PULLMAN — Losing to cross-state rival Washington State never feels good, but this one hurt the Huskies more than they expected.
Standing outside the visiting locker room in a crowded tunnel below Beasley Coliseum, C.J. Wilcox tried to make sense of the Washington men’s basketball team’s 72-67 defeat on Saturday.
“It’s just so frustrating,” he said.
Admittedly, he didn’t have answers to adequately explain this one.
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He wondered how the Huskies surrendered 72 points to a team that had averaged 49 during the Pac-12 season.
Why didn’t Washington have an answer for WSU forward D.J. Shelton, who destroyed the Huskies on both ends of the floor with 20 points, 18 rebounds, four steals and three assists?
And what the heck happened during a pivotal 9:48 stretch when the Huskies went from an eight-point lead early in the second half to an 11-point deficit with less than four minutes remaining?
“It happens over and over again,” Wilcox said. “When (teams) start making runs, a lot of guys start taking shots that they don’t normally take just in desperation to try to get the team back.”
Washington State’s 24-5 run had as much to do with the Huskies’ inability to hit open shots and defend than anything else.
During the stretch, the Huskies converted just 1 of 12 shots.
Shawn Kemp Jr. blew what might have been a highlight tomahawk slam dunk. Perris Blackwell failed to convert layups. And Desmond Simmons misfired on a jumper.
But Washington’s undoing was several missed three-pointers. Five in all.
“I’ll have to look at the film again, but I think we were getting good shots,” Washington coach Lorenzo Romar said.
Later he added: “No one is out there trying to miss. We’re trying. Give them a lot of credit for taking advantage.”
Washington State sank 8 of 15 shots during the decisive run, which thrilled the crowd of 5,796 that had been quiet for most of the game.
Shelton put the Cougars ahead for good 43-42 with two free throws with 9:36 remaining.
On WSU’s next possession, DaVonte Lacy, who scored 10 points during his return from a six-game layoff due to a rib injury, drained a three-pointer over Wilcox after missing his previous eight shots. His basket put WSU up 46-42.
From there Que Johnson (15 points) dropped two three-pointers to extend the Cougars’ lead to 52-45 with 6:34 left.
And minutes later, Shelton gave WSU its biggest lead (58-47) at the 3:52 mark.
Twice Washington pulled within four points in the final minute, but the comeback fell short and the Huskies dropped to 13-9, 5-4 Pac-12.
“I was not really expecting this, especially because we’ve been playing well the last couple of games,” said Wilcox, who scored a game-high 24 points, including four three-pointers.
Blackwell added 13 points and 10 rebounds. Nigel Williams-Goss had 11 points and Andrew Andrews 10.
The Huskies thought they’d matured enough during a difficult season to avoid yet another setback against Washington State (9-12, 2-7), which carried a four-game losing streak into the game.
Washington was riding the momentum from two straight wins and thoughts of resurrecting its NCAA tournament hopes that now seem like a far-fetched fantasy.
The Huskies had won the previous six games against Washington State.
“We knew how big this game was and how it could affect us down the line come (NCAA) tournament time,” Wilcox said. “It definitely stings a lot more than some of the earlier games.”
It was a disappointing start to a three-game road stint for Washington, which travels to Utah and Colorado this week.
“This is a huge opportunity missed,” Romar said.
• Wilcox tied Isaiah Thomas (1,721) for sixth place on Washington’s all-time scoring list.
Percy Allen: 206-464-2278 or email@example.com.
On Twitter @percyallen