Wednesday, March 10, 1999

Washington sets sights on RedHawks

The Associated Press

        SEATTLE — For Bob Bender and the Washington Huskies, the pressure is off now. They made it to the NCAA tournament again.

        “Because of what we accomplished last year, this team had to get back to the tournament,” the Washington coach said Tuesday. “Now that we're in, can we move past where we were a year ago?”

        That all depends.

        The Huskies, who reached the Sweet 16 last season, are the seventh-seeded team in the Midwest after a fourth-place finish in the Pac-10.

        They'll play their first tournament game against No. 10 seed Miami University Friday afternoon in New Orleans.

        The winner of the Washington-Miami game will play the winner of the game between No. 2 seed Utah and No. 15 Arkansas State. Utah played in the championship game last season.

        Featuring 7-foot center Todd MacCulloch and Donald Watts, the son of former NBA player Slick Watts, Washington comes into the tournament in a slump. They lost four of their final six.

        But the Huskies, who made a splash in the NCAAs by beating Xavier in the first round last season and almost knocking off UConn in the Sweet 16, beat Washington State 76-59 in their regular season finale at home last Saturday. And that's the team Bender hopes to see play against Miami.

        Bender said Washington won't take Miami lightly because it's heard too many good things about Wally Szczerbiak, a 6-8 senior forward who averaged 23.6 points and 8.7 rebounds.

        “He's everything they advertised about him being,” Bender said. “He does a great job of reading the defense. He's definitely an All-America player.”

        The Huskies can't go into their first game thinking about Utah.

        “It ain't going to happen unless you do things well and play well,” Bender said. “But our confidence as a team is good. Playing well Saturday helps that confidence.”

        Against Miami, Bender will start a lineup of MacCulloch, Watts, Deon Luton, Thalo Green and freshman point guard Senque Carey. MacCulloch averaged 19 points and 12 rebounds in his senior season.

        If the Huskies are going to be successful in the tournament, they must keep MacCulloch out of foul trouble, keep down their turnovers and make their free throws.

        “We all know when Todd gets in foul trouble, we have to find a way to win,” Bender said. “Hopefully, we can avoid that.”

        When the Huskies lost to USC and UCLA on the road in their next-to-last weekend of the regular season, they knew they had to beat Washington State in their final game to earn another NCAA tournament invitation.

        There was a huge sigh of relief when the team found out it was in the tournament.

        “Now that we're in the tournament, it takes some of that pressure away,” Bender said. “It's like, "OK, that's all taken care of. We're in.'”


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