The Washington Huskies (24-10), who qualified for the NIT semifinals in New York’s Madison Square Garden by defeating the University of Oregon 90-86 Tuesday at Alaska Airlines Arena, will play the Minnesota Golden Gophers next Tuesday at America’s most famed basketball arena. A victory over Minnesota would put the Huskies into position to win their first-ever NIT championship.
The Washington pairing with Minnesota came about as a result of Minnesota’s 78-72 victory Wednesday night over Middle Tennessee State in Murfeesboro, TN.
Washington is 9-6 all time against Minnesota, a No. 6 seed in the NIT, but the teams have not met since 1991, when the Huskies registered a 77-61 win at Hec Edmundson Pavilion.
Minnesota (22-14) scored its biggest victory of the season Jan. 12, when the Gophers traveled to Bloomington, IN., and defeated the No. 8-ranked Hoosiers 77-74.
The Gophers and Huskies played two common opponents in 2011-12. Minnesota routed South Dakota State 71-55 Nov. 14. A month later, the Jackrabbits, who became an NCAA Tournament team, blasted Washington 92-73 in one of the epic losses in UW basketball history.
Minnesota also defeated Southern Cal 55-40 Dec. 3. UW posted two wins over the Trojans in Pac-12 play.
Minnesota finished the regular season with an RPI of 72 while playing the nation’s 43rd-toughest schedule.
By beating the Ducks, Washington punched its ticket to the Big Apple for the second time this season. In December, Washington participated in the Jimmy V Classic vs. Marquette and in the CARQUEST Auto Parts Classic vs. Duke. The Huskies lost both, 79-77 to Marquette, 86-80 to the Blue Devils. Those were the only games UW had against nationally ranked teams.
“We have a chance to win a national championship in the NIT, and I think that’s number one,” coach Lorenzo Romar after Terrence Ross scored 24 points and Tony Wroten22 in the victory over Oregon. “That, along with us being able to travel, playing in the Garden again.”
The Huskies, who inexplicably lost to Oregon by 25 points a month ago in Eugene and then became the first winner of a major conference to fail to make the NCAA Tournament, struggled to beat Texas-Arlington in the first round of the NIT as they attempted to shed their disappointment over being snubbed by the NCAA.
Washington then drubbed Northwestern 76-55 in the second round of the NIT, setting up the third meeting of the year with the Ducks.
“This just shows our maturity as a team, how far we have come,” said senior Darnell Gant, minutes after becoming the first Husky men’s basketball player with 100 career wins in his portfolio.
NOTES: Wroten has scored freshman-record 550 points this season, nine more than Isaiah Thomas had during his freshman year, 2008-09. Wroten also holds UW freshman records for assists (130) and steals (63) . . . Gant is the only player in UW history to play on four title teams, two regular-season champions and two conference champions . . . Fans interested in purchasing tickets now for the NIT semifinals and finals at http://www.thegarden.com/tickets.html or by calling 866-858-0008.