Saturday afternoon the madness broke out just eight minutes into the disagreement.
Aziz N’Diaye, the seven-foot center known for his offense like Black & Decker is known for its desserts, blocked a pass, recovered the ball and saw nothing ahead of him but open floor. The sellout crowd rose to its feet, anticipating a glimpse into infinity.
N’Diaye tipped the ball over a defender to himself, broke free and in two dribbles and about six strides, tomahawked a dunk whose concussion bent Hec Ed’s girders as well as the minds of the Wildcats’ coaches.
Furious that traveling was not called at three or four points in the big fella’s gambol, the coaches yelled so much that head coach Sean Miller drew a technical foul. Two free throws later, Washington had a four-point play and a 21-14 lead.
Even though Arizona had some fire left, that play was pretty much the game. The teams stayed close, but Arizona did not streak and Washington did not falter. The 79-70 win meant a sweep for the Huskies of their toughest rival and a blow to Arizona’s NCAA tourney hopes for an at-large berth.
“We put together 40 minutes today,” said coach Lorenzo Romar. “We did a really good job. That team is tough to play. They are physical and aggressive. I thought our guys did a good job.”
And of N’Diaye’s semi-Jordanesque burst from coast-to-coast?
“He tells me all the time he can do all of this stuff,” said Romar, smiling. “Maybe we aren’t using him right.”
Yeah, that’s the ticket. Put N’Diaye out on the wing and tell him to go all Tony Wroten over the pitiable fools who would deny him.
Laughs came easily and often Sunday as Washington closed out its home season with a Senior Day salute that went Hollywood.
“You can only hope that Senior Day ends up like it did today,” he said. “From my standpoint it was great to see how we did it.”
As is customary, Romar started his only seniors, Darnell Gant and Brendan Sherrer, the latter a three-year refugee from the Dawg Pack student rooting section, even though it was an important game and no small risk. Sherrer never plays when the game is in doubt, and 0-0 represents doubt.
But in his two-minute, 13-second stay, he defended well, grabbed a rebound and came nowhere close to spitting up on himself.
“I was nervous,” he said, grinning. “I think the other guys were too (for him), but in warmups they saw I was OK.”
So was Gant, a Pac-12 veteran warrior who nevertheless was expected to get a little weepy after a five-year stay that could make him the only player in UW history to play in four NCAA tourneys.
“I told you all — the more you said I was going to cry, the more I wasnt going to cry,” he said in mock indignation. “Im an actor, I can hold it in if I need to.”
Indeed the drama major was cool, as were all of his teammates. There was little of the lapses and mindlessness that have pickled the season, which at 19-8 and 12-3 is gaining credibility by the half.
“I think this weekend was some of the most complete basketball weve played,” Romar said. “If you look at the first half against ASU (Thursday when UW was up 44-26 at halftime) and this game, so thats three out of four halves of complete basketball.”
Looking pretty on national TV won’t hurt Washington when it comes to NCAA selection Sunday. As has been chronicled throughout the winter, the Pac-12 is mostly a vortex of mediocrity, and an honest look at Arizona probably includes the Wildcats, who were led by the 20 points of guard Nick Johnson, in the mess.
Compared to recent UA teams, they aren’t all that talented, and aren’t all that deep.
“One of the things I think were dealing with right now is the reality of playing seven players,” said Miller. “At first you can get some additional chemistry and experience good play, but one week becomes two, two weeks become three. And we played really hard at Washington State on Thursday night.
“With everything we did in that game and the quick turnaround on Saturday at noon, I believe it favors the home team. We wore down physically. I feel like when youre playing against a team as talented, deep and hard-playing as Washington is, we started to wear down physically.”
The Wildcats really don’t have anyone the caliber of Wroten or Terrence Ross, who had 25 points, five steals and and five assists, and that’s despite missing seven of eight trey attempts. Wroten also short poorly, missing 15 of 22, but he had a pair of gym-rattling dunks and a bevy of clever plays that kept the Huskies from falling back.
“Its very difficult,” said Miller of matching up on Wroten. “He is so different because he gets his own miss about as well as any player Ive seen. It almost sounds funny to say that, but if you watch him, he can get to the basket, miss his shot and get a second shot.
“He puts a lot of pressure on your defense.”
So does a seven-footer on a breakaway. Even the officials don’t have the imagination for it.