Huskies hit 10 of 15 free throws in final 2-1/2 minutes to clinch win, move back into tie for Pac-12 lead
CORVALLIS, Ore. — This one they had to have. There was too much at stake for Washington to play it cool, which might explain why Lorenzo Romar looked as if he worked harder than ever on the sideline.
At every opportunity Sunday, the coach cajoled, pleaded and directed the Huskies like the scrappy point guard he once was.
“It’s an intense time of year,” he said. “We just needed every advantage that we could get out there.”
With first place in the Pac-12 and possibly an at-large NCAA tournament berth hanging in the balance, the Huskies pulled out a gut-wrenching, 75-72 victory at Oregon State when they weren’t at their best offensively.
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And they did it with timely free-throw shooting. Imagine that.
The Huskies, 11th in the Pac-12 with a 61.7 free-throw percentage, converted 10 of 15 foul shots in the final 2 ½ minutes.
Washington shot a season-low 34.8 percent from the field, but overcame the shoddy performance with a solid defensive effort, good ball-handling and a team-oriented approach.
“There were a lot of heroes on our team, and Abdul (Gaddy) was one of the main ones,” Romar said.
In many ways, the Huskies mirrored their junior point guard, who converted just 3 of 10 shots. But he was critical to their success, finishing with four assists, five rebounds and two steals.
“He’s a smart point guard,” said C.J. Wilcox, who had 17 points. “He got the passes there. We were running the floor. We knew this team doesn’t get back on defense well, so we got a lot of easy buckets that way.”
In truth, there was nothing easy about this game.
The two highest-scoring teams in the conference waged a defensive battle in which neither squad led by more than six points.
The lead changed 13 times and the score was tied 11 times, including 31-31 at halftime.
The Huskies took the lead for good late with 5:01 left when Gaddy stepped into a three-pointer that put them up 61-58.
The next few minutes felt like an eternity.
Thanks to sophomore guard Ahmad Starks, who sank two three-pointers in the final 2:12, Oregon State never let Washington out of its reach.
Starks’ last three-point shot cut UW’s lead to 70-68 with 25 seconds left.
On the ensuing possession, the Huskies knew the Beavers were going to intentionally foul as quickly as possible, and they tried to get the ball to Wilcox. He drew two defenders and Gaddy passed to freshman forward Desmond Simmons, who drew a foul.
Simmons calmly sank two free throws in front of a frenzied crowd of 8,027 at Gill Coliseum.
Cunningham missed a three-pointer on the next possession, and Terrence Ross connected on two at the line to put the game away.
“It feels like if we lose, we’re eliminated (from the Pac-12 race),” said Ross, who scored 12 of his team-high 21 points in the second half. He also collected a game-high 13 rebounds.
Tony Wroten Jr. added 12 points for the Huskies, who rebounded from a 25-point thumping on Thursday at Oregon to return home with a much-needed split in the Willamette Valley.
Washington (17-8) regained a share of the conference lead, tied with California (20-6) at 10-3.
“That’s the kind of team you aspire to be,” Beavers coach Craig Robinson said. “You aspire to be that team where you don’t necessarily shoot your best percentage and you still win a game on the road. We’re not there yet.”
Cunningham, the Pac-12 scoring leader, tallied 23 points and Devon Collier had 16 for Oregon State (15-10, 5-8).
Washington next plays Arizona State (7-16, 3-8) Thursday at Edmundson Pavilion, followed by Saturday’s much-anticipated rematch with Arizona.
“We’re tied for first place and going back home for two more games,” Romar said. “In the big picture, I’d prefer that than the alternative.”
Percy Allen: 206-464-2278 or email@example.com. On Twitter @percyallen.
Percentages: FG .348, FT .686. Three-point goals: 5-17, .294 (Gaddy 2-3, Wilcox 2-7, Ross 1-5, Wroten 0-1, Gant 0-1). Team rebounds: 4. Blocked shots: 2 (Ross 2). Turnovers: 11 (Simmons 4, Wroten 3, Ross 2, Gant, Gaddy). Steals: 7 (Gaddy 2, Wroten 2, Simmons, Wilcox, Ross). Technical fouls: None.
Percentages: FG .413, FT .615. Three-point goals: 4-16, .250 (Starks 2-5, Cunningham 2-6, Barton 0-1, Nelson 0-4). Team rebounds: 2. Blocked shots: 7 (Moreland 5, Collier 2). Turnovers: 12 (Cunningham 4, Collier 3, Brandt 2, Starks, Barton, Nelson). Steals: 4 (Starks 3, Cunningham). Technical fouls: None.
Attendance: 8,027. Officials: Chris Rastatter, Mike Scyphers, Randy Burkhart.