Huskies look to make long NCAA trip worthwhile

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by Associated Press

NWCN.com

Posted on March 18, 2011 at 8:29 AM

Updated Friday, Mar 18 at 8:49 AM

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) -- Washington's reward for winning another Pac-10 tournament: a nearly 3,000-mile trip for its NCAA tournament opener, and a possible matchup with North Carolina in the Tar Heels' home state.

Perhaps if the Huskies had been steadier during the season, their coach figures, they'd be playing closer to home.

No. 7 seed Washington faces 10th-seeded Georgia on Friday in an East Regional matchup, with the winner likely drawing No. 2 seed North Carolina in the third round.

Just to get to Charlotte, the Huskies (23-10) traveled 2,802 miles from their Seattle campus -- the longest trip for any tournament team this year. And they realize that might not have been their fate had they not lost three straight road games from Jan. 30 to Feb. 5, or closed the regular season with losses in three of their last four in the Pac-10.

"I'm thinking, during our season, if we take care of our business, we don't have to worry about that," coach Lorenzo Romar said Thursday. "We've been inconsistent this year, and as a result, we've flown across the country 2,800 miles. Maybe if we had done a little better job during our season, we wouldn't have had to go so far. We kind of made our bed, you know?"

Georgia has been through a lot, too, though its journey was emotional, not geographic.

The Bulldogs (21-11) spent a few agonizing days on the bubble after an early loss to Alabama in the SEC tournament -- and then they received what some considered a Selection Sunday surprise: its first at-large tournament invitation since 2002.

"It's a grand opportunity to be at this point and still be playing," forward Trey Thompkins said. "I feel like our team is mature enough that we can handle the fact that we're in the tournament very well. Coach (Mark) Fox has done a great job of keeping us focused and worried about the task at hand and worrying about Washington. Not looking forward, not looking back."

The Huskies welcome backup point guard Venoy Overton to the rotation after he was suspended for the Pac-10 tournament. But they sure didn't need the aggressive, up-and-down Overton at the Staples Center last weekend, not with Isaiah Thomas once again thriving.

Thomas was the most outstanding player at the league tournament, and it wasn't hard to figure out why. His step-back 18-footer at the end of overtime gave Washington a 77-75 win over Arizona and a second straight Pac-10 title. And while he admitted watching replays of his shot "probably 1,000 times," he knows things will have extra urgency from now on.

"More is at stake. It's really win or go home now," Thomas said. "You could be one or done, or win six in a row and win the national championship.

"Guys have got to know that every possession counts, everything that we do counts," he said, "so just be ready because the bright lights are on now."

Thomas averages nearly 16.8 points and has scored double figures in 90 of his 103 career games for Washington, which has averaged 83.5 points and allows 70. Small forward Travis Leslie, who scores 14.5 points per game, is another options for a Bulldogs team that averages fewer than 70 points but gives up only 64.

"Because they have so many weapons, they can play a style and a tempo that allows a lot of possessions for them to score," Fox said. "Certainly, we have to find a way to slow that a little bit. We've always tried to play as fast as we can play well. We'll have to find that balance."

Things have come full circle in a sense for Fox, the Bulldogs' second-year coach whose biggest game at his current school comes against the one that gave him his start in coaching.

Fox was a graduate assistant and then a full-time assistant at Washington from 1991-93, and then-Husky assistant -- and eventual LSU coach -- Trent Johnson introduced him to the woman who would become his wife, the Huskies' marketing director at the time.

"It was certainly a time where we were able to see, I was able to see some of the struggles of the profession," Fox said of those seasons for the Huskies. "Really learning a lot about the trade of coaching and about how to manage a team and certainly how a program should operate."

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