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March 11, 2012

Huskies lose numbers game, headed to NIT

The Washington Huskies were down by one. The clock was winding down. Freshman star Tony Wroten was on the free throw line.

With 18.3 seconds remaining in the Pac-12 Conference Tournament quarterfinal against Oregon State, two of Wroten's free throws banged the rim.

Ten seconds later, another two free throws by him miss the mark. After trading fouls on both ends of the court, the Huskies lost the game by two, 86-84, in what would turn out to be a loss that prevented them from making the NCAA Tournament.

"I know if we had got by that first one, we would've been ready to go against Arizona," UW coach Lorenzo Romar said in a teleconference Sunday.

For the past two years in the conference tournament, Washington has exceeded expectations and took home the title - including last year's "cold blooded" title-winning jumper by Isaiah Thomas.

This year didn't ensure the same security as the last two years.

"When we lost to Oregon State, I got real concerned. Really concerned," Romar said. "And then as the tournament went on, Cal lost, I got more concerned."

Anxiously waiting for their name to be called on Selection Sunday, the Huskies' wishes went unfulfilled.

Instead, Washington (24-10) is headed to the National Invitation Tournament.

"Our guys are very disappointed," Romar said. "Very disappointed because after winning the conference outright, I don't think they could see any way why we would not be in this tournament in their minds."

This year's Washington team marks the first time ever a regular season champion from a power conference did not receive a bid to the Big Dance. Instead, Colorado (23-11 overall, 11-7 in conference), winners of the Pac-12 tournament, and at-large bid California (24-9, 13-5) will be representing the league starting Wednesday.

Washington (14-4 in conference play) will host UT Arlington (24-8, 15-1 in the Southland Conference) on March 13 at 7 p.m. Pacific time on ESPNU in the NIT.

The loss in the Pac-12 tournament quarterfinals wasn't the only drawback for the Huskies. The computed body of work throughout the season is taken into consideration.

"The selection process is done a lot by numbers, almost feed information into the computer and let it spit out the field of 68," Romar said. "If that's the case, your numbers have to be right. We're definitely one of the 68 best teams, but the numbers didn't bear that according to the selection committee."

The most important number is the RPI, an index calculated using wins and losses, and strength of schedule. The RPI is the main factor for why California (RPI: 39), BYU (RPI: 46), and Iona (RPI: 41) were picked over the Huskies (RPI: 70).

Washington had opportunities to boost its RPI, but simply couldn't capitalize.

"This year in terms of non-conference games, we didn't do really well. And we're suffering the consequences," Romar said. "We had our chances. When we played Marquette, we got beat at the buzzer."

Not to be forgotten, the Huskies' loss at home to South Dakota State and on the road at Nevada deflated Washington's value to the selection committee.

Then again, the Pac-12 Conference itself wasn't weighted as high as other power conferences. That's why they're on the same boat as Colonial Athletic Association league leader Drexel (27-6, 16-2) and Summit League leader Oral Roberts (27-6, 17-1).

But Romar is confident that the conference will become much better next year.

"I think our conference is going to be one of the most improved conferences around next year and that's not rah rah talk," Romar said. "That's what I really believe."

The Huskies will have another shot at a title this season - the NIT title. Romar knows how important preparation for this tournament is. If Washington isn't in the right mindset, their tournament experience could end fast.

"There are teams that are in the NIT that are disappointed. It's a letdown for them because their sights were set on being a late tournament in," Romar said. "And there are others that were waiting to see if their name is called for the NIT like we were waiting for the NCAA tournament.
"The truth is that, if you're one of the teams that were let down and you're playing the ones that are so excited, they could get you."

Romar is using this extension of the season to prepare his younger players and send off his seniors on a high note. Washington is a No. 1 seed, which mean they will have the home-court advantage for the first three rounds.

Regardless of seeding, Romar wants to win.
"It's past us. We are in the tournament. It's another challenge. You have the chance to win the championship," Romar said. "It wasn't our first choice but we need to take a hold of it and seize the moment and get ready to go."


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