SEATTLE — The locker room door flung open and UCLA Coach Ben Howland barked out, “Let’s go, photo op.”
The Bruins, dissected like frogs in biology class all season, eagerly rolled out into the hallway.
UCLA had wrapped up a share of the Pac-12 championship with a 61-54 victory over Washington at Alaska Airlines Arena Saturday. The Bruins spent 10 minutes after the game monitoring Utah’s victory over Oregon game, which left the title only in Westwood.
Time to say “cheese.”
Pac-12 officials borrowed the 2011-12 conference championship trophy from Washington’s trophy case for a prop. A championship banner was unfurled. And Guard Larry Drew II, fighting through tears, was still coming to grips with the moment.
“I’m numb right now,” said Drew, whose layup with 33 seconds to play put the game out of reach. “Guys were following the Utah game. I was sitting there dazed. I heard everyone else start yelling and somebody poured a Sprite all over me.”
There was one thing Drew could grasp.
“A lot of people wrote us off early in the season,” Drew said. “We had a group of guys who believed in one goal.”
This was an unlikely place to achieve it.
UCLA (23-8 overall, 13-5 in Pac-12) had not won at Washington since 2004. The Bruins were fresh from an embarrassing loss to last-place Washington State on Wednesday.
“To win it here, with all the adversity we’ve been through, is special,” Howland said.
The chatter had been going on all season. The Bruins, with the nation’s No. 2 recruiting class, were not living up to expectations. A December loss to Cal Poly was used as proof.
“People said some crazy things, like we were supposed to go undefeated,” said freshman guard Jordan Adams, who had 17 points. “Coach Howland deals with that. Every loss, he takes all the blame and blames nothing on us.”
This was the Bruins’ fourth Pac-12 championship under Howland. The only UCLA coach with more was John Wooden.
Howland moved on from the adversity talk, saying, “We’re on to the next thing.”
That would be next week’s Pac-12 tournament. UCLA will be the top-seeded team.
“I told the guys, ‘You get up for big games, they are big from now on,’ ” Drew said.
The Bruins were ripe for collapse in a big game Saturday. The Huskies (17-14, 9-9) led, 52-48, with six minutes left. Washington didn’t score again for nearly five minutes.
“Night in and night out, if you defend, even when you go through five-minute lulls where you don’t score, you give yourself a chance to win,” Howland said.
Washington’s 19 turnovers resulted in 29 UCLA points, 18 in the second half.
“At halftime we heard Utah was up,” Adams said. “We knew we had to take care of our business.”
Business was good for freshman Shabazz Muhammad. He finished with 21 points, including five straight points after getting an earful from Washington center Aziz N’Diaye.
“He said, ‘I can ball too,’ ” Muhammad said. “I said, ‘Obviously you can, or you wouldn’t be on the floor.’ ”
Huskies fans had stopped chanting “overrated” after Muhammad scored to give UCLA a 55-52 lead.
“Shabazz is the player of the year in this conference,” Howland said. “This win, hopefully, hammers that home.”
The game was left to the hands of Drew, who left North Carolina after three seasons to get a one-year shot at UCLA and wound up breaking Pooh Richardson’s single-season school record for assists.
After the Huskies closed to within three points in the final minute, Drew burst to the basket to bank in a shot that gave the Bruins a 59-54 lead and broke Washington’s will.
Said Drew: “People can write us off. We’re sticking together.”