Washington can pull off a second hoops championship this season with two more wins in New York City.
A 90-86 winner over Oregon in the NIT quarterfinals Tuesday, the Washington Huskies (24-10) will take on the winner of Wednesday’s Minnesota-Middle Tennessee State quarterfinal Tuesday in New York’s Madison Square Garden. Middle Tennessee State’s Blue Raiders, out of the Sun Belt Conference, are a slight favorite to beat the Big Ten Gophers.
ESPN will televise the Minnesota-Middle Tennessee game at 4 p.m. PDT.
In addition to Minnesota and Middle Tennessee State, Stanford and Nevada remain in NIT title contention. The Cardinal and Wolfpack also play Wednesday. UW beat Stanford 76-63 Jan. 21, but lost to Nevada 76-73 (OT) Dec. 2.
Washington is 9-6 all time against Minnesota, a No. 6 seed in the NIT, but the teams have not met since 1991, when the Huskies registered a 77-61 win at Hec Edmundson Pavilion. The Huskies have never faced Middle Tennessee State, a No. 4 seed.
Minnesota (21-14) scored its biggest victory of the season Jan. 12, when the Gophers traveled to Bloomington, IN., and defeated the No. 8-ranked Hoosiers 77-74.
The Gophers and Huskies played two common opponents. Minnesota routed South Dakota State 71-55 Nov. 14. A month later, the Jackrabbits, who became an NCAA Tournament team, blasted Washington 92-73 in one of the epic losses in UW basketball history. Minnesota also defeated Southern Cal 55-40 Dec. 3. UW posted two wins over the Trojans in Pac-12 play.
Minnesota finished the regular season with an RPI of 72 while playing the nation’s 43rd-toughest schedule.
The Blue Raiders (27-6), who had an RPI of 51, upset Tennessee Monday to earn their shot against Minnesota. Middle Tennessee was expected to win the Sun Belt Tournament and go to the NCAA Tournament. But a surprise upset loss to Arkansas State in the Sun Belt quarterfinals sent them to the NIT instead.
Middle Tennessee State and Washington played one common opponent, UCLA. The Huskies split with the Bruins during Pac-12 play. Middle Tennessee State routed the Bruins 86-66 in the opening game of the Maui Invitational.
Middle Tennessee State also recorded wins over MAC regular-season champion Akron, Belmont and Ole Miss, as well as its NIT wins over Marshall and Tennessee.
By beating the Ducks, Washington punched its ticket to the Big Apple for the second time this season. In December, Washington participated in the Jimmy V Classic vs. Marquette and in the CARQUEST Auto Parts Classic vs. Duke. The Huskies lost both, 79-77 to Marquette, 86-80 to the Blue Devils. Those were the only games UW had against nationally ranked teams.
“We have a chance to win a national championship in the NIT, and I think that’s number one,” coach Lorenzo Romar after Terrence Ross scored 24 points and Tony Wroten 22 in the victory over Oregon. “That, along with us being able to travel, playing in the Garden again.”
The Huskies, who inexplicably lost to Oregon by 25 points a month ago in Eugene and then became the first winner of a major conference to fail to make the NCAA Tournament, struggled to beat Texas-Arlington in the first round of the NIT as they attempted to shed their disappointment over being snubbed by the NCAA.
Washington then drubbed Northwestern 76-55 in the second round of the NIT, setting up the third meeting of the year with the Ducks.
“This just shows our maturity as a team, how far we have come,” said senior Darnell Gant, minutes after becoming the first Husky men’s basketball player with 100 career wins in his portfolio.
NOTES: Wroten has scored freshman-record 550 points this season, nine more than Isaiah Thomas had during his freshman year, 2008-09. Wroten also holds UW freshman records for assists (130) and steals (63) . . . Gant is the only player in UW history to play on four title teams, two regular-season champions and two conference champions . . . Fans interested in purchasing tickets now for the NIT semifinals and finals at http://www.thegarden.com/tickets.html or by calling 866-858-0008.