WASHINGTON (AP)—Connecticut did everything it could to give the game away with a season-high 26 turnovers, the final one coming with the Huskies clutching a two-point lead, seconds away from victory.
The top seed got away with it. In the wee hours of Saturday morning, a crazy sequence or two decided a game that was sometimes miserable to watch and occasionally downright laughable.
Connecticut rallied from an 11-point second-half deficit, got a break on an opponent’s silly foul and forced overtime on Rashad Anderson’s 3-pointer with 1.8 seconds left in regulation. Then the Huskies of the Big East held off the foul-depleted Huskies from the Pac-10 in the extra period for a 98-92 victory and a place in the NCAA’s round of eight.
“Of 1,100 basketball games I’ve been fortunate to be involved with, I’ve never been involved in anything like that,” UConn coach Jim Calhoun said.
And, to be sure, he hopes he never sees the likes of it again. Marcus Williams, who committed seven turnovers and got an earful from the coach during a first-half timeout, recovered to score a career-high 26 points as Connecticut advanced to regional finals for the sixth time in 12 years. UConn (30-3) will play for a spot in the Final Four on Sunday against 11th-seeded George Mason.
Calhoun warned on Thursday that his Huskies were “a team of lapses,” and was he ever prophetic. UConn committed nine turnovers during a miserable 5 1/2 -minute spell at the start of the second half, but Washington was unable to take full advantage.
“We probably made some of the most boneheaded plays we’ve made all season,” Williams said.
But the game hinged on two wild series of events. Washington led by 78-72 with 1:53 to play in regulation—and 80-76 with 21 seconds left—and obviously no longer wanted to foul, but Mike Jensen was whistled for contact on Williams on a layup with 11 seconds remaining. The shot went in, and Williams made the free throw for a three-point play that made it a one-point game.
“We did not want to foul him,” coach Lorenzo Romar said. “We wanted to try to keep him in front of us. Obviously that was a big play, and the game seemed like it was definitely going to go our way.”
Washington’s Brandon Roy was then fouled and made two free throws with 7.9 seconds remaining. That made it a three-point game, and there was time enough left for Anderson to launch the game-tying shot, a basket Calhoun called “miraculous” and “one of the best shots we’ve had in a very long time.”
Then came the giveaway-giveaway finish in overtime. Rudy Gay, taking the ball out of bounds with UConn leading by two and 16 seconds remaining, committed his team’s 26th turnover when his inbounds pass was intercepted by Ryan Appleby. But Appleby passed to Joel Smith, who threw the ball right back to UConn. Williams picked off the pass, was fouled, and then made both free throws with 11.3 seconds to play.
“We made every possible bad play that we could, and that has a lot to do with Washington,” Calhoun said.
The tight finish evoked memories of 1998, when Connecticut beat Washington by one point on a buzzer-beating shot by Richard Hamilton in the same round of the tournament.
Connecticut had nearly as many turnovers (26) as made field goals (27) and has yet to hit its stride in this tournament. UConn had to rally from 12 points down to beat 16th-seeded Albany in the first round and struggled to hold off Kentucky in the second round.
Senior Jamaal Williams came off the bench to score a career-high 27 points, including the first 3-pointer of his college career, to lead fifth-seeded Washington (26-7), which had four of its seven losses come in overtime this season. The Pac-10 Huskies failed to hold a 10-point lead with 15 minutes to play and began to run out of players down the stretch: Two fouled out in regulation, and three more in overtime.
Anderson rescued Connecticut with his 3-point shooting. He made two in the final 35 seconds and finished with 19 points, making 5 of 10 3-pointers. Josh Boone added 13 points and 11 rebounds for Connecticut, which had only a 42-38 rebounding advantage over a much smaller opponent. Gay scored 11 of his 12 in the second half.
Roy scored 20 points for Washington. The Pac-10 player of the year missed vital time in the second half after he and Gay went chest-to-chest and received double technicals. Roy also got a personal foul on the play, giving him four fouls and forcing him to the bench for several minutes.
“Overall, there was a period where we lost our composure as a group,” Romar said. “That was a stretch where the momentum kind of shifted. It wasn’t just Brandon’s technical. We started to get a little rattled as a group.”