After its latest setback — an 84-78 defeat at California for its sixth consecutive defeat — it’s fair to wonder if the Washington men’s basketball team will win again this season.
In many ways, this was the game the Huskies had to win if they were going to salvage a season that’s started so horribly wrong.
And for long stretches, UW did so many things right Saturday at Haas Pavilion in Berkeley, California.
Washington scored more points than it has any other game this season thanks in large part to transfer Erik Stevenson breaking out of a prolong slump and tallying 27 points — two shy of his career high.
Jamal Bey had another impressive outing and finished with a personal-best 18 points, while Quade Green added 16 points, on 6-for-15 shooting from the field, four assists and four rebounds.
Buoyed by Stevenson’s six three-pointers, UW’s dormant perimeter attack finally emerged as UW drained 9 of 18 shots behind the arc.
The Huskies won the battle of the boards for just the third time this season and out-rebounded the Golden Bears 32-24.
And Washington, which erased a 13-point second-half deficit, was in prime position to finally collect its first Pac-12 victory heading into the final two minutes with the score tied 75-75 against an undermanned Cal team that was also winless in the conference and without its best player, Matt Bradley, who missed his second consecutive game due to an ankle injury.
And yet, UW managed just three points on its five possessions in those final two minutes while Cal scored nine points on four trips.
“We couldn’t get stops,” UW coach Mike Hopkins said during a postgame Zoom call. “We didn’t execute down the stretch what we wanted to do.”
The Huskies wanted to foul Cal forward Andre Kelly and put him at the free-throw line where he’s a 48.8% shooter and was 0 for 3 Saturday.
Instead, UW surrendered an open three-pointer to Joe Brown at the top of the key that put the Bears up 78-75.
On the ensuing possession, Cal blocked Green’s short jumper, which led to a fast-break layup for Brown.
Bey cut UW’s deficit to three with a layup before Kelly scored on a short hook to extend Cal’s lead to 82-77 with 52 seconds left.
At the other end, Stevenson made one of two free throws to pull the Huskies to four down at 82-78. Following an empty offensive trip by Cal, Green got a good look at a three-pointer that missed the mark with 12.9 seconds on the clock.
“When we got back in this game, we defended as good as we have in a long time,” Hopkins said. “We just couldn’t do it over time. That’s the trick. Teams are going to score. You’re not going to shut them out, but there’s certain principles that you have that you can’t allow to happen.
“And tonight the three-point shot for certain players we allowed to happen. And that’s the result you get when you don’t execute what you’re supposed to execute.”
Cal, which snapped a three-game losing streak and improved to 6-7 and 1-5 Pac-12, converted 11 of 26 three-pointers. Ryan Betley sank 4 of 7 three-pointers for 18 points while Makale Foreman finished with 14 points on 4-for-9 shooting from downtown.
Kelly also torched the Huskies while converting 11 of 13 shots for a season-high-tying 22 points.
“I’m not sure if it was what Cal was doing more so what we were not doing which is taking away the three,” Stevenson said. “It’s getting stops. They were pretty consistent with what they were doing and we were not consistent enough getting stops. That’s how they won the game.”
Still, the Huskies had some fine moments.
Washington was down 40-32 at halftime and trailed by 13 points (45-32) with 18:03 remaining before seizing momentum and regaining the lead with a 21-5 run.
Stevenson’s three-pointer gave Washington a 53-50 lead with 12:29 left. The Huskies led 59-55 when the Golden Bears capitalized on three consecutive UW turnovers to score 12 consecutive points and ignite a 15-2 run go up 70-61 with 6:25 left. The Huskies had 15 turnovers to nine for Cal.
Washington countered with a 14-5 spurt to tie the game 75-75 heading into the final two minutes when the offense went cold.
“You don’t want to be chasing teams,” Stevenson said. “I think the word is consistency. Being consistent enough when you do have a lead … to keep building on that lead. Being consistent with how you got the lead and keep duplicating what you did to get that lead.”
Washington (1-9, 0-5) returns home for a brief stay before returning to California next week for games against Pac-12 leader UCLA and USC.
According to basketball statistician Ken Pomeroy, the Huskies are favored in just two of their remaining 14 regular-season games.
“It’s not like we’re going to give up on the season or tank,” Stevenson said. “It’s definitely not easy. It’s not easy on any of the guys. It’s not on me at all. I’ve never been in this position, so it’s a learning position for myself as well as the team.
“It’s frustrating to be honest. It’s frustrating losing games whether it’s by five or whether it’s by 30. Losing is losing and it sucks. We’re just searching for a win.”