Washington 90, Oregon 86
Somewhere between the disappointment of becoming the answer to a trivia question and beginning the NIT, Lorenzo Romar found the words and reasons to motivate Washington into taking a consolation tournament with seriousness.
Three wins later, Washington is headed back to New York City for the NIT semifinals.
Washington (24-10) will make its second visit to Madison Square Garden this season after playing two games there last December against Marquette and Duke. The Huskies will face the winner of Wednesday's quarterfinal between Minnesota and Middle Tennessee State on March 27.
''Once the NIT selection was done coach was telling us that, `I know you don't want to be here but if you keep winning it's going to get more and more exciting,''' Wroten said.
Washington became the first regular season champion from a power six conference not to be selected for the NCAA tournament. But instead of sulking, the Huskies took a sense of seriousness to the NIT, although their opener against Texas-Arlington was a bit tighter than anyone in purple wanted. They routed Northwestern in the second round, and then used a raucous home crowd and the motivation of avenging a 25-point loss at Oregon in February to oust the Ducks in the first meeting between the schools in any postseason tournament.
Ross seemed extra motivated by the chance to play on the New York stage one more time as his name continues to get tossed about as a first-round pick if he forgoes the rest of his college career and enters the NBA draft early. He made 9 of 18 shots and hit three 3-pointers after scoring a career-high 32 against Northwestern.
''We're still upset that we get a (NCAA) bid and could have, but we all forgot about it and focused on this championship that we're after,'' Ross said.
Olu Ashaolu led Oregon (24-10) with 20 points and E.J. Singler added 19, although only four came in the second half. Devoe Joseph added 12, but continued his struggles shooting in Seattle, making just 4 of 15 shots. Joseph's worst shooting game of the season came on New Year's Eve in Seattle when he went 1 of 13 and finished with four points.
''The seniors didn't really want to end this in a loss, we wanted to go to New York, but Washington really played well tonight,'' Singler said.
Ross tried to personally pull the Huskies away, scoring eight straight points for Washington midway through the second half that included a difficult turnaround jumper in the lane while being fouled that induced a rare bit of outward emotion from the quiet sophomore. C.J. Wilcox, who finished with 17 points, later hit an open 3 from the wing and Washington had its largest lead at 75-65 with 7:22 left, capping a 9-0 run.
''That was a killer for us. We just really gave into it there. No communication, read certain screens wrong, made too many mistakes,'' Oregon coach Dana Altman said.
The Ducks scored 108 points in their second-round win over Iowa and would not go away. Garrett Sim hit a 3 to cut the deficit to 80-74 with 3:33 left and the Ducks had the lead down to four when Wroten had a basket waved off on a charging call with 2:33 left. But Ashaolu missed a tough reverse underneath and Aziz N'Diaye, a 38 percent free-throw shooter banked in one of two to get the Huskies' lead back to 82-77. Wilcox lost control of his dribble out of bounds for a turnover on Washington's next possession and Sim scored on a drive to cut the lead to 82-79. Ross and Wroten both missed chances for Washington, but Singler was called for charging into Abdul Gaddy and fouled out with 55.4 seconds left.
The ensuing inbound play nearly turned into another Washington turnover, but the scramble ended up in a Wroten dunk on a breakaway. While the Huskies were celebrating, Joseph hit a 3 and Oregon used its last timeout with 42.4 seconds left down 84-82. But Wilcox hit six straight free throws and the Huskies were headed back to New York.
Gaddy finished with 11 points, 10 assists and seven rebounds. Wilcox added 17 for the Huskies, who took two of three from the Ducks this season. Tony Woods added 15 for the Ducks.
''Our guys have been focused but have not been uptight about this,'' Romar said. ''There is a pretty good demeanor about this group here and it's showed so far in our three games.''
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