Huskies know work remains entering Pac-12 tourney

BY foxsports • March 7, 2012

The last two years Washington has gone to the conference tournament facing questions about its NCAA worthiness and put all those to rest by winning the tournament title and earning an automatic NCAA tournament bid.

Surprise, surprise, the Huskies find themselves in the same place yet again, even after winning the Pac-12 regular-season title outright.

''We need to win some games. I don't know if we're a slam dunk for the tournament,'' Washington coach Lorenzo Romar said Tuesday. ''That's how we felt going in the last two years.''

Certainly that approach has served the Huskies (21-9, 14-4) well in the previous two Pac-10 tournaments. And avoiding an opening-game exit this year might prove vitally important for Washington with continuing debate about just how many NCAA bids the Pac-12 should receive in a down year for the conference. Washington enters the Pac-12 tourney with history on its side as no regular-season champion of the conference has failed to reach the NCAA tourney since 1958.

But that's followed by the unavoidable numbers that will hang over the Huskies' NCAA resume if they don't win the conference tourney: an RPI of 54, no wins against a ranked opponent, a 1-6 record against the RPI Top 50 and a loss to a team with an RPI below 100.

The Huskies will face the winner of Wednesday's opening-round game between eighth-seeded Washington State and ninth-seeded Oregon State. Washington swept both teams in the regular season, but when facing those teams on the road in February, the Huskies had to pull out a three-point win at Oregon State and a four-point win over the rival Cougars.

''I'm definitely not saying `look out Pac-12 here we come.' This is going to be a tough, tough tournament starting out with our first game,'' Romar said. ''On paper, in terms of wins and losses, we are the No. 1 seed, but beyond that you've got to go play the game. It doesn't mean anything.''

Washington could have put a stamp on its NCAA tournament resume by winning the Pac-12 title on its own and picking up a 22nd victory before the conference tournament. Instead, Washington somewhat backed its way into just its second outright regular-season conference title since the 1950s. The Huskies faltered last Saturday in their attempt to claim the title themselves, falling 75-69 at UCLA, but were handed the outright title and No. 1 seed for the conference tourney when Stanford upset California on Sunday.

C.J. Wilcox didn't even watch the Cal-Stanford game as his rental house doesn't have cable TV. It was through social media that he got word of the Huskies' title, but it felt a little awkward.

''It's weird for someone else to win for us to be Pac-12 champions,'' Wilcox said.

While Washington ended up with plenty of postseason accolades - Romar was named conference coach of the year and Tony Wroten freshman of the year - they were left out of the player of the year category, with the award going to California's Jorge Gutierrez. Terrence Ross seemed to be the favorite after he finished the year averaging 15.3 points and 6.6 rebounds and Ross acknowledged Monday he felt ''a little snubbed'' by not winning the award.

A day later, Ross was congratulatory of Gutierrez and hopeful of matching his breakout in last year's conference tourney. In the three games in L.A. last year, Ross averaged 15.3 points, including 16 in the title game against Arizona, and was named to the all-tournament team.

''You have to be almost perfect. ... You can't mess up,'' Ross said. ''You have to know the scouting report and play hard.''

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