The Huskies averted their most head-scratching defeat in a season full of them.
LAS VEGAS — It was over. And then it was on.
It was a laugher. And then it was not funny.
It was Washington and Washington State at their imperfect finest, both displaying their strengths and weaknesses in one wild game of extremes.
At the end, after a 19-point comeback from the Cougars, after an implosion from the Huskies, it came down to exactly the kind of play you didn’t expect.
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Desmond Simmons, in the post, out of a timeout.
Of all the Huskies, it was Simmons, the low-scoring, high-energy forward, who saved his team from embarrassment.
A game-winning basket from Simmons? Yeah, it was that kind of game.
With the score tied at 62 and 1:17 remaining, Washington point guard Abdul Gaddy found Simmons open in the post. Simmons, who averages 4.8 points and shoots 37.9 percent, made a confident move on Washington State forward Brock Motum and nudged the ball over the rim. Washington advanced to the quarterfinals of the Pac-12 men’s basketball tournament after escaping with a 64-62 victory on Wednesday night at the MGM Grand Garden Arena.
“Motum doesn’t foul a lot — that’s the one thing I was thinking of,” Simmons said, describing his game-winner. “I knew I couldn’t try to draw a foul. I had to go straight up and make that basket. Trust your ability. That’s what I had to do.”
Simmons to the rescue? You wouldn’t let Simmons take the most important shot on your rec-league team. He’s an enforcer type, all toughness and nerve. He leaves the scoring to the pretty boys. But considering the way the Huskies fell apart in the second half, it figures they would need Simmons’ grit to avoid humiliation.
“We definitely survived that game,” Simmons said.
The Huskies were lucky to hang on after that collapse. They’re also lucky that, in the postseason, advancing takes precedence over scrutinizing the way they won.
If not for Simmons’ bucket, the Huskies might have suffered their most head-scratching defeat in a season full of them. Instead, they live to make you scratch your dome again.
Not sure if that’s a good or bad thing. It depends on which Husky team shows up against Oregon at 8:30 p.m. Thursday night.
The Huskies who built a 52-33 lead 5 ½ minutes into the second half looked awfully good. They used a 14-0 run in the first half to take an 18-5 lead. Scott Suggs, deft and assertive, was a difference-maker. He continued his strong play late in the season. He’s no longer just the sweet shooter standing in the corner, watching the final days of his Washington career tick away.
Suggs, who scored 19 points, was engaged and emotional. The mild-mannered guard hit his first shot of the game and flashed a goofy gesture to the Washington bench that made his teammates laugh. Swagger from Suggs, the reluctant standout? He inspired the Huskies at the start.
Washington led by 11 at halftime. Midway through the second half Abdul Gaddy was throwing lobs to Shawn Kemp Jr., and it seemed like the Huskies were about to enjoy a rare victory with breathing room. That hasn’t happened much in a season marked by close game after close game.
For certain, the Huskies played like they were in an unfamiliar role.
Then the bad Huskies emerged. They toyed around with the lead, taking ill-advised shots and committing foolish turnovers. And Washington State refused to quit, led by Motum, who had 28 points.
The Cougars used a 15-0 run to tie the game at 62. Washington looked done, with players standing around and the offense relegated to Gaddy hoisting errant three-pointers.
But Simmons breathed life into them. After his bucket, Washington State guard Royce Woolridge committed a costly turnover with 49 seconds remaining. Washington State got the ball back a final time with 14 seconds showing, but the Huskies mustered a final defensive stand with Andrew Andrews defending Motum despite being seven inches shorter, and forcing a poor shot that Motum hoped would be called a foul.
Motum didn’t get the call. The Huskies survived, barely, by the fingertips of Simmons.
Gaddy said coach Lorenzo Romar kept the Huskies composed. Romar laughed.
“Just call me Denzel, because that was a great acting job,” Romar joked. “I was going crazy on the inside.”
A lot of people felt the same way watching that one, Coach.
Jerry Brewer: 206-464-2277 or firstname.lastname@example.org.