BOISE, Idaho, March 19 -- They would not leave without a fire.
In the moments before the Washington Huskies stepped from their locker room Saturday, there came one final speech, this from assistant coach Ken Bone. He opened the local newspaper, the Idaho Statesman, and began to read the surprisingly toxic words of Pacific Coach Bob Thomason.
Washington guard Brandon Roy glides under Pacific forward Christian Maraker for this shot in the second half.
(John Gress - Reuters)
"We've won two NCAA games the past two years," Thomason told the paper. "And how many has Washington won? They've won one, right? We're 27-3. There aren't a lot of teams that have beaten us this year."
Then Bone put down the paper and the top seed in the Albuquerque Region thundered through the door and into a 97-79 demolishing of Thomason's Tigers.
The Huskies live on these motivations the way so many teams in their situation might not. But the NCAA tournament is still so new to them that it's hard to filter the outside voices. Last Sunday, when they were named a top seed, they all rushed to their televisions expecting a coronation. Instead they were met with a wet towel of skepticism proclaiming their standing undeserved.
Saturday, as they sat in their hotel waiting for the bus ride to the arena, they were startled to hear the CBS announcers breaking down their chances by predicting they wouldn't even survive the day. So the Huskies were already stewing, even before Bone shared the Thomason quotes.
"I have a different rage," said guard Will Conroy. "The only player on this team who has a rage like me is Nate Robinson. It's us against the world, that's the way we're going to be. We go out there and we gather together and we get tight. We're like a fist, nothing can break through."
Properly motivated, the Huskies may have played their best game of the season. Pacific is a bigger team, with a similar chip on its shoulder having won a game in last year's tournament and yet seeming like a perpetual underdog. Against Washington it made few mistakes, only making eight turnovers.
But as Conroy suggested, the Huskies had a different rage. They tore out to a 7-2 lead, sustained the lead for much of the first half, stumbled a bit in letting Pacific tie the score at 27, and then went on a 27-9 run that essentially broke any hope Pacific had for a third tournament win in the last two years.
At halftime, forward Brandon Roy ran into the locker room and yelled, "They're tired, they're tired."
Later, he laughed.
"I think [Pacific] felt [first-round opponent] Pittsburgh was better than us and they beat Pittsburgh so I think they thought they would be okay," he said. "But until you play us you can't simulate it. Our pressure will get to you."
Clearly the Pacific players seemed fatigued.
"They were just too quick," Thomason said.
After the game, as the Huskies celebrated in their locker room, Bone dug through a trash can to pull out the printed evidence of Thomason's words. The quotes had been noted in blue pen.
"Bob Thomason's a friend and a great coach," Bone said. "I was stunned to read that and to see it in the local paper."
Down the hall, as he stood outside his locker room, Thomason seemed startled by the Huskies' rage.
"If I helped them win a national championship I hope they send me a ring," he said. "If that's the reason they played so well, I wish I wouldn't have said it."