Suddenly, the Huskies couldn’t miss.
After the worst offensive showing in program history in the first half — it was avert-your-eyes, hide-your-children stuff — the Washington women’s basketball team morphed into the 2017 Golden State Warriors over the game’s final six minutes Friday night against No. 8 Arizona.
The Huskies nearly pulled off the unthinkable.
Alas, Arizona was able to make its free throws in the closing seconds and held on for a tense 51-42 victory over the Huskies at Alaska Airlines Arena.
The Huskies (5-14), at 0-11, remain winless in Pac-12 Conference play.
In the first half, the Huskies hit a new low by scoring just seven points in the game’s first 20 minutes — their fewest points scored in any half in program history.
To repeat: Seven points in the game’s first 20 minutes.
How, then, to explain UW’s sudden outburst in the game’s final six minutes, when the Huskies scored 17 points and twice pulled within four points against an Arizona team boasting the Pac-12’s most punishing defense?
“I think you can see that when we do what we’re supposed to do, it’s fine. Good things happen,” UW center Nancy Mulkey said.
It was, certainly, an exciting surge, and something first-year UW coach Tina Langley can build from.
“I hope this team sees … that we can battle with anyone,” Langley said. “What a lot of (teams) have that we don’t have right now is more experienced together, and more experienced in some of these moments. … We’re still kind of a young team together. And there’s not a limit to what we can do when it comes to how much more we can learn right now. So I’m excited for that.”
The Huskies scored just two points in the second quarter. They shot just 15% (3 for 20) from the field and committed 15 turnovers in the first half. They trailed 16-7 at the break.
Arizona ranks as the best defensive team in the Pac-12, holding opponents to 56.9 points per game (entering Friday) and 37.7% shooting.
UW was able to hang close thanks to its own defense, which leads the Pac-12 in opponent three-point shooting (28%). Arizona shot 8 for 26 (31%) in the first half Friday and was 0 for 5 on threes.
“They shot like we shot, and I think that’s two great defensive teams really battling today,” Langley said. “The second quarter, you could feel our frustration offensively the most, I thought … but I’m proud of the way we’re defending.”
They trailed 31-19 entering the fourth quarter. Arizona (19-4, 9-4 Pac-12), the NCAA runner-up last year, extended that lead to 15 early in the fourth quarter.
The Huskies’ surge began with a Missy Peterson jump shot.
Haley Van Dyke followed with a corner three-pointer in front of the UW bench to get the Huskies within 38-28 with 5:02 left in the game.
Two minutes later, Lauren Schwartz sank a three-pointer from the corner, getting UW within nine.
Mulkey hit a short jump shot and followed that on the next possession by swishing a three-pointer from the top of the key after a kick-out pass from Jayda Noble.
That got the Huskies within 41-37 with 1:32 left.
“I think for any basketball player, once one shot starts to go in, the hoop just seems to be getting bigger,” Mulkey said. “And obviously when that doesn’t happen, your confidence isn’t there. So as a team, that’s where we need to come together and be like, ‘Hey, it’s gonna come.’”
On an inbounds play, Noble threw a cross-court pass to a wide open Peterson, who sank a three-pointer from the left arc to cut Arizona’s lead to 46-42 with 36 seconds left.
Arizona closed it out by hitting 7 of 8 free throws in the final 40 seconds.
Washington wound up scoring 23 points in the fourth quarter — four more than they had scored in the first three quarters combined.
Mulkey had 13 points to lead the Huskies, who shot 12 for 22 (55%) in the second half.
Arizona coach Adia Barnes, a UW assistant from 2011-16 and a member of the Seattle Storms’ first WNBA championship team in 2004, has won six straight against the Huskies.