No. 12 Washington 88, CS Northridge 76
Lorenzo Romar held his index finger perhaps a quarter-inch from his thumb. And the veteran coach grinned a paternal smile.
``I think we're at a point where we're THIS CLOSE to being a very good basketball team,'' Romar said late Sunday night, after his No. 12 Washington Huskies responded to their first loss of the season by slogging through a foul-filled 88-76 victory over Cal State Northridge.
``But that margin, we have to get there soon - or we'll just be an OK basketball team.''
They need to get there by Saturday, when they face undefeated, No. 16 Georgetown in Anaheim, Calif. Then comes No. 25 Portland, which will likely tumble from the rankings this week after three straight losses, and then No. 19 Texas A&M.
Isaiah Thomas scored 21 points - 13 from the foul line - and Quincy Pondexter added 20 points and seven rebounds for the Huskies (6-1), who sputtered at times three nights after a frenetic overtime defeat at Texas Tech in their only road game so far.
Cal State Northridge (4-4) was up by five early and led 48-47 with 5 minutes gone in the second half before Washington went on a 17-2 run to take control.
Junior-college transfer Lenny Daniel scored a career-high 24 points for the Matadors.
``I just didn't think we competed very well. I think we had a bunch of guys kind of still living off of last game (a rally past Idaho) and really didn't come here and compete,'' Northridge coach Bobby Braswell said. ``It was a disappointing lack of competitive spirit.''
There were 31 fouls called in the first 22 minutes as the Huskies methodically built a 12-point lead from some of their 31 free throws - in 40 attempts.
The Matadors went on an 11-0 run immediately after a double-technical assessed to Mark Hill and Pondexter for a stare down. Daniel soared for a two-handed dunk off a deft pass from Vinnie McGhee before McGhee zoomed past Venoy Overton and for a left-handed scoop high off the glass.
The stunned Huskies stared blankly at each other as they called time out, up by only 48-47. And Northridge's first upset of a ranked team since March 2004 was a possibility.
Northridge's rally came without leading scorer Kenny Daniels. The senior who scored a career-high 39 points in Thursday's win over Idaho had just three in the first 21 minutes against constant double-teams by the Huskies. He got his third foul early in the second half and his disappointed coach kept him on the bench for a while after that. Daniels finished with seven points, 13 below his season average.
``He just wasn't very competitive tonight,'' Braswell said. ``Very disappointing effort.''
The Huskies' game-breaking run started with Pondexter's first 3-point basket of the season.
``Finally,'' the team captain said. ``Thank God it went in.''
Then Washington's only senior, who had a career-best 31 points in the loss at Texas Tech, stole the ball at halfcourt and fed Matthew Bryan-Amaning for an emphatic, right-handed dunk that ignited the worried crowd. When Scott Suggs swished a 3-pointer, Washington was back up 56-47 with 12 minutes left.
``This was the second game in a row where Quincy, when things weren't going well, just stepped up and made plays,'' Romar said.
The run ended with a parade of free throws by Thomas, who made 13 of 15 from the line. The Matadors had three players with four fouls each and had 27 fouls called on them in the first 33 minutes.
Washington led 74-59, and those fans fearing a possible upset were streaming out of the arena with 5 minutes left.
Elston Turner, who missed two free throws with 5 seconds left that could have won Thursday's game in regulation at Texas Tech, got a rousing, half-mocking cheer from the student section after making two free throws in the final minute of the half.
``Our team was just hurt. We were really, emotionally hurt,'' Pondexter said of the loss to the Red Raiders. ``We're all looking into ourselves. We all realize we have to get better.''