LOS ANGELES - This Selection Sunday was preceded by a very celebratory Saturday.
And it was the Washington Huskies who had plenty to celebrate, defending their Pacific-10 Conference tournament title with a 77-75 buzzer-beating overtime win over regular-season champion Arizona.
Isaiah Thomas – the guy who beat that buzzer – was named the tournament’s most outstanding player for the second consecutive season.
He also made the all-tournament team, and was joined by freshman teammate Terrence Ross.
The win also assures the Huskies of hearing their name called this afternoon when the NCAA tournament pairings are announced, thanks to the automatic bid that goes along with the Pac-10 tournament championship.
“You can never be prouder of your team when they lay it all out on the floor and they play together as a group and they’re just pulling for one another,” coach Lorenzo Romar said. “They’re all lost in the game, trying to put forth their best effort. You can’t be more proud when you see something like that happen. I think we’re able to see from our team that happened three days in a row.”
It was quite a capper to quite a turnaround week.
Just days earlier the Huskies had seemed on the verge of imploding, as they lost two of their final three regular-season games and then endured the disciplinary suspension of senior Venoy Overton.
But the team that arrived in Los Angeles seemed to have left those distractions behind. Washington (23-10) opened its three-day tournament run with an 89-87 avenging of Washington State, followed with a 69-51 whipping of Oregon, and then claimed the crown Saturday by winning the rubber match against the Wildcats.
The last one went down to the buzzer – twice.
With seven seconds left in regulation, Washington trailed by three until redshirt freshman C.J. Wilcox drained his first 3-pointer of the game after three earlier misses.
“I just thought, ‘When is it going to fall?’ ” Wilcox said. “It’s the shooters’ mentality that one of your shots is going to fall when you’ve been missing. Isaiah gave me a good look at the rim, and I knocked it down.”
But there were still five minutes of work to do. And it seemed there might be even more when Arizona’s Kevin Parrom pulled the Wildcats even with a 3-pointer 19 seconds from the end of overtime.
However, when Thomas waved off a timeout, Romar put the game in the hands of his all-conference point guard.
Thomas worked the ball up the middle of the court, reached the 3-point line, lifted and launched the 18-footer that set off the celebrations.
“Coach was going to call a timeout,” Thomas said. “He trusted me. ... I knew I had a smaller guy on me (Lamont “MoMo” Jones), so I could get a shot off, and I just made a little step back and God made the ball go in the hoop.”
Once it did, the Huskies swarmed the floor and lifted Thomas on their shoulders.
Minutes later, he and Ross were named to the all-tournament team. Then, the Huskies took turns climbing a ladder placed on the Staples Center court and snipping pieces from the net Thomas had swished.
Thomas played all 45 minutes, scoring 28 points, adding seven assists and five rebounds. Ross added 16 points. Matthew Bryan-Amaning came on late for nine points in a performance shortened to 24 minutes before fouling out.
Arizona (27-7) was led by Pac-10 player of the year Derrick Williams, who had 24 points and 11 rebounds.
“Whenever a game leads you to win a championship, it’s a victory that you’ll always remember,” Romar said. “The way and the fashion that this was done makes it a victory that ranks up there pretty high. It’s up there. One of these days when I’m not coaching anymore I’ll sit back in the rocking chair and reminisce about this game. Reminisce how Isaiah Thomas just totally flagged off his coach, no. I’ll remember a lot of things about this tournament, and they’re all good.”
NCAA Selection Show, 3 p.m., Ch. 7, 950-AM