LOS ANGELES – After dropping their seventh straight game – a 62-56 defeat at USC on Thursday night – the prevalent concern facing the Huskies has morphed from when will they snap their lengthy losing streak to whether they’ll win another game this season.
It’s a fair question considering Washington (12-13, 2-10 Pac-12) dropped below .500 for the first time and has an 0-6 record this season against the remaining six teams on its schedule.
Furthermore, UW’s losing skid, which is tied for the program’s third-longest in the past 65 years, is starting to affect a young team comprised of just one senior and two juniors.
“It’d be lying to you if I said I didn’t think that it was,” UW coach Mike Hopkins said. “It’s nothing that we talk about. … Sometimes that happens when it gets in your head. You’ve just got to keep coaching them and managing their energy.
“I think energy is a big part of it. It makes your defense go. It makes you shoot good from the foul line and three-point line. Just got to keep fighting the fight, bottom line.”
In front of 4,765 at Galen Center, the Huskies displayed the requisite fight in the first half against a shorthanded Trojans team that was without leading scorer and rebounder Onyeka Okongwu, who averages 16.4 points and 8.9 boards. Without USC’s star 6-foot-9 freshman in the post, Washington operated freely inside and scored 20 of its 30 first-half points in the paint.
The Huskies trailed 7-2 at the start and were down 16-13 before using a 7-0 run to take a 20-16 lead midway in the first half. Marcus Tsohonis found Jaden McDaniels on a fast break for an alley-oop dunk that capped the first-half scoring for Washington, which went into halftime ahead 30-25.
“The first half we got into transition and got some easy buckets off of our defense,” Hopkins said. “In the second half, the ball stopped. There wasn’t that much movement. I didn’t like the fact that we took so many threes. Just can’t get over the hump.”
The Huskies began the second half 0 for 5 on field-goal attempts while the Trojans sank 3 of 6 during a 7-0 run to take a 32-30 lead.
“They took our five-point lead away within two minutes,” Hopkins said. “That was us not coming out with that consistent effort you need to win on the road in this league. I thought we were fighting in the first half and we kind of let our guard down and let them back in the game rather than extend the lead.”
Washington’s scoring troubles at the start of the second half were a prelude to a prolific offensive drought that ultimately decided the game. After Isaiah Stewart sank a layup with 12:37 remaining that gave the Huskies a 42-39 lead, they missed 10 straight field goals and didn’t make another basket until Stewart’s layup at the 3:45 mark. During the drought, USC used a 16-6 run to surge ahead 55-46.
At one point, Washington went seven minutes without a point before McDaniels baited Jonah Matthews into a foul and converted two free throws.
“Just trying to get something on the board and trying to make the numbers change, really,” McDaniels said. “It’s something that I know I can do. I do it all the time.”
McDaniels (19 points and 12 rebounds) and Stewart (13 points and 11 rebounds) were the two bright spots for the Huskies, but UW couldn’t overcome its dreadful second-half offensive performance. After shooting 44.8 percent (13 of 29) in the first half, Washington converted 25.8 shots (8 for 31) in the second.
“We went away from what we were doing good, sharing the ball and trusting each other,” said McDaniels, who came off the bench for the third straight game and sank 7 of 14 shots.
Added Hopkins: “The offense just became stale. The ball stopped popping. A couple of untimely shots. The focus and rhythm, I don’t know. It slowed down. The one thing I’ve learned over time is you’ve got to keep scoring on the road.”
In the teams’ first meeting, Washington crushed USC 72-40 and held the Trojans to 20 percent shooting, USC’s worst shooting percentage since 1956.
The Huskies held the Trojans to 35.8 percent shooting Thursday but couldn’t slow down senior forward Nick Rakocevic, who had 19 points, and Matthews, who finished with 16 points and four three-pointers. Freshman forward Isaiah Mobley, who started in place of Okongwu, scored 10 points for USC, which snapped a three-game losing streak and improved to 18-7, 7-5.
Meanwhile, Washington heads into Saturday’s matchup at UCLA with a 0-6 record in Pac-12 road games.
“I told the team we got to get to a point where we’re learning from this guys,” Hopkins said. “It’s really hard. The definition of insanity is doing the same thing and getting the same result.
“But listen, at the end of the day we coach to try to get these guys better. It’s been slower than we thought it would be in a certain way. What can you do? You’ve got to stay positive when you have young kids that are pretty fragile.”
— USC honored former Trojans great DeMar DeRozan and raised his No. 10 jersey into the Galen Center rafters during a halftime ceremony.