The feeling of failure to reach the NCAA tourney lingered, but Washington pulled away from Texas-Arlington in the second half to reach the NIT’s second round against Northwestern Friday.
For awhile Tuesday night at a semi-dead Hec Ed — attendance 2,801 — it looked like a similar dubious fate awaited Washington. But the Huskies finally roused a bit of passion against Texas-Arlington of the Southland Conference to pad off with an 82-72 triumph that averted the hoops mortification of a third consecutive loss to end the season.
Terrence Ross scored 23 points, including eight in a 19-6 run in the second half that allowed the Huskies to pull away and advance to the NIT’s second round with a home game at 7 p.m. Friday against fourth-seeded Northwestern, which beat fifth-seeded Akron 76-74 in Chicago Tuesday night.
The foul-plagued Mavericks missed 12 of their final 15 shots as Washington’s defense finally took hold despite foul trouble by Aziz N’Diaye. He picked up his fourth foul with 15:35 to play, a problem that cost the Huskies dearly in the 86-84 loss to Oregon State Thursday that dropped them out of the NCAA tournament and into the NIT.
This time, agitation over dubious foul calls appeared to inspire Washington, although the Mavs were ahead 59-58 inside eight minutes before Ross went to work. His 15-footer put UW ahead for good at 60-59, and after a couple of free throws from C.J. Wilcox, Ross hit back-to-back threes that provided momentum.
“It was terrible,” said Ross of the hangover from missing the NCAA tournament. “We had to get that out of our system. It didn’t leave me until about 30 minutes ago.”
Despite Ross’s run of 11 first-half points in a row, halftime saw the game tied at 37, which left Huskies coach Lorenzo Romar a little steamed.
“They were more physical than we were,” he said. “Part of the problem was we allowed too much dribble penetration. We forgot to rotate and rebound.
“After the first half, we tightened it up and kept them out of the lane.”
Romar said the there was a large incentive to play a game after the Oregon State mess-up.
“I couldn’t wait for us to get on the floor, play well and hopefully get us a win,” he said. “This was good to help the healing.”
The Huskies had 18 assists and just nine turnovers while shooting 57 percent, a single-game season high. Darnell Gant, who set a school record by appearing in his 137th game as a Husky, had 13 points and 10 rebounds, his third consecutive game with double-digit boards.
Of Northwestern, the Friday foe, Romar said, “They play different than anyone we played. They run the Princeton offense in all its purity, and it was good enough to beat (NCAA No. 1 seed) Michigan State.”