December 07, 2011
The transformation began Saturday when Marquette won at rival Wisconsin to snap the Badgers' 23-game home win streak. Then in a fast-paced, highly entertaining matchup on Tuesday night, the Golden Eagles survived an upset bid from a Washington team boasting enough perimeter talent to challenge almost anyone in the nation when at its best.
What enabled Marquette to eke out a 79-77 victory was the way it responded to Terrence Ross sinking the go-ahead contested jump shot for the Huskies with 19 seconds remaining. Instead of calling timeout to discuss strategy, Vander Blue found Jae Crowder spotted up in the corner for a go-ahead three-pointer with 6.3 seconds left, then the Golden Eagles walled off Abdul Gaddy from the rim on the game's final play to preserve the win.
Gaddy's final shot failing to draw iron ensured that Marquette would leave Madison Square Garden as one of the nation's final 14 undefeated teams. The 11th-ranked Golden Eagles (8-0) still have a Dec. 19 road test at LSU and a Dec. 29 matchup with Vanderbilt left this month, but there's a realistic chance they still may not have lost a game by the time they start Big East play next month.
If Tuesday night's finish was cause for celebration for Marquette it was deflating for a Washington team that was already coming off a loss at Nevada. The Huskies responded with their best performance of the season, yet they still left Madison Square Garden 4-3 and in need of a victory against Duke on Saturday to avoid entering Pac-12 play without a marquee non-league win.
On the one hand, sophomore Terrence Ross continued to develop into a go-to scorer, senior forward Darnell Gant looked more aggressive on offense and the Huskies pounded the Golden Eagles on the glass behind 13 Aziz N'Diaye boards. On the other hand, Gaddy went 2-for-11 from the field, fellow point guard Tony Wroten sat down the stretch and the Huskies played abysmal transition defense.
Nonetheless, Washington showed enough on Tuesday for viewers to come away convinced that both teams were NCAA tournament caliber. The difference is the Golden Eagles will likely be playing for seeding in Big East play whereas the Huskies will need to avoid their usual road lapses in the Pac-12 simply to make the field of 68.