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Washington and the West Gain Respect

SAN JOSE, Calif. - We're all witnesses. Lorenzo Romar said that. After his Washington team upset New Mexico. After he heard Northern Iowa upset Kansas.

After he reminded us in this lunacy of a college basketball tournament "anyone can beat anyone.''

The way St. Mary's, the little school from Moraga, which is just east of Oakland, beat Villanova.

The way Cal, the big school from Berkeley, which is just west of Moraga, beat Louisville.

The way Washington in a second-round game Saturday at HP Pavilion in San Jose crushed New Mexico, 82-64.

It's been a tough year for the west, a tough year for the Pac-10. But here is St. Mary's into the Sweet 16. Here is Washington into the Sweet 16. And even if Cal doesn't make it that far, because Sunday the Golden Bears, play Duke, here is redemption.

"I think a lot of people had bad judgments about our (Pac-10) conference,'' said Quincy Pondexter. He led Washington with 18 points. He led his coach, Romar, to review what makes the NCAAs the compelling and unnerving event it has become.

"That's why we had the confidence to get this done,'' said Romar. "It's March Madness. You come out and need to be only concerned with what you can do.''

Nearly 30 years ago, 1981-1984, what Lorenzo Romar did was play point guard for the Golden State Warriors up I-880 in Oakland. Then he was an assistant at UCLA, including in 1995 when the Bruins won the championship. Jim Harrick was the coach, but John Wooden was still available for observations and advice.

"John Wooden says, if you play your best,'' said 51-year-old Lorenzo Romar, "you are successful, win or lose. With all the parity today in the college game anyone can beat anyone, and we're all witnesses of that the last couple of days with March Madness.''

It got so mad and one-sided in this one the last couple of minutes Romar inserted a guy, Brendan Sherrer, who a year ago was in the Husky rooting section and even now as the ultimate walk-on is more mascot than player. When Sherrer got in, his teammates jumped about as if they'd won the lottery not just a second-round game.

"There are guys ahead of Brendan,'' said Romar. "But he works hard in spite of not getting as many minutes. He was in the Dog Pack cheering us on when we were in the tournament (last year) and now he gets out there makes a kind of sweet move when he got the ball down there.''

His free-throw shooting wasn't so sweet, Sherrer missing both attempts with 1:06 remaining, but that was almost trivial.

Washington, a No. 11 seed, trailed the third-seeded Lobos, 15-13, some six minutes into the game and then a minute later went in front and never was behind again.

"Our defense leads to our offense,'' said Pondexter. "We realize that once we force defensive pressure on these teams, they really get tired trying to guard us. They can't get back fast enough.''

Said sophomore guard Isaiah Thomas - no, he's not related to the other Isaiah Thomas - "We knew they only had seven players, and so we pushed the tempo so they would get tired.''

Pondexter is a senior from Fresno, Calif. His father Roscoe played at Long Beach State in the early 1970s for Jerry Tarkanian, but when the school was banned from post-season play for recruiting violations, Roscoe, using the newly implemented hardship waiver, entered the NBA draft.

He never made the big time, competing only in Europe and South America, and insisted even in these days of kids leaving early for the pros Quincy stay in school four years.

"This is truly a senior's dream,'' said Quincy Pondexter. "It's a blessing to be in the position I am right now. This season we became a force through adversity.''

For a while the suggestions were only Cal, the conference seasonal champ, would get to the NCAA. But in the Pac-10 tournament, Washington beat Cal in the final and so earned a berth. And no less importantly, respect.

"The Pac-10 was a victim of much criticism all year,'' said Romar. "I think a couple of out-of-conference losses early were what placed that in people's minds, and then we were labeled a bad conference.

"Guys were ineligible or hurt, and the league is young - it lost 21 to the pros the last couple of years - and it took a while for this league to get better. But people decided not to pay attention when we did. Fortunately we're still playing, and we hope Cal will still be playing as well.''

For sure, Kansas won't still be playing. Witness the madness.

 

As a reporter since 1960, Art Spander is a living treasure of sports history. A recipient of the Dick McCann Memorial Award -- given for his long and distinguished career covering professional football -- he has earned himself a spot in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He was recently honored with the Lifetime Achievement Award by the PGA of America for 2009.

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