HONOLULU – After the final buzzer, Isaiah Stewart draped an arm around Quade Green who bent over and stared in disbelief at the Stan Sheriff Center court for several long seconds.
While the Huskies participated in the postgame handshake, Stewart consoled his teammate and tried to make sense of a 75-71 defeat to Houston in the Diamond Head Classic title game on Christmas Day, which snapped a three-game winning streak.
“I just told him everything is going to be all right,” Stewart said. “It’s not a loss, it’s a lesson. … It hurts right now, but we’ve got to learn from this.
“We’re going to go back to (practice) and continue to work on our weakness, especially on finishing out games. Whenever we get a big lead we always allow the other team to get back into it. That’s something that we have to work on.”
The Huskies were up 14 points in the first half and held the lead for nearly 30 minutes before losing control of the game and falling apart defensively in the final 10 minutes.
Once Houston seized momentum, the Cougars seemingly collected every rebound and loose ball. Houston outrebounded UW 37-31, including 16-9 on the offensive glass.
The Cougars also feasted on 15 UW turnovers, which resulted in 17 points and a 17-7 disparity in second-chance points.
“We let up,” Stewart said. “We gave them too many second-chance points. I sucked. I didn’t do what I’m supposed to do and we just started to let some things happen that we don’t usually let happen. That’s on me.”
For the record, Stewart didn’t suck.
In fact, the star freshman delivered yet another sensational performance and finished with a game-high 25 points and eight rebounds against heavy resistance.
Houston double-teamed the 6-foot-9 phenom in the post every time he touched the ball, but Stewart converted 8 of 13 field goals. And when he wasn’t making contested shots, then he drew fouls and sank 9 of 11 free throws.
“Just being patient,” said Stewart, who averaged 23.3 points and 10.3 rebounds at the Diamond Head Classic and was named to the all-tournament team. “Just trusting in my teammates and trusting what’s there.
“Whenever I saw they doubled, I tried to kick it back out real fast or dribble it out. If they didn’t double me, I did whatever I could to help my team.”
However, Stewart needed a little more help from the Huskies.
Nahziah Carter scored 15 points, including three three-pointers, and Green chipped in 11 points and seven assists. Jaden McDaniels also had 10 points, but attempted just one shot after the break and was held scoreless in the second half.
Stewart scored 18 points in the second half and provided more than half of the offense for Washington, which was outscored 44-35.
“He’s an amazing competitor,” UW coach Mike Hopkins said when asked about Stewart. “He’s an elite player. There’s no getting around that. The other guys on our team, we’ve got to step up.
“We got some good opportunities and we missed some easy shots. At the end there were some hustle plays, second-chance baskets, full-clock dribble penetration that we just can’t allow to happen.”
Washington came out firing and connected on six of its first eight three-pointers to jump out to a 30-21 lead after Carter drained a jumper behind the arc with 8:07 left in the first half.
Despite increasing its lead to 35-21, the Huskies lost their shooting touch and didn’t make another field goal in the half while missing their next seven shots.
The scoring drought allowed Houston to chip away at its deficit with a 10-1 run and UW went into halftime ahead 36-31.
Washington was content to surrender mid-range jumpers to forward Fabian White Jr. (19 points on 7-for-13 shooting), but the Huskies were intent on negating Houston’s perimeter attack.
Still, the Cougars connected on 8 of 22 three-pointers and took their first lead (50-49) in the second half on a long-range dagger from Caleb Mills (19 points) with 11:30 left.
The lead changed six times before Justin Gorham’s put-back gave Houston a 61-60 lead with 5:02 left and sparked a 7-0 run.
Down 66-60, Stewart scored seven straight points for the Huskies, including a layup that cut Houston’s advantage to 69-67 with 29 seconds remaining.
However, Quentin Grimes (14 points) canned six free throws the rest of the way to keep the Huskies at bay and give Houston (10-3) its fourth straight win.
“It was one of those games where sometimes the ball doesn’t bounce your way,” Hopkins said. “I thought there were a lot of times we did really good defensively all the way and they get a long three and we just couldn’t get the rebound.
“Some of them felt like it was in our hands and we lost them. You’ve got to credit Houston. They did a really good job. They had 10 more second-chance points in the second half than we did. … They kept fighting. The hustle plays is where they won the game.”
Washington (10-3) begins defense of its Pac-12 regular-season championship next week with a pair of games against UCLA and USC at Alaska Airlines Arena.
The Huskies begin conference play still lamenting losses against Gonzaga, Tennessee and now Houston, which could hinder their postseason aspirations.
“I felt like through this preseason, we left a lot out there,” Stewart said. “But it’s OK though. … I have great confidence in these guys. Just continuing to trust them and encourage them. And tell them we’re going to be fine. I trust Coach Hop and the staff. I know by the time everything clicks and gels, we’re going to be a very tough team to beat. We keep showing flashes, but we’ve got to stay that way the whole time.”
The Diamond Head Classic all-tournament team included Washington’s Stewart, Georgia Tech’s Moses Wright, Boise State’s Derrick Alston and Houston’s Grimes and White, who captured most outstanding player honors.