U-W's great weekend helps Pac-10, West Coast hoops regain credibility

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SAN JOSE -- The furthest west tournament site was as good a spot as any to serve notice that West Coast basketball is not as lousy as advertised.

Eleventh-seeded Washington -- taking advantage of superior quickness and a hometown atmosphere -- ran No. 3 New Mexico out of HP Pavilion on Saturday, earning a berth in the Sweet 16. And a measure of vindication.

"The Pac-10 was a victim of much criticism all year," Huskies coach Lorenzo Romar said. "People made a decision and a judgment and decided let's not even pay attention to that conference anymore. Fortunately, we're still playing, and we hope that Cal will still be playing, as well."

The Pac-10 -- with just two teams in the field -- is off to a 3-0 start in the tournament. Add in the success of the WCC's Gonzaga and St. Mary's, and West Coast teams are 6-0.

The last time the Huskies were in the Sweet 16 was in 2006, when Brandon Roy's team eventually lost to UConn.

This season, Washington finished third in the Pac-10 with a 11-7 record, 25-9 overall.

"The league is young," Romar said. "We have one senior on this team. I think we grew up, sometime at the beginning of February. In spite of still losing, we were growing up during that process."

The Huskies dominated New Mexico from the start, with a fast-paced transition game, forcing the Lobos into turnovers and bad shots. Washington only turned the ball over five times.

"If you want to play up-tempo, you have to be able to force turnovers, contest shots, rotate when you get beat," Romar said. "You've got to be able to defend. That's the message we want to get across. You really want to run? Then we've got to get down and guard."

Guard Isaiah Thomas controlled the tempo, adding in 15 points and seven assists. Washington's lone senior, Quincy Pondexter, led the team with 18 points.

"It's truly a senior's dream," Pondexter said. "This season sums up my four years. It was full of ups and downs, and we fought through adversity as a team. I'm glad I'm in the position I'm in."

The Huskies will face the winner of West Virginia-Missouri. New Mexico coach Steve Alford, who rode guard Dairese Gary for 25 points but otherwise had no answers for Washington, called the Huskies a "Final Four-caliber team."

"Romar has them playing very well," Alford said. "We've played 35 games this year, and I think our team would agree that's the best team that's played against us on any given night."

Washington was so dominating that by midway through the second half, most of the crowd was straining to see the television screens in the suites so they could glimpse the Kansas game. With three minutes left in the game, Romar took out his starters and emptied his bench, a feeling he enjoyed.

"It's awesome," he said.

The crowd liked it too, roaring their approval for West Coast hoops.