BY DOUG DROWLEY
LAS VEGAS – For one night, everything that could go wrong went wrong for the Washington Huskies.
The silver coating was the loss of 68-48 of the Huskies (box) in Oregon Saturday night in the Pac-12 tournament title at the T-Mobile Arena was probably not fatal to their bid for a seat in the NCAA tournament.
The sixth head of ducks (23-12), playing through the fatigue of a fourth game in four nights, one more than Washington's number 1 (26-8), gained the automatic berth of the conference in the field of 68 teams starting to play next week. The Huskies are practically certain of receiving a berth and will go "dancing" for the first time since the 2010-11 season.
"Right now, of course, we are all disappointed," Washington coach Mike Hopkins said. "Losing stink. Winning is fantastic. We had a bad game. It happens. We can't have another one."
The highest point of the UW came in 1 minute and 35 seconds in the second half, when Matisse Thybulle became the all-time leader of Pac-12 in the steal. Thybulle climbed in front of a step in the Oregon, intercepted it and ran to the other end for a dunk that brought the advantage to 30-28. It has broken the 321 mark held by the Gary Payton of the Oregon State since 1990.
"It's pretty hard to wrap my mind around it," Thybulle said. "You will grow up idolizing boys like Gary Payton. I think you said the other day better when he said:" The recordings are meant to be broken. "I'm sure someone will come and break my record. I'm happy to have it immediately. "
The game didn't work very well. The Oregon drew 16-0, extending the lead to 46-28 with 10:28 from the end. Noah Dickerson finally had a chance to fall a few moments later to end a shooting drought from 0 to 11 in less than eight minutes.
No miraculous return was in sight. The Huskies lost 21 of the 27 shots (22 percent) in the second half as they again had major problems against the all-out pressure defense of the Oregon which includes four starts all at six feet and 9.
The Ducks won the fifth tournament title and joined Colorado in 2012 as the only team to win four games in four days at the conference tournament. Payton Pritchard led the ducks with 20 points, seven assists, six rebounds and four steals.
"I told these guys that they knocked this stuff down," Hopkins said. "Tomorrow will be a party. These guys are champions. Tomorrow we'll talk about what this team has accomplished in the last two years."
On Sunday afternoon, the UW will meet at the home of the coach to find out where and against whom he will start his tournament saga. The Sunday show of the selection is broadcast on CBS at 15:00
Reaching the conference title game, Washington should have no reason to fear a repeat of what happened to the Huskies after the 2011-12 season. Perhaps it was a bit of that story that fueled the fire for a three-game conference tournament that actually meant little in the larger scheme.
In 2011-12 the UW went through the conference to win the Pac-12 title of the regular season against a field considered weak, as much as this season was considered nationally. That year, however, the Huskies soon came out of the conference tournament and became a shameful footnote to the story – an important conference champion who had been excluded from the NCAAs.
That season began a UW basketball descent that eventually cost the coach Lorenzo Romar his job. The Huskies have never returned to the NCAA Tournament since then.
The Romar teams have never won more than 19 games in a season after that team from 24-11 in 2011-12 and fell into a sad 9-22 in his last year UW.
A stellar recruitment class that year had the prospect of saving Romar's work. It was not so.
Much of the class is bolted for what the greener pastures must have considered.
What he didn't do, the new player of the Year Pac-12 Jaylen Nowell, honored his commitment despite the change of coach. Nowell joined a group that had a solid core of second-year students who became the ruling class that led this season.
"Honestly, it's incredible," Nowell said of his decision to stay with the Huskies. "After meeting Coach Hopkins and talking to my family, I knew this would be the right place, not just for me, but for everyone else."
The turnaround under Hopkins was almost instantaneous.
"These guys are the ones who did it," Hopkins said. "They are champions. They must feel good playing next week, entering the NCAA tournament."
One season ago, Washington was 21-13 and made the NIT field. The Huskies enter the NCAA tournament next week with 26-8 points, most of them winning from 2009-10 when the Huskies reached Sweet 16 and finished 26-10.
The elders – Dickerson and Thybulle, along with David Crisp and Dominic Green – have stayed and contributed powerfully. Despite another sour match against the Ducks, which won 55-47 at Hec And on March 9th, the reward will be a first NCAA offer for the elderly.
"We didn't just hit today," Hopkins said. "The tournament game, you just have to make the heat at the right time. Oregon is the most fashionable team in our conference. I hope this will ensure that three teams in the Pac-12 will enter the NCAA tournament."
In addition to the Oregon and Washington, the state of Arizona is a team of bubbles.
As for the future, this looks bright even for Montlake.
Hopkins recruited his old land to wander around Syracuse, where he spent more than twenty years as Jim Boeheim's assistant, to get the second year of athletics Nahziah Carter to leave Rochester, New York, and to the west. In January, he made a commitment from another Rochester product, Isaiah Stewart of 6 feet by 9, to form the cornerstone of a stellar-coming class.
Stewart is ranked among the top 100 ESPN recruits as the general perspective n. 4 of the high schools this year.
But that thought is on the street. Sunday is a day of celebration.