UW trailed 42-28 before a furious second-half rally fell just short against USC. Washington will open Pac-10 tournament play against Washington State on Thursday at Staples Center.
All night as their shots clanked and as USC’s big frontline punched holes in their defense, the Washington faces said it all.
The Huskies looked dazed and confused, which was the last thing anyone expected Saturday night.
“Since I’ve been here we’ve always got off to slow starts, but we always came back,” Venoy Overton said. “It seems like we take too long to get started. Seems like we’ve got to be down by 10 points.”
The Huskies fell behind early for the third straight game and once again, they made a furious comeback in the second half.
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This time the rally fell short, Washington lost 62-60 and stumbles into next week’s Pac-10 tournament perhaps needing a win or two to secure an NCAA tournament at-large berth.
The Huskies are the No. 3 seed in the conference tournament and they face No. 6 Washington Sate at 8:30 p.m. Thursday.
“It’s March,” junior co-captain Isaiah Thomas said. “No more excuses. Everybody has to be held accountable for what they’re doing. Same as me.
“We’ve just got to really be ready and really be focused. One game at a time and try to make some noise.”
The Huskies love to walk the tightrope. Last year they assured a berth to the Big Dance by winning the conference tournament.
This season, the Huskies (20-10, 11-7 Pac-10) seem to be in good standing based on RPI and strength of schedule, but admittedly their confidence is ebbing.
“It’s not very high right now,” Thomas said.
So long, swagger.
The Washington team that posted six 100-point-plus performances has regressed into a pattern of inconsistency that could make their life in the postseason brief.
In the past three weeks, the Huskies have followed every win with a defeat.
They won at Arizona State before losing at Arizona.
They beat Seattle University and fell to WSU.
On Thursday, the Huskies toppled UCLA, so it’s hardly a surprise what happened Saturday on Senior Night in front of 10,000 at Edmundson Pavilion.
“This is the end of the year, we should be playing at a high level every time we step on the floor,” UW coach Lorenzo Romar said. “Usually at the end of the year, we’re playing pretty consistent basketball. This year we haven’t as much.”
Washington trailed 36-26 at halftime, which was the third straight game the Huskies have started slowly.
They’ve been down at intermission in each game and they’re averaging 22.3 points in the first half during the span.
“I couldn’t explain it,” Thomas said. “If I could, there wouldn’t be no slow starts. We’ve just got to be mentally ready. I don’t know if it’s even that. The first four to eight minutes we’ve got to pound teams and take the first punch.
“I feel like we’ve been letting them take the punch the last couple of games and it’s hurting us because we keep digging ourselves a deep hole.”
On Thursday, Washington recovered in the second half and beat UCLA.
This time, the Huskies made another furious second-half rally.
Washington trailed 42-28 when it began to press full court, which sped up the tempo. The Huskies also dropped into a 2-3 zone to protect the rim against USC forwards Nikola Vucevic and Alex Stepheson.
The Huskies cut the deficit to 49-45 with 7:38 left.
It was as close as UW got until the final minute.
Overton scored on a layup and USC led 60-56 with 15 seconds remaining.
On the ensuing possession, Donte Smith made two free throws to put Trojans ahead 62-56 before Thomas and Scott Suggs scored in the final seconds.
The Huskies tried to foul, but USC ran out the clock to preserve the upset.
Thomas finished with 16 points, Overton had 15 and Suggs 14. Matthew Bryan-Amaning had 11.
Jio Fontan scored 20 for USC. Vucevic had 19 points and 10 rebounds and Stepheson had 11 points and 14 rebounds.
“We could have ended the Pac-10 off on a good note, but we didn’t,” Thomas said. “We’ve just got to turn the page and really be ready for this Pac-10 tournament and try to make some noise.
“It’s do or die. If you don’t bring it, you’re out.”
Percy Allen: 206-464-2278 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Percentages: FG .417, FT .760. Three-point goals: 3-15, .200 (Fontan 2-3, Vucevic 1-2, Simmons 0-1, Jones 0-4, D. Smith 0-5). Team rebounds: 2. Blocked shots: 0. Turnovers: 11 (Fontan 5, Simmons 3, Jones, Stepheson, D. Smith). Steals: 6 (Simmons 2, Jones, Fontan, D. Smith, Vucevic).
Percentages: FG .396, FT .727. Three-point goals: 2-16, .125 (Suggs 2-3, Gant 0-1, Overton 0-1, Thomas 0-3, Holiday 0-3, Wilcox 0-5). Team rebounds: 3. Blocked shots: 6 (Bryan-Amaning 3, Holiday 2, Suggs). Turnovers: 7 (Bryan-Amaning 2, Thomas 2, N’Diaye, Wilcox, Holiday). Steals: 6 (Bryan-Amaning 2, N’Diaye, Wilcox, Holiday, Overton).
Attendance: 10,000. Officials: Tony Padilla, Bobby McRoy, Frank Harvey.