hundreds of UCLA fans decided it was time to get on with other New Year’s Eve plans.
“Before that happened, I really thought we were only up three or something and it put us up six,” Gant said. “But when we sat down and people started leaving, I said ‘I guess that was the shot.’ ”
Washington (10-3, 2-0) continues conference play at 5:30 p.m. Thursday, when Oregon visits Hec Edmundson Pavilion.