NCAA tournament pressure isn’t likely to be a big problem for either Washington or Marquette, a pair of teams that handled plenty of pressure just getting this far.
Both teams staggered out of the gates so slowly in conference play – Marquette starting 2-5, UW 1-3 – that they played the last two months knowing that any given off-night could end up costing them a tournament bid.
“It really prepared us for this type of thing,” Marquette leading scorer Lazar Hayward said. “Playing in the Big East you have to be ready every single night. … For us to just be able to experience that as a team early on, hopefully … will give us a little bit of an edge because we’ve been in so many close games.”
Fully 15 of Marquette’s 33 games (45.5 percent) have been decided by four points or fewer – more than any other team in the country. Four games went into overtime. Only once this season, have the Eagles lost by double digits.
In league play, things have been even tighter. Fourteen of Marquette’s 21 Big East games were decided by five points or fewer. The Golden Eagles went 1-5 in the first six of those, but they won seven of their next eight thrillers.
Coach Buzz Williams believes that could benefit his team in the high-pressure loser-out NCAA tournament.
“You definitely don’t want to go through the year that we have gone through and not try to earn some sort of advantage the opportunity to learn from those situations,” he said. “… I would hope that in a tournament setting, I don’t know if that gives you an advantage, but it does give you some confidence in that you’ve had so many repetitions of that type of a situation that your guys are not caught uneducated relative to what we need to do to give ourselves a chance.”
Washington, on the other hand, has played six games decided by five points or less or went into overtime.
The Huskies went 3-3 in those games. But the most recent was the 79-75 win over California on Saturday that sent UW into the NCAA tournament.
“I think we’ve been able to get a few down the stretch here,” Romar said. “It was a great game against Cal, and that was definitely a close game — with 22 lead changes — and we were able to come out on top. I think our guys are confident in games like that.”