LOS ANGELES — The Huskies lost more than a game Saturday night at UCLA.
When Emmitt Matthews Jr. took a blow to the head midway through the first half, the Washington men’s basketball team lost its second-leading scorer and rebounder who has been instrumental during his first year at UW.
Matthews didn’t play in the second half of the Huskies’ 76-50 loss to the 13th-ranked Bruins because he had concussion symptoms and it was unclear if the 6-foot-7 senior forward would be available for a couple of games this week against Washington State.
“At this time, we don’t know,” UW coach Mike Hopkins said when asked about Matthews. “We’ll get back home, and he’ll get evaluated and checked out. But I don’t know if we’ll have him Wednesday.”
Losing Matthews puts a considerable amount of stress on a depleted UW lineup missing senior point guard Daejon Davis, who has sat out the past four games due a right shoulder injury.
“Our best games are when we’ve had 15 assists and only 6 or 7 turnovers,” Hopkins said. “Now without Daejon we’re getting 14 turnovers and only 6 or 7 assists. So those numbers have to switch.”
There’s so much that needs to change if the Huskies (13-12, 8-7 Pac-12), who have lost four of the past five games, are going to snap their three-game losing streak.
Here are three questions UW must answer heading into the final two weeks of the regular season.
Where’s the bench?
It was always a certainty that Washington’s miserable 5-5 nonconference record, which included three home losses to mid-majors, was going to haunt the Huskies late in the season.
In light of UW’s recent injuries, it’s evident Hopkins’ inability to develop reserves in what should have been tune-up games will likely be a hindrance now that those backup players are being called upon to make major contributions.
UCLA was also short-handed Saturday without starters Johnny Juzang (sore hip) and Cody Riley (rest) while point guard Tyger Campbell injured his shoulder in the first minute and was barely a factor.
Bruins coach Mick Cronin turned to a pair of reserves Jaylin Clark (25 points) and David Singleton (22 points), who nearly combined to outscore Washington.
“It is what it is, you need to find a way to win,” Cronin said. “When all we care about is winning, we’re really, really tough.”
Meanwhile, Hopkins gave junior forward Langston Wilson his first start. He finished with two points and three rebounds in 19 minutes.
Junior guard Cole Bajema started the second half in place of Matthews, and he went scoreless on 0-for-8 shooting in 29 minutes.
Junior center Riley Sorn, who hasn’t tallied more than nine minutes in his past six appearances, finished with two points in five minutes.
And touted freshman forward Jackson Grant, who has seemingly made marginal improvements, sat out the first half and played 10 minutes in the second half before finishing with three points and two rebounds.
Hopkins has relied heavily on Terrell Brown Jr., and the Pac-12 leading scorer has been a singular sensation while carrying Washington to 13 wins.
However, the Huskies’ inability to develop alternative scoring options will likely play a factor in the final five games.
Have teams figured out UW defense?
At their best, the Huskies feast off turnovers created by steals and deflections that torment opponents and lead to easy buckets at the other end for their transition offense.
On Saturday, Washington forced just seven UCLA turnovers, which is nine fewer than UW’s average.
In its second meeting, Arizona had no problems with UW’s defense and committed just nine turnovers after tallying 21 in their first matchup.
“They did what Arizona did,” Hopkins said referring to the Bruins. “They ducked in our big guy pretty hard. They kind of eliminated him almost like an offensive (lineman) blocking for a good running back. And we’ve got to do a better job of fighting over that and not being ducked in. They’re physical. They’re big and strong.”
Washington has struggled against physically imposing teams like USC, Arizona and Oregon that overpowered the Huskies relatively small front line led by 6-foot-10 forward Nate Roberts.
In the past three games, UW opponents have shot 57.1%, 48.4% and 47.6% from the field.
“They’re trying to spread us out so it’s harder for us to get those (turnovers) and the close out are a little longer,” senior guard Jamal Bey said. “They’re starting to figure it out a little bit, but we’ve got to tighten it back up.”
Has UW lost confidence?
A week ago we asked if Washington was a contender or pretender at the start of a three-game stretch against ranked Pac-12 teams.
The Huskies said they were looking forward to the games and using them as a measuring stick. At the time, UW was riding high after winning four of its previous five games and there was talk among wide-eyed Husky optimists of Washington snagging an NCAA tournament berth.
Suffice to say, those postseason conversations have quieted and discussions about Hopkins’ job security are rampant once again after the Huskies were embarrassed against the Pac-12’s top teams.
Washington lost 92-68 against then-No. 4 Arizona and trailed by 29 points. UW dropped a 79-69 decision Thursday at No. 17 USC and trailed by 23.
On Saturday, the Huskies were down 37 points midway through the second half.
“I wouldn’t say we lost confidence,” Bey said. “The best thing is we still have more opportunities. We’ve got UCLA again. We’ve got the Oregon schools and obviously Washington State this week.
“I think everyone is excited and looking forward to those games.”