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Originally published March 9, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Page modified March 22, 2007 at 9:01 PM

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UW's road blocked

Maybe if they hadn't had to face Washington State, the Washington Huskies might have been able to pull off their improbable goal of winning...

Seattle Times staff reporter

LOS ANGELES -- Maybe if they hadn't had to face Washington State, the Washington Huskies might have been able to pull off the improbable goal of winning the Pac-10 men's basketball tournament.

But then, maybe the most improbable feat the Huskies could pull off right now would be beating the Cougars.

And when it comes to improbable, it's the Cougars who have a little more experience -- they've been doing it all season.

So when push came to shove on a Thursday night threatening to turn into Friday morning -- the game started at 9:20 p.m. and didn't end until 11:15 -- WSU pulled on that reserve to pull out another win over its cross-state rival. The Cougars used an 18-8 run in the final six minutes to beat the Huskies 74-64 in a quarterfinal game.

It was WSU's fifth straight win over the Huskies -- the longest streak for the Cougars since 1940-42.

"Obviously, they are a more veteran team and they've been through it before and they reacted the right way when they needed to," said Huskies freshman center Spencer Hawes.

Said Cougars coach Tony Bennett, whose team is now 25-6: "Our kids play with poise, and sometimes that's the most important thing you can have."

As bad as losing to the Cougars again was, however, even worse for the Huskies was that it meant they are out of chances for getting a fourth straight NCAA tournament bid. Selection Sunday for the Huskies (19-13) will now mean waiting to hear from the NIT.

"The realization that it's now officially over, I don't really know how to explain," said Hawes.

Other than a sparse crowd that yielded little atmosphere, the game had much the same feel as WSU's 65-61 win in Seattle on Feb. 14. The Huskies hung close all night, even leading much of the first half and 36-32 at halftime.

Washington got an unexpected lift in the first half from sophomore center Artem Wallace, who scored eight points while being called on more than usual to fill in for Hawes, who was whistled for two quick fouls.

But WSU used a quick start out of the gate the second half to retake the lead and the Huskies never led the final 16 minutes. Washington's cause wasn't helped when Hawes picked up his third foul less than a minute into the second half.

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He was limited to six points in 22 minutes, and the Huskies lamented later that the Cougars shot 29 free throws, while they attempted just 10.

"We were being aggressive, going inside," said Huskies coach Lorenzo Romar. "We just didn't get the calls."

A 9-2 UW run tied the score at 56 with under six minutes left, and the Huskies seemed ready to kill the Cougars hex and keep alive their NCAA dreams.

Then Taylor Rochestie took over, much as he did in the win in Seattle, when he scored a then-career-high 16 points.

He scored a game-high 20 Thursday night, scoring seven in the final 1:32.

His most critical points, however, came on a three-pointer from the corner with 1:32 left that put WSU ahead 68-62, then a running bank shot with 39 seconds left after Hawes had responded on the other end.

"On the three, I was thinking about the ones I had missed before," said the sophomore, who was 1 for 4 on threes for the night. "But then the defender stepped back and there was some space and I went with it."

Bennett figured that WSU might have an edge because it hadn't played the night before, while UW had battled with Arizona State in the opening round.

"Our guys were pretty fresh and had a lot of energy," Bennett said.

Having a historic hold on a cross-state rivalry probably pumped the Cougars up a bit, as well.

Cowgill admitted that the five in a row "is great, but maybe it's more for the our fans and the guys back home."

Indeed, the second-seeded Cougars have larger goals in mind, as they are now the favorites to win this tournament with No. 1 seed UCLA knocked out earlier in the day by California.

"This is great preparation for the NCAA tournament," Bennett said.

The Huskies, meanwhile, head home after a season of disappointment that was etched so deeply that team captain Jon Brockman waved off an initial request by reporters, then headed into a trainer's room.

"Everyone in that room has either played in the NCAA tournament or came to Washington because they wanted to play in the NCAA tournament," Romar said. "I don't think it was in anyone's minds heading into the year thinking we wouldn't be there."

Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or bcondotta@seattletimes.com

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