On this dire Sunday night, the Huskies didn't look ready for March. They didn't look tournament tough.
The challenge to everything Washington had been working toward since October came early in the second half.
A horrible and-one call on Aziz N’Diaye gave DeAngelo Casto a three-point play and earned a slightly ballistic Washington coach Lorenzo Romar his second technical in two games.
As sudden as an earthquake and just as surprisingly, Washington State was up on Washington 38-23 with 16:54 left.
The wheels were coming off the Huskies. Klay Thompson was playing like the best player on the floor. The air was leaking out of Hec Ed.
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On this dire Sunday night, the Huskies didn’t look ready for March. They didn’t look tournament tough.
Now, how would Washington respond?
Would they panic? Would they rush contested jumpers? Would they force plays in the paint? Would they miss their free throws? Would they play like the uncertain team they sometimes have been on the road?
Or would play with the kind of poise a veteran team should have at this time of the year? Would they play the way they’ve played since November on their home court.
Final score: Washington State 80, Washington 69.
Asked and answered.
If, as Romar said late last week, this game was a chance for the Huskies to make the case they belong in the NCAA tournament field. They didn’t.
If, as he said last week, this game was a chance for them to get better. They didn’t.
For most of the night, Washington was clearly the second-best team on the floor. For most of the night, Washington State played with more poise.
Sure Washington made a dramatic run.
They trailed 55-34 after WSU’s Reggie Moore hit a three with 10:45 to play. The Huskies defense forced turnovers. Isaiah Thomas made plays in the paint.
Venoy Overton hit a three. Thomas made another three and Overton forced a Thompson turnover and made one of two free throws. With four minutes left, the Cougars’ lead melted to 65-59.
Finally, Hec Ed got loud and then it got louder.
But Washington wasn’t playing well enough to win this game. For too much of the night the Huskies had looked flat as a canvas.
On this night, all of their warts were exposed:
• Matthew Bryan-Amaning’s inability to pass out of the post and his inconsistent finishing at the rim.
• Overton’s tendency to play just over the edge of control.
• The three-point shooters’ inability to make open shots at key points in the game.
• The Huskies’ terrible free-throw shooting.
• And Washington’s tendency, even though it is a veteran team, to lose its poise and play without purpose in the last minutes of close games.
For the first time at home, Washington played as it often has on the road.
The Huskies couldn’t get defensive stops when they needed them. Their help defense was horrible when Thompson (26 points) drove hard to the basket.
Maybe that lost weekend in the Willamette Valley wasn’t an aberration. Maybe the struggles at Stanford, in Pullman and in the first half at Arizona are all the realities of this season.
Washington is 19-9 and, let’s be honest, now suddenly sitting precariously on the tournament bubble. With UCLA’s win over Arizona on Saturday the door to a Pac-10 regular-season championship was slightly cracked open for the Huskies.
Sunday night it was slammed shut and locked tight.
Forget about NCAA seeding, Washington has to start executing better. The Huskies have to play with confidence in the homestretches of games. At this point, they should feel fortunate even to be in the field of 68.
This team hasn’t lived up to the promise of last March. It came into the season looking like an Elite Eight team. It is coming to the end of the season, desperately clinging to one of the last berths open in the tournament.
The Huskies played a nervous game against the Cougars. The importance of this game could be felt in the gym, it could be seen on the faces of the players, felt on all of the shots that fell short and the early jittery passes that caromed off shins and fingers.
Nothing came easily.
In the first half Thomas was 0 for 3 on threes and barely drew iron on a couple of late first-half free throws. Bryan-Amaning missed all five of his first half field-goal attempts and didn’t get to the line.
Washington made only two of its first 17 shots and trailed only 11-4. The Huskies’ 17 first-half points were the lowest total in Romar’s Husky tenure.
And late in the game, on their home floor, the Huskies heard a chant they never thought they’d hear here this season.
“Let’s Go Cougs. Let’s Go Cougs.”
It felt like the energy was leaking out of this once-promising season.
Steve Kelley: 206-464-2176 or firstname.lastname@example.org