LAS VEGAS – Nigel Williams-Goss walked out of the MGM Grand Arena locker room teary eyed and disconsolate.
“You come into every game expecting to win,” said the Washington freshman guard. “We came in here with the mindset to try to win a championship. So it’s tough when you lose.”
After sleepwalking through the first half of its Pac-12 men’s basketball tournament opener against No. 8 seed Utah, Washington put itself in position to pull out an upset before falling 67-61 in the final seconds.
The Huskies overcame a 12-point deficit to tie it at 60-60 at the 1:07 mark after a Desmond Simmons free throw.
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On the ensuing possession, Washington tried to scramble defensively to make sure the Utah stars were covered.
However, the Huskies didn’t account for sophomore sharpshooter Dakarai Tucker, who stood alone in the corner.
Simmons raced at him, but the UW forward was too late to prevent Tucker from draining a three-pointer with 37.3 seconds left.
At the other end, the Huskies eschewed a two-point attempt and Williams-Goss tried to answer with a three-pointer from the top of the key. His attempt sailed short and hit the front of the rim.
After four free throws from Utah, it was over and the Huskies lost their first conference tournament game for the second time in three years. UW lost 86-84 to Oregon State in the quarterfinals of the 2012 tournament.
Back then, the Huskies were on the wrong side of the NCAA tournament bubble and missed the Big Dance despite winning the regular-season conference title.
This time, the early exit in the conference tourney could knock Washington (17-15) out of the National Invitation Tournament. The Huskies played in the NIT the past two years and they’ll learn Sunday if they’ll return.
“I want to continue to play,” freshman guard Darin Johnson said. “Especially I want the seniors to continue to play. I don’t want them to go out like this.”
If Wednesday was the final game of the season, then it was a perfect microcosm of a season filled with disappointments.
The Huskies started slowly. They fell behind 15-6 after allowing a 9-0 run. They trailed by 10 points (34-24) at the break and shot 26.9 percent from the field in the first half. And then they made a run in the second half that fell short.
“For whatever reason, we didn’t come out like we wanted to,” said C.J. Wilcox, who finished with 14 points on 4-for-15 shooting. “We were able to get things going in the second half and it started with defense.”
Williams-Goss led the comeback while scoring 13 of his 15 points in the second half. He also had five rebounds, three assists and three steals.
Simmons (10 points and nine rebounds) and Johnson, who had a career-high tying 16 points, also came alive in the second half.
The Huskies outscored Utah 37-33 in the second half and shot 46.4 percent from the field. They held a one-point lead four times, but could never pull away from the Utes.
“For Washington to have five assists, I think that would probably be the story line for the game,” Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak said. “We didn’t maybe let their offense run on (all) the cylinders.”
Utah sputtered offensively as well.
Junior guard Delon Wright led the Utes with 15 points, seven rebounds, four assists, three steals and two blocks. Jordan Loveridge had 13 points and nine rebounds.
Wright or Loveridge didn’t score in the final minute, but Utah discovered a star in Tucker.
“That was a really big shot,” he said about his three-pointer in the final minute.”
Krystkowiak added: “It was really fitting and on cue for our team. … We don’t have individual players. The strength of our team has been the team and it couldn’t have happened at a better time.’
Utah (21-10) plays top-seeded Arizona (28-3) at noon Wednesday in the quarterfinals.
Meanwhile, Washington will spend the next few days wondering if its season is over.
The Huskies have indicated they would decline a berth in the College Basketball Invitational, which makes the NIT their only option to extend the season.
“I’m not ready for this to end,” said Wilcox, a fifth-year senior.
Percy Allen: 206-464-2278 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @percyallen.