Fear factor fueled Huskies comeback

SAN JOSE, Calif. – Double-digit seed, double-digit deficit – no problem. They smelled blood in the water in the building known as the “Shark Tank” most of the year and the 11th-seeded Washington Huskies weren’t about to deny upset-thirsty fans another bracket-buster Thursday.

Certainly not Washington forward Quincy Pondexter, who was battling just to keep his college career alive.

Facing the end of his college career, Quincy Pondexter hit the game-winner for Washington.
(Jed Jacobsohn / Getty Images)

“In the second half, as a senior, you don’t want that to be your last game,” Pondexter said after an 80-78 upset of sixth-seeded Marquette. “You don’t want to end on a sour note and I had to step up for our team to win.”

The native of nearby Fresno, Calif., took over. He pounded his dribble near the top of the key as the final seconds wound down, the game tied at 78.

It was an old-fashioned isolation play. Huskies coach Lorenzo Romar considered calling a timeout with 18 seconds remaining. The thought crossed his mind again six seconds later. No, he’d let Pondexter – Washington’s career leader in games played – settle things.

“I decided not to call a timeout,” Romar said. “Just let your senior have a chance to win it.”

Pondexter did just that, driving and hitting an off-balance bank shot with 1.7 seconds left.

The San Jose Arena crowd erupted. Whether it was Washington faithful making a three-state trek down the Pacific Coast or just your typical collection of upset-minded crazies who congregate this time every year, the buzz in the building survived three consecutive timeouts before a Lazar Hayward heave at the buzzer missed the mark.

Pondexter, who finished with 18 points and 11 rebounds, would survive to play a 134th game in a Huskies uniform.

“The fear of it being my last collegiate game ever,” Pondexter said when asked what sparked his big second half.

In that sense, he truly was playing like a man possessed.

Marquette was seconds removed from its biggest lead of the night – a 60-45 advantage with 13:58 left in the second half – when Pondexter knifed through traffic to grab an offensive rebound and score on a putback.

A short time later a Pondexter steal led to a Pondexter layup on a possession kept alive when, you guessed it, Pondexter drew a foul battling for an offensive board.

“I played horrible in the first half,” he said.

In those first 20 minutes, he was 1-of-7 from the floor and scored two points. He grabbed one offensive rebound among his six boards before intermission. Marquette held a 43-42 lead, and it would swell during an 11-2 run to open the second half.

Pondexter was everywhere in Washington’s rally. He was credited with four offensive rebounds in the second half – all in the final 14 minutes, when the Huskies outscored the Golden Eagles 35-18 – and that doesn’t count the foul he drew on a loose ball or a key held-ball he earned when the possession arrow favored the Pac-10 champs.

He was one-half of a double technical foul – “The technical was some my fault,” he would admit – and he jawed with Marquette forward Jimmy Butler to “get under his skin a little bit.”

It wasn’t a solo act. Isaiah Thomas scored 19 points and Elston Turner scored 11 of his 14 in the second half to aid the rally. But the central figure in every key possession, it seemed, was Pondexter.

They’ll remember the game-winning shot, and rightly so. “It’s one of those storybook shots,” Pondexter said.

But before that, there was Pondexter the hero with the soft touch off the glass; there was Pondexter the bull in a china shop helping the Huskies claw back.

“Great players make great plays,” Marquette coach Buzz Williams said. “We got beat on the second shot, not on the first.”

Matt Romig is a senior editor for Yahoo! Sports. Send Matt a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.
Updated Friday, Mar 19, 2010