Washington fans who thought they had seen their Huskies hit rock bottom during an upset loss to Oregon in the Pacific 10 Conference tournament last week experienced a new low against Utah State on Thursday night.
The fifth-seeded Huskies made only one of their first 10 shots and had scored only four points more than seven minutes into their first-round game against the 12th-seeded Aggies.
Fortunately for Washington, Utah State flubbed its chance to pull away by missing its first five shots and committing four turnovers before the game was five minutes old.
The Huskies finally started resembling the team that had won 24 games during the regular season, but they had to earn a 75-61 victory that wasn’t secure until the final minutes.
Every time the Aggies pulled to within single digits in the final seven minutes, a Washington player would step up and make a big three-pointer. First it was Justin Dentmon. Then Brandon Roy. Then Mike Jensen. Then Roy again.
“We could not let up at all at any point in the game because they would have come back and taken the lead on us,” Washington Coach Lorenzo Romar said. “They were everything we thought and talked about all week.”
Roy scored 17 of his game-high 28 points in the second half for Washington (25-6), which advanced to play fourth-seeded Illinois in the second round Saturday.
“This team wants me to take over late in the game,” said Roy, who made 11 of 19 shots, including four of seven from behind the three-point arc. “Tonight it was scoring and trying to make plays.”
Guard Jaycee Carroll had 21 points for Utah State (23-9), which committed 22 turnovers.
A three-pointer by Carroll trimmed Utah State’s deficit to 66-58 with 3:25 left, but Roy responded with a three-pointer and the Aggies could get no closer than nine points the rest of the way.
The Huskies, coming off a weeklong layoff after their loss in a Pac-10 tournament quarterfinal, needed about 10 minutes to shake off the rust in the first half.
“Early in the game, I even missed a couple of layups,” Roy said. “I was just a little too excited. This was a big game.”
After the teams had combined for only six points more than seven minutes into the first half, Washington put together a nice run, making 11 of its final 20 shots to take a 29-20 lead into the locker room.
The Huskies scored 17 points off 14 Utah State turnovers in the opening 20 minutes.
Washington forward Jamaal Williams said afterward that the evacuation of Cox Arena earlier in the day after a bomb scare “built up the anxiety a little bit,” but the Huskies restored a sense of normalcy with their crisp play down the stretch.
Illinois 78, Air Force 69 -- The 13th-seeded Falcons stayed within striking distance for nearly 30 minutes before the fourth-seeded Fighting Illini pulled away in a first-round game.
A three-pointer by Dan Nwaelele pulled Air Force (24-7) to within 50-47 with 13:10 remaining, but consecutive baskets inside by Warren Carter and James Augustine started a 12-0 run that extended the Illini’s lead to a comfortable margin.
Guard Jamar Smith made six three-pointers and scored 20 points off the bench for Illinois (26-6), which outscored the Falcons in the paint, 34-14.
Forward Brian Randle had 15 points and Carter added 12 for the Illini, who shot 66.7% in the second half.
Air Force, considered by some critics to be unworthy of its at-large bid after a loss in the quarterfinals of the Mountain West Conference tournament, turned in a mostly inspired effort and made 51.2% of its shots.
But the Falcons also hurt themselves during certain stretches.
Air Force forward Jacob Burtschi passed up an open lane to the basket on one possession in the second half, instead opting for an NBA-range three-pointer that missed badly. A few minutes later, he missed an open layup.
Guard Antoine Hood led the Falcons with 17 points.