Huskies use a 15-0 run to take a 37-27 halftime lead but the Trojans shoot 68 percent in the second half in an 82-74 victory.
Lorenzo Romar scanned the Huskies’ locker room and didn’t like what he saw.
The Washington men’s basketball team led USC by 10 points at the break, but he believed there was too much celebrating for a team seeking to snap a three-game losing streak.
“I would say we were feeling pretty good about ourselves, too good,” Romar said. “We obviously didn’t understand that much more work was going to be required to come out on top.”
Romar’s words came to fruition as the Trojans chased down the Huskies in the final minutes leaving UW frustrated after an 82-74 defeat Wednesday in front of 7,223 at Alaska Airlines Arena billed as a blackout game that included t-shirt giveaways and an appearance by the Huskies football team.
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Washington fell to 9-13 overall, 2-8 in Pac-12 play.
Technically, the Huskies were officially eliminated from the regular-season conference race that never really materialized for them.
And to hear Romar’s postgame comments, Washington has greater concerns such as avoiding a total collapse and finding a victory in the remaining eight games before the Pac-12 tournament.
Entering the final month of the regular season, the Huskies are still waiting for a leader to emerge on a team that includes 10 underclassmen and two returning starters.
“Good teams have a couple of guys or one guy that’s just going to get into somebody’s face,” Romar said. “We haven’t really done that.
“I would like to think that we have someone that is capable of it, but we have not done it yet. Two-thirds of the season is behind us.”
A year ago, Andrew Andrews – a fifth-year senior – carried the Huskies to a handful of wins in the final minutes with heroic performances.
As good as Markelle Fultz has been this season – and he’s been sensational – the freshman star has been unable to consistently put the Huskies on his shoulders in crunch time.
Take Wednesday, for example.
The pregame buzz centered on Boston Celtics president and general manager Danny Ainge, who strolled into Alaska Airlines Arena and sat in the second row across from the UW bench.
Fultz has attracted a litany of NBA dignitaries to Seattle this season, but Ainge’s presence piqued the curiosity of courtside spectators, considering the Celtics have the best chance to have the No. 1 pick in this summer’s draft. (They hold the Brooklyn Nets’ top pick.)
Perhaps Ainge dreamed of teaming Fultz, the Pac-12’s leading scorer projected to the first or second player taken, with Isaiah Thomas, the former Huskies standout who is making a second-half push for MVP consideration.
Fultz certainly gave Ainge and more than a dozen NBA talent evaluators on hand plenty to contemplate with a 20-point performance that also included five rebounds, six assists and four turnovers.
The 6-foot-4 point guard provided a handful of highlights in the first half, a pair of chase-down blocks and consecutive three-pointers – the last one at the buzzer – that capped a 15-0 UW run. Noah Dickerson had 17 points and nine rebounds.
Washington led 37-27 at halftime, but Romar sensed trouble looming.
“Inconsistency sums up this entire game,” he said. “I thought we did a really good job in the first half in a lot of ways. We came out in the second half extremely flat for whatever reason.
“It’s something we talked about at halftime. About guarding against that. That this game wasn’t close to being over. But we did come out flat and turned the ball over far too many times. We turned the ball over five times in the first four minutes, and that kind of set the tone.”
USC went on a 7-0 run to start the second half and continued chipping away at Washington’s lead thanks to the inside presence of forwards Bennie Boatwright (23 points) and Chimezie Metu (15), who combined for seven dunks. Guards De’Anthony Melton had 16 points and Jordan McLaughlin 13 for USC (19-4, 6-4), which shot 68 percent (17 of 25) in the second half.
The Huskies kept USC at bay until the Trojans ran past them with momentum-turning 13-0 spurt that erased a 66-59 UW lead with 7:17 left and put USC ahead 72-66 at the 3:32 minute mark.
Washington was mired in a scoring drought that spanned nearly four minutes until forward Sam Timmins flushed a putback dunk that cut its deficit to 72-68.
Matisse Thybulle (12 points) canned a three-pointer that pulled the Huskies to 72-71, and on the next possession his tying three rimmed out with 52.5 seconds left.
David Crisp (16 points) and Fultz also misfired on three-pointers in the final minute that could have made things a little more interesting.
Meanwhile, USC converted 8 of its final 10 free throws to put the game away. The Trojans outscored UW 21-8 in the final 6½ minutes.
The Huskies (9-13, 2-8) committed 17 turnovers, and Romar felt the sloppy ball handling affected the team’s decision-making in the final minutes while lamenting a slew of missed three-pointers.
“We weren’t able to get a stop,” Romar said. “In the last few possessions, we just didn’t dig in and get grimy and make the plays that were necessary to win the game.”