for this game

Washington snaps 56-year drought, claims conference crown

Mar 8, 2009 - 6:29 AM SEATTLE (Ticker) -- It took 56 years, but Washington finally got back to the top.

The 13th-ranked Huskies clinched their first outright conference title since 1953, outlasting arch-rival Washington State for a 67-60 victory to wrap up the Pac-10 championship.

"When you win a championship, it's very good for a lot of reasons," Washington coach Lorenzo Romar said. "But there's no better reason, for me, than to watch our guys win a championship and to have that experience for the rest of their lives to remember.

"Our returning guys will know what it takes to win a championship. They'll know what it feels like. There are many collegiate players who have gone on who have not won a conference championship. Our guys can say that they've done that."

Washington (24-7, 14-4 Pac-10) came into the day one game ahead of UCLA for the top spot in league play, with only the regular-season finale standing between in the way. While the final step certainly wasn't the easiest one, the team ultimately got it done.

The Cougars seemed intent on playing spoiler, but fell just short. Whenever they fell behind by six or eight, they climbed right back, never allowing the Huskies to get comfortable. Taylor Rochestie knocked down a pair of free throws and a 3-pointer with about six minutes left in the second half, pulling Washington State to within two.

"We've gotten better as a team. It was a high-level atmosphere in here, playing against their team. No. 1 team in the Pac-10," Rochestie said. "If a couple of turns could have gone our way at the end, it could have been different ballgame and maybe we could have come out with the win."

Washington moved back ahead by five but Rochestie wouldn't go away, connecting from the arc once again with 4:27 remaining, slicing the Cougars' deficit to 58-56. But Quincy Pondexter's clutch play down the stretch and a crucial Rochestie turnover turned the tide in Washington's favor for good.

"It's been like a movie script the last couple weeks," Pondexter said. "Every game seemed like it's had a title of what kind of big game it was. It's just a great story that we're living out right now."

Pondexter, who led the Huskies with 16 points, drained a jumper to extend the lead to four. On the Cougars' ensuing possession, Rochestie was stripped by Jon Brockman, who set up Pondexter for another bucket. That was just enough cushion for Washington, which sealed the game at the foul line.

"I always dreamed of the crowd running on the court and being in an atmosphere like that," Washington forward Venoy Overton said. "It's just unbelievable. I got overwhelmed and I'm just happy to be a Husky right now."

Brockman had seven points and a career-high 18 rebounds for the Huskies, while Overton added 14 points. Leading scorer Isaiah Thomas was held to just six on 3-of-11 shooting.

"That was an unbelievable feeling," Brockman said. "You see it on TV every year and you want to be in that position. Then when I got up there it was about 100 times better than it was on TV."

Rochestie led Washington State (16-14, 8-10) with 23 points and Aron Baynes collected 16 and 13 boards.