Venoy Overton showed up late for Washington. Twice in one day.
Benched for the first time this season for being 30 minutes late to the morning shoot-around because of a marathon around the arena, Overton made two free throws with 14.5 seconds left. The renowned defensive pest then leaped to block a potential tying 3-pointer by Montana's taller Anthony Johnson with 6 seconds remaining, allowing the No. 14 Huskies to escape with a 63-59 victory over the gritty Grizzlies Sunday night.
"I didn't know he was that big," marveled the 6-foot-1 Johnson about Overton, who is generously listed at 5-11. "I didn't think he had that much vertical."
As his unexpected morning and then evening rally proved, Overton has experience overcoming obstacles.
Now, so do his Huskies (5-0). They rallied from being down by 12 down and from 31 percent shooting to preserve their highest ranking to begin a season since 1985, following four relative blowouts.
"Man, that Seattle Marathon," said Overton, a junior who's had to yield playing time to last season's Pac-10 freshman of the year Isaiah Thomas and to renowned freshman Abdul Gaddy even before being late Sunday morning. "I got caught up in a detour, then went what I thought was another, sneaky way _ but that was a detour, too.
"Coach (Lorenzo Romar) told me he wasn't going to 'dog' me, to get ready to play."
He was. Overton also made another, clinching free throw with 4.1 seconds remaining.
"He's in the offensive dude's grill the whole game. He's one of a kind. ... It's ridiculous," said Thomas, who scored 13 points despite starting 1 for 9 from the field.
Freshman Will Cherry scored 15 points for Montana (4-2), including a 3-pointer that had the Grizzlies up 57-55 with 2:40 left and poised for their first win over a ranked team since they upset Nevada in the 2006 NCAA tournament.
Johnson, the leading scorer in the Big Sky Conference at 22 points per game coming in, had just 10 on 5-for-14 shooting.
Coach Wayne Tinkle bemoaned Johnson's last shot, saying it was not the play that he had called. That was another in a series of blown plays at the end for Montana, picked by conference coaches to finish second in the Big Sky.
"Their pressure made us panic a little bit," said Tinkle, whose team had just beaten Oregon in a similarly hostile arena down Interstate 5. "We had 'em _ we just didn't make the plays at the end.
"Our guys created some doubt."
And some ice-cold Huskies.
Thomas made just 5 of 16 shots. Leading scorer Quincy Pondexter had just 7 and was 2-for-10. He was on the bench for much of the 22-8 run that brought Washington back from a 38-26 deficit with 14 1/2 minutes left. The Huskies used the long-range shooting of reserve Elston Turner, who had 11 points, to finally score against Montana's feisty zone defense.
"The MVP of this game was our bench," Romar said.
Pondexter was scoreless for the first 23 minutes on just four shots as the Grizzlies' guards continually clamped down inside to double team him in the middle of their zone. Washington's only senior had darted for a career-high 30 points in his previous game by constantly finding open spots inside San Jose State's much more passive zone.
"(Montana) just packed it in. I mean, really packed it in unlike any zone we've ever played against," Romar, whose Huskies next play their first road game of the season, at Texas Tech on Thursday.
"A great, great game for our team. We were really tested," Romar said. "I'm glad we were able to play this game before we hit the road because it's going to make us better mentally."
The arena observed a moment of silence before the game to honor the four police officers from suburban Lakewood who were killed in a coffeehouse shooting Sunday morning.