Washington Keeps Making History

March 13, 2005

SEATTLE - One day after winning the Pac-10 tournament for the first time, the Huskies were awarded a surprising No. 1 seed in the 65-team NCAA Tournament.

'If you ask me, 'Do we deserve it?' My answer is `Yes,'' coach Lorenzo Romar said Sunday. 'Are we surprised? I guess the surprising part is that we weren't sure whether someone else, other than us, would think we deserved it.'

The NCAA Tournament selection committee agreed.

Washington (27-5) is the top team in the Albuquerque Regional, which keeps the Huskies in the West, potentially, through four rounds. They open NCAA play Thursday against 16th-seeded Montana (18-12) at Boise, Idaho.

Unlike last year's trek to Columbus, Ohio, where Washington lost 102-100 to Alabama-Birmingham in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, it's a 6-hour drive from Seattle to Boise, and the Huskies' noisy students are sure to be there.

'I'm really hyped about that,' point guard Will Conroy said. 'It means the Dawg Pack can go.'

Washington made a strong case for a No. 1 seed by beating Arizona 81-72 in the Pac-10 tournament final Saturday night, the first league title of any kind for the Huskies since 1985. Washington outscored the Wildcats 17-2 over the last 5 minutes.

'We've definitely got a banner to put up in the gym next year,' forward Bobby Jones said. 'We'd love to have another one that says, 'National Champions,' too.'

Fans and Washington players gathered Sunday at the team's on-campus arena, and cheers went up when the television broadcast revealed the Huskies as one of four No. 1 seeds in the field.

Previously, Washington's highest NCAA Tournament seeding was a No. 5 in 1985 -- the final season under venerable coach Marv Harshman.

'I'm not going to lie and say I thought we were going to get a No. 1 seed,' Jones said. 'But then I woke up today, and I started watching the shows. People were saying we could get it. I started believing them.'

Clearly, the Huskies benefited from Wake Forest's loss in the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament quarterfinals. Wake Forest, ranked in the Top 5 most of the season, was assigned a No. 2 NCAA seeding.

It was tough to ignore that Washington went 14-4 in one of the nation's top conferences. Romar said it's his understanding the Huskies finished No. 3 in the official Ratings Percentage Index that was used to select and seed teams.

'Washington has had a tremendous year,' said Bob Bowlsby, chairman of the NCAA selection committee. 'They've had a lot of good wins. They are a postseason-tournament winning team. We just felt they deserved to be on Line 1.'

The Huskies started strong, beating Utah, Oklahoma and Alabama to win the Great Alaska Shootout in November. They beat visiting North Carolina State in December and continued to roll when conference play began.

'You look at their body of work and they've done a good job,' said Stanford coach Trent Johnson, who said he didn't expect Washington to receive a No. 1 seed. 'It speaks volumes to the selection committee. They were able to give a No. 1 seed to the Pac-10 in the West.'

Most importantly, the Huskies closed strong -- going 11-2 down the stretch. The basketball program has improved during a downturn for the once proud football program, which was a school-worst 1-10 last fall.

'Regardless of what else is going on, what we've been able to do in itself has gotten people excited,' Romar said. 'We're excited to be in a position to be carry a torch.'

Basketball has become a hot ticket in Seattle since Romar -- a top assistant under Jim Harrick when UCLA won the 1995 NCAA title -- took over at his alma mater before the 2002-03 season.

In three years, the Huskies have gone from Pac-10 also-rans to one of the top four teams in the nation -- at least according to the selection committee. Negotiations have begun on a contract extension for Romar, though nothing is official yet.

'I never thought this would happen this quick,' Jones said. 'It shows how talented we are, and it says a lot about Coach Romar. Guys like to play for him because of the attitude he brings. There's no favoritism. You've got to respect that.'

-- Associated Press

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