LOS ANGELES – When UCLA’s dormant offense sprang to life and the cheers at Pauley Pavilion rose to a crescendo, Mike Hopkins gathered the Huskies on the sidelines.
“Stick together,” the Washington coach said. “Just stay together.”
Washington led for over 20 minutes and had a 12-point lead in the second half, but none of that mattered on Saturday night.
Not with David Singleton draining deep three-pointers, Chris Smith dropping mid-range jumpers and Cody Riley torching the Huskies inside.
And not when UW’s offense disappeared at the end for the second straight game, which once again led to another head-scratching setback, a 67-57 defeat.
It’s the eighth straight loss for Washington, which is the third longest losing streak in school history.
The Huskies are 2-12 since their 10-2 start. They’re 1-10 since losing point guard Quade Green, who is ineligible, and they’re 0-7 in Pac-12 road games.
And Washington (12-14, 2-11), the reigning Pac-12 regular-season champion, is officially eliminated from the conference title race with five games remaining.
Just two days earlier, Hopkins described UW as a “fragile” team whose belief and confidence gets rattled and shaken during a season that promised more than its delivered.
After a 62-52 loss at USC, he talked about the heavy weight of expectations that’s burdening a young team comprised of just one senior and two juniors.
On Saturday, it looked as if the Huskies would finally capture that elusive win.
They dominated defensively in the first half while negating a UCLA offense that shot 39.3 percent from the field, including 3 of 12 three-pointers.
Washington trailed 22-17 with 8:46 remaining in the first before going on a 17-3 run to surge ahead 34-25.
The Huskies led 34-27 at halftime, which was a good omen considering they trailed at the break in the previous five games.
“In a game like this trying to win on the road all of those things have to happen,” Hopkins said. “You got to keep scoring and you got to keep defending.”
Isaiah Stewart flushed a dunk, which gave the Huskies their largest lead and put them up 39-27 with 18:25 left and prompted an early timeout from UCLA.
That’s when the Bruins went on an 11-2 run, which included a 2½-minute UW scoring drought to cut the Huskies’ lead to 41-38.
“We did a better job with our passing, showing some conviction to get the ball inside,” UCLA coach Mick Cronin said. “It’s not easy. You’ve got a guy running at you 6-9 with his hands up. It’s easy to just throw it back out. You’ve gotta be dedicated to what you’re trying to accomplish – get it in there.
“People play zone so you can pass it around the perimeter and jack up shots. You never get to the foul line, never get any points in the paint. So once we showed some more conviction to get the ball inside, the game changed and we turned up the heat defensively. They shot 28 percent in the second half, a lot of that was our pressure.”
Smith collected a technical foul and Stewart hit the ensuing free throw to snap the Huskies’ scoreless streak and put them up 42-38.
However, the Bruins kept charging and erased UW’s lead when Smith scored on a layup to tie the game at 49-49 with 7:54 left.
Stewart scored again on a layup at the 7:03 mark and the Huskies didn’t make another field goal until Jaden McDaniels’ jumper with 28 seconds left.
When UW’s offense short circuited, Smith put UCLA up for good and drained a corner three-pointer with 6:11 left that gave the Bruins a 53-51 lead and sent the crowd into a frenzy.
Meanwhile, the Huskies missed seven straight field goals during the decisive drought, in which Stewart did not attempt a shot.
“We have a hard time getting it to Isaiah,” Hopkins said. “He had six shots. Isaiah Stewart has got to get more than six shots.”
Stewart finished with 15 points and 10 rebounds while McDaniels also had 15 points before fouling out in the final minute.
“Once we were able to keep Stewart off the glass, the game was over, they couldn’t score any more,” Cronin said. “Which was easier said than done, keeping him off the glass is a tough chore.”
Smith finished with 20 points, Riley had 15 and Singleton chipped in 14, including four three-pointers for UCLA (14-11, 7-5), which has won seven of the past nine games.
Washington plays its next three games at home starting Thursday against Stanford.
“They’re young,” Hopkins said. “They go up. They go down. Just got to keep grinding, Keep playing and learning.”