San Jose, Calif. When Quincy Pondexter grabbed an offensive rebound with 34 seconds left in a tie game, Washington coach Lorenzo Romar twice considered calling a timeout to set up a final play.
Romar decided to let his senior leader do it by himself — and Pondexter wasn't about to miss a chance to add another game to his season.
Pondexter drove for a short bank shot with 1.7 seconds left, and 11th-seeded Washington extended its late-season rally right into the NCAA tournament with an 80-78 victory over Marquette in the first round of the East Regional on Thursday night.
Pondexter scored 18 points in his school-record 134th game, and Isaiah Thomas had 19 as the Huskies (25-9) won their eighth straight in dramatic fashion, roaring back from a 15-point deficit with 13½ minutes left. Yet it still came down to the game-saving grace of Pondexter, a California native eager to expand his place in Huskies history.
Washington made two late defensive stops before Pondexter drove by Jimmy Butler from the perimeter and scored the winner with apparent ease.
"The fear of it being my last collegiate game ever is what propelled me to play well in the second half," said Pondexter, who had 14 points after halftime. "I had to step up. ... It's one of those storybook shots. I'm just so happy right now, I don't even know what to say."
Lazar Hayward missed a half-court heave at the buzzer for the sixth-seeded Golden Eagles (23-11), who didn't manage a field goal in the final 4:33. After playing most of the game at the Huskies' favored up-tempo pace, Marquette's unlikely late-season surge ended with an offensive stall.
"Coach was drawing up a play, and I told him I wanted the ball," Hayward said. "It felt good coming off my hand. It was just a little long. I felt like we could have some of the March Madness luck, but we didn't."
Washington will face the winner of third-seeded New Mexico's late game against Montana at the Shark Tank, which was filled with Huskies fans. The Huskies led for less than a minute of the entire second half before Pondexter's final bucket.
"I totally felt comfortable with him with the basketball, thinking he would make the right decision," Romar said. "To finish that way, and to beat a team that has done so well in those types of games, it speaks volumes about our team, but also where our team is now, as opposed to 6-7 weeks ago."
Elston Turner had another strong second half for the Huskies, scoring 11 of his 14 points while they rallied. Pondexter also had 11 rebounds while breaking Justin Dentmon's Huskies record for appearances.
Pondexter's passion was evident in his five offensive rebounds, including three in the final minutes. He even got a rare technical foul for exchanging words and pushes with David Cubillan with 6:43 left.
Hayward scored 15 of his 20 points after halftime, but lost his duel with fellow senior forward Pondexter — his dorm mate on a World University Games team in Serbia last summer. Hayward crumpled at midcourt after his final miss, but his teammates gathered around and raised him up for final handshakes.
Darius Johnson-Odom had 19 points and Cubillan added 14 for the Eagles, who also finished strong in the regular season to earn a surprisingly high seed. Even when Marquette was up 15 while racing up and down, coach Buzz Williams knew his team wasn't safe.
"It was fool's gold for us," Williams said. "We weren't doing what we needed to do defensively, and that was because the game was going too fast. (We) had to play our five best players too many minutes in the second half. With the game going that fast, it wears us down. That's why it's fool's gold."
Marquette's loss completed an ugly 1-3 opening day for the mighty Big East, which put eight teams in the NCAA tournament, most of any conference. No. 2 seed Villanova posted the league's only victory despite an overtime scare from 15th-seeded Robert Morris.
Washington's win was a welcome development for the beleaguered Pac-10, which got just two teams into the NCAAs after a down season for the league.
Sporting new haircuts featuring patterns and uniform numbers etched in the left sides of their heads, the Eagles kept pace with the Huskies, but couldn't execute their deliberate offense late. The Big East's top 3-point shooting team went 12 for 19, but lost for the eighth time in an astonishing 16 games decided by four points or fewer this season.
Marquette jumped ahead with a 15-1 run shortly after halftime, getting eight points from Hayward while taking a 60-45 lead. Washington answered with a 13-2 run in less than three minutes, and eventually took a 72-71 lead on Turner's 3-pointer with 5:20 left.
Marquette went back ahead on Cubillan's 3-pointer moments later — but it was the Eagles' final field goal. Hayward didn't score in the final six minutes.
"I've always told my teammates to keep faith, and anything can happen," said Thomas, who's playing through pain in his injured left hand. "I'm in my teammates' ears all through the game. We're never out of it. Play defense, and we can come out of it with wins like this."