Championship teams find a way to win games like the Huskies' Pac-12 tournament quarterfinal matchup Thursday against Oregon State. Washington didn't, which says something about its qualifications for the NCAA tournament.
LOS ANGELES — Champions win these games. With so much riding on the outcome, they find ways to escape danger.
Championship teams hold on to eight-point leads in the final eight minutes. They bravely make their free throws down the stretch. They play hardfisted defense, deny opportunities at the rim and grab all of the important rebounds.
In the few days before Selection Sunday, with skeptics from coast to coast watching, championship teams like Washington come into their conference tournaments and erase any doubts about their credentials.
Champions react in a way Washington, the Pac-12 Conference regular-season champion, didn’t in Thursday’s indicting 86-84 loss to Oregon State in the conference tournament’s quarterfinals.
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In the first half of this sloppy, disjointed game, Oregon State beat them to loose balls. The Beavers muscled them inside and staggered them with threes. They played as if they weren’t impressed with Washington’s championship pedigree.
And after Tony Wroten’s end-of-the-first-half heave sailed over the backboard, the Huskies went into a soul-searching halftime trailing 46-33.
These should be the moments that champions relish, the opportunity to pull themselves off the canvas and throw the final, fatal punch. But that’s not Washington’s M.O. Not this season.
For most of this season, these Huskies have been an enigma wrapped in a turnover, wrapped in a missed free throw. They haven’t been able to find ways through the gloom.
And after a dramatic second-half run, in which they played, however briefly, like some of the other tough-minded Huskies teams of coach Lorenzo Romar, they lost their edge again.
After they bounced back from a 48-33 deficit to take a 66-58 lead with 8:46 left, they reverted to their first-half ways.
Oregon State’s long and talented big men started converting again at the rim. Jared Cunningham, who was in hibernation for much of the half, started making shots.
And then, in the last minute, the Huskies played like the ninth seed, like a team that has no business going to the NCAA tournament, like an NIT team.
Terrence Ross was called for a charge. Wroten missed four consecutive free throws. (He didn’t answer questions after the game.) And, down by two, with 2.3 seconds left, Ross’ intentional attempt to miss a free throw crashed off the glass, didn’t draw iron and sealed the loss.
As inflating as Isaiah Thomas’ game-winning shot in the championship game against Arizona on this same floor last season was, this loss was equally deflating.
“This was the antithesis of that,” Romar said.
It follows a bad loss at UCLA last weekend. Now Washington goes into Selection Sunday with a two-game losing streak to teams with dizzyingly high RPIs.
Before the last regular-season trip to Los Angeles, I asked Romar if he thought his team belonged in the NCAA tournament. He didn’t hesitate when he said “yes.” But then he qualified his answer, by saying, “We still have to finish.”
In the hallway outside the team’s locker room Thursday I asked him the same question.
“Going into the UCLA game we had won 16 out of 19,” he said. “If everything ended after our USC win, I think we definitely would have been in the tournament. I think the Pac-12 regular-season champion should find a place in the NCAA tournament. No question. But we’ve lost two since (USC), so now I’m not sure.”
Washington doesn’t have the RPI. It doesn’t have that important, big win against a top-25 team. And it has a bunch of bad losses — Saint Louis, Nevada, South Dakota State and these last two.
I think the selection committee is going to make an example of the Pac-12, which has looked more like the Big Sky than the Big Ten, and not invite the conference champion. Not after this showing.
At best, the committee will send the Huskies to that dreaded first-round game in Dayton against some dangerous team like Drexel.
They don’t deserve any better. In fact, after this loss, they probably deserve worse.
Steve Kelley: 206-464-2176 or firstname.lastname@example.org
|Anatomy of an upset|
|What happened after UW took an 83-79 lead with 1:18 left:|
|1:03||OSU’s Starks hits three-pointer||UW, 83-82|
|:43||Charging foul on UW’s Ross; OSU’s ball||–|
|:31||OSU’s Cunningham makes layup, but misses FT||OSU, 84-83|
|:18||UW’s Wroten misses 2 free throws||–|
|:17||Cunningham misses 2 free throws||–|
|:08||Wroten misses 2 free throws||–|
|:06||Cunningham makes 2 free throws||OSU, 86-83|
|:02||Ross hits FT, intentionally misses 2nd but ball misses rim||OSU, 86-84|
|:01||Cunningham misses 2 FT, OSU rebounds, time runs out||–|