This game had it all for Washington – except a victory.
The Huskies welcomed a soldout crowd to Alaska Airlines Arena. They received special appearances by UW greats Brandon Roy and Jon Brockman, as well as football coach Jimmy Lake. They got a dominant outing from Isaiah Stewart and a breakout performance from freshman point guard Marcus Tsohonis.
Washington had No. 8 Oregon on the ropes for 35 minutes and led by 16 points with less than 10 minutes to go.
But at the end of a 64-61 overtime defeat, the Huskies fell victim to several self-inflicted wounds as well as the last-second heroics from the Ducks’ Payton Pritchard.
Here are three impressions:
MORE LATE-GAME FOIBLES
Add Pritchard to the list of long-range sharpshooters who have gunned down the Huskies with game-winning three-pointers.
UCLA’s Jake Kyman came off the bench and buried his seventh three-pointer with eight seconds left to hand the Huskies a 66-64 defeat.
California’s Matt Bradley canned a three-pointer at the top of the key with six seconds left in overtime to knock off UW 61-58 in overtime.
And Pritchard topped them both. The Oregon star drained his sixth three-pointer from 26 feet away with 3.4 seconds left.
Say this for the Huskies, they’re not boring.
When they lose, it’s usually been a dramatic, heartbreaking defeat that would otherwise entertain and thrill spectators without a UW rooting interest.
Aside from a 13-point defeat against Tennessee in Toronto, every game Washington has lost has been by an average of 5.4 points. And three defeats have been by three points or less, which is evidence for UW critics and supporters.
On the one hand, optimists such as coach Mike Hopkins say the close defeats suggest the Huskies are “close” to putting it all together and could just as easily be 17-2 rather than 12-7.
However, the inability to finish games coupled with the fact Washington has blown double-digit leads in three of their defeats gives ammunition to naysayers who lay the team’s shortcomings at the feet of its third-year coach.
Hopkins shouldered the blame after the latest setback. He second-guessed his decision to rely primarily on six players, which might have resulted in the team’s fatigue.
Washington was outscored 31-19 in the second half while committing nine turnovers and shooting 4 of 19 from the field, including 0 for 8 on three-pointers.
The Huskies made 6 of 7 free throws in the first half and were 11 of 18 at the line after the break.
Once again it became glaringly obvious UW needs to find a closer to step up in clutch moments and take control the way Jaylen Nowell did last season. At the end of close games, the 2019 Pac-12 player of the year had a knack for scoring in pressure situations.
Nowell would have figured out a way to deliver a victory after the Huskies built a 48-32 lead with 10:22 left. Instead, they were outscored 24-8 during the rest of the second half.
WHERE’S THE OFFENSIVE CREATIVITY?
Stewart and Hopkins said the Huskies in essence ran just two plays throughout the game, which no doubt were designed to get the ball inside to the star freshman forward.
For long stretches, Stewart looked like the best player on the floor while tallying 25 points, a career-high 19 rebounds, a personal-best-tying five blocks, two assists and two steals in 42½ minutes. He converted 6 of 13 field goals and was 12 of 15 on free throws after drawing 13 fouls.
Stewart was dominant, but at times the Ducks made it impossible for the Huskies to get him the ball and there weren’t nearly enough alternative scoring options for Washington.
Tsohonis showcased a crafty midrange floater and sank 2 of 4 three-pointers for a career-high 14 points.
However, the rest of the Huskies contributed just 22 points on 6-for-31 field-goal shooting.
When Stewart is out of the game, Washington needs to run isolation plays for Nahziah Carter, who had a highlight block in the first half but managed just six points and five rebounds.
Jaden McDaniels looked rusty after a one-game layoff, which might explain why he scored just five points on 1-for-9 shooting, including 0 for 5 on three-pointers.
RaeQuan Battle, the hero in the victory Thursday over Oregon State, was 1 for 8 – all three-point attempts – for six points.
Meanwhile, Hameir Wright and Jamal Bey struggled to make shots while reserve forward Nate Roberts has seen his playing time diminish the past two games.
It’s been the theme of the season, but Stewart needs help.
IT’S GETTING LATE, EARLY
Contrary to opinions of many in the comments section, Washington’s season is not over.
However, famed New York Yankees manager Yogi Berra coined the phrase “It’s getting late early,” which aptly describes the Huskies’ postseason aspirations.
If Washington had held on for the victory against Oregon, then it would have picked up a coveted NET Quadrant 1 triumph.
However, the defeat simplifies UW’s NCAA tournament calculus.
With 12 regular-season games remaining, the Huskies need to win seven or eight games to remain in contention for one of the 36 at-large tournament berths.
Of course, this is purely an opinion lacking any quantifiable data. And this crude projection only holds up if UW wins games that would give the most impact in its NET ranking.
For instance, a victory next Saturday at Colorado, which is No. 19 in the NET, would give the Huskies a Quad 1 victory whereas beating No. 153 California at home would be considered a Quad 3 victory and is far less valuable.